Sabre Wulf (Game Boy Advance) Review

By Adam Riley 29.03.2004

Review for Sabre Wulf on Game Boy Advance

Rare, once so close to Nintendo, now so far away, wrapped in the arms of sugar daddy Microsoft. But wait a second, perhaps Rare is not actually that far away, as the company's dedicated GBA Team has already collaborated with Nintendo of the GBA port of Donkey Kong Country, plans to do the same with DKC2, has released its own GBA version of Banjo-Kazooie and recently announced that four new XBOX games would be ported to the Nintendo handheld. This is all in addition to the ages-in-development 'It's Mr Pants!' and 'Banjo Pilot' (with Coconut Crackers seemingly AWOL). For now, though, we have the official C3 Review of Rare's latest GBA game, a tribute to an old Spectrum game created when Rare was known as Ultimate Play the Game, Sabre Wulf…

Sabre Wulf, a gigantic diabolical beast, has been set free from his shackles from the dastardly Dr Doolittle-Goode. This has been done by shattering the special Sabre Wulf amulet that was keeping the creature in its restraints to prevent it from wreaking havoc on the village of Blackwyche and the surrounding 'Wurlde'. Unfortunately, simply stealing the amulet back from the Doctor will not suffice, as it has been shattered into eight different pieces, each of which is securely stored on one of Doolittle-Goode's secret laboratories. Therefore Sabreman, the jolly fellow who ensnared Sabre Wulf in the first place, is called out of retirement by the local Mayor for one last escapade. I am sure you can guess the details of your task…

At first you will think to yourself that Rare's GBA Team has merely reproduced a slightly cleaner-looking version of Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge's graphical engine, with the pseudo-3D look that is akin to a cut-down N64 title. But as you move from the main hub world to the separate stages, you will quickly change your mind and believe instead that Rare has thrown the Donkey Kong Country blue prints as well…and it is true in many cases. The top down sections of Sabre Wulf are indeed very similar to those of BK: GR and the side-scrolling main levels could very easily have been produced using the same graphic tiles as those of DKC on the SNES/GBA.

This is by no means a negative point, however, as you end up with chunky characters and locations that push the GBA's processor power much more than the identikit platformers on the handheld market today. On the small screen everything looks crisp and in no way like a game that has been in development limbo for nigh on two years! The only problem that can be laid upon Sabre Wulf is somewhat of an insignificant one – and it is that when played via the Game Boy Player on full zoom, you can see the rough edges that tend to appear on characters in Rare's games from the 16-bit days. But, to be honest, playing it on the television is the best option, as it is comparable to playing on the old SNES, except in full screen with no black borders…Rare, you truly are the kings of graphical twists.

Rare is quite renowned for producing great results in the audio department and Sabre Wulf does not break the chain of aural quality. There is the usual diverse range of musical styles, each complete fitting to their respective locales, such as the typical DKC jungle setting. But the tunes are nothing plain by any means. What you find throughout the game includes pan pipes, xylophones, Australian twangs, drums, flutes, even animal noises. Nothing is spared in Rare's attempt to create one of the most musically diverse titles on the GBA so far…and it 'Ultimate'ly succeeds!

Sound effects and voice snippets flesh out the excellence of Sabre Wulf. Amongst the standard selection of sound effects, there are clever little additions that complement the running stiff-British comedic theme – for instance there is the noise of a record scratching when you choose to skip the anthem that is played on the end-of-level celebration screen. Also the strange vociferous noises mumbled by characters in Banjo-Kazooie makes a welcome appearance here and used to greater effect than in Grunty's Revenge. Sabreman especially has some superb 'old man' mutterings and grunts, even spitting out the odd full phrase, usually at the end of a stage – examples include 'Gently Bentley!', 'Precious!', 'Spiffing!' and 'Great Scot!' This superb range more than makes-up for the odd bit of distortion that can be heard from the GBA's speaker…

For those that believe this to be a mixture of Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country, you may be surprised to hear that Sabre Wulf is actually a distinctive experience – an intelligent concoction of role-playing (talking to various people in each location and returning certain items to specific villagers), platforming (trying to make your way through the levels to reach the final treasure), puzzle elements (working out what special creature to use in which situation for progression) and reactionary components (as you make a mad dash back to the start of the level, treasure in hand and huge scary Wulf on your tail…).

You begin in a top-down gaming world hub and have to enter various levels that switch the action to a 2D side-scrolling viewpoint. Exploration followed by platform action – that is the general order of play. Once you start each level, you must navigate your way through the sometimes complex settings, picking up body suits (shields that protect you from one enemy hit), utilising special assisting creatures (such as the Blubba that lets you bounce high off its stomach or the Serpent that acts as a simple floating platform) to get yourself up ledges, across gaps and past enemies that cannot be defeated by the old adventurer and grab the treasure from under the nose of a sleeping Sabre Wulf.

But, as those who have played Wario Land 4 will know all too well, once you reach the end and think the treasure is yours, something goes awry. Sabre Wulf suddenly awakens and thus your adrenaline-pumping race back to the beginning of the stage commences, something that becomes increasingly difficult as the game goes on as 'Wulf becomes ever smarter and faster. As in Wario Land, the level actually changes once the trigger has been hit (in this case snatching the treasure), making the journey back very dissimilar. Here all enemies and creatures are removed and replaced by gold coins that bounce around whilst you rapidly track back, desperately trying to manoeuvre yourself so as not to touch the salivating beast that is chomping at your behind!

Some enemies are purposely blended into the background, making the task of avoiding them even more difficult as the player will only notice some of them at the very last second (or when you are actually dying, in many cases!). But as this may have been implemented to increase difficulty, the fumbling required to select the helper creatures most definitely was not. Many a vital second will be wasted as you press 'B' to bring up the creature menu and accidentally choose the incorrect one from the scrolling list. Much frustration then ensues as your fiftieth attempt at breaking one of Rare's rapid level records is scuppered by a lack of quick menu control.

But if you do need a break from the main action and possible frustrations, you can simply head off and chat with the local villagers, with their amusing conversational topics (each person has a few lines of speech, rather than one line that is repeated as in many RPGs), side-quest requests (asking you to get items for them or pass on ones to other villagers) or mini-games (tea drinking with Mr T. Leaf anyone?). Even just looking at the character's name is mildly amusing at times, with the likes of Morris the Minor (clearly showing the Rare team's ages…!) and his twin brother, Boris. If this is what the GBA team can do now, imagine what we can expect from future titles like It's Mr Pants!

So you think this will be over in a flash? Do not be so foolish…Witness: Eight main villages, eight separate stages within each one. Gold, silver and bronze levels of stage completion to reach. A tough 'Laboratory' level at the end of each village hub. A special Challenge Mode, where each stage opens up after achieving a Gold score and you can practice the fastest routes through each one – ultimately trying to beat the ludicrously quick times from the folk at Rare. A superbly fair learning curve that eases you in to the first few levels with no problems and then rapidly becomes devilishly tough just as you think you are progressing with the greatest of ease. An estimated play time of ten hours, without stopping to complete the myriad of extra options mentioned…

Now think to yourself, is all of this worthy of your hard-earned (*ahem*) money? Of course it is! The levels are so creative and the action so amazingly intense throughout the whole adventure that you will feel exasperated afterwards, yet thirsty for more. Do not be fooled by the abruptness of the team's previous (albeit excellent) Grunty's Revenge, as Sabre Wulf is no pussy cat…

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Rare is back and in a big way indeed. Sabre Wulf continues on from the quality of Grunty's Revenge, yet whilst the two may look alike from a distance, move in closer and you will discover an extra special Rare melee of gaming styles that will keep RPG fans, platform gurus and puzzle fiends moderately happy and will have followers of the company wetting their Mr Pants over how special the game is. Rush out and buy this before you forget. Also – tell your friends, as the game has not yet reached the GBA Top 20 and needs to do at least as well as BK: GR, or else we might lose Rare completely…






2D Platformer



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   


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