With the success of the Cybernoid games, Cecco became a bankable programmer; the sort of person whose name would appear on the covers of his games as a perceived mark of quality. In Spring 1988, CRASH magazine began a feature called ‘Cecco’s Log’ which followed the development – interrupted around summer of that year with an emphasis on finishing Cybernoid II – of a new game, Stormlord. In contrast to most of Cecco’s games, this new title would not have a sci-fi theme but instead be based on Tolkien-esque fantasy with the player controlling a medieval warrior type of character, the Stormlord of the title, tasked with rescuing fairies from an evil Queen.
By December 1988, Cecco announced that Stormlord was nearly complete and, in the Spring of ’89, the ZX Spectrum version arrived for review. Visually, it was typical of a Cecco game with the usual bright and well-drawn graphics but there was something new: this time it scrolled. Cecco had managed to make the Sinclair machine scroll horizontally smoothly in full colour, quite a departure from his usual flick-screen technique and, as Commodore 64 owners were happy to point-out, something Spectrum owners weren’t used to. Here it was, though, along with a game which conbined platforming, shooting and simple arcade-adventure elements.
Stormlord is split into separate levels in which a number of fairies have to be found and rescued before progressing. The main character is the usual walking, jumping type of player character (not unlike that in Exolon in fact) and comes equipped with two types of weapon – some kind of mystical balls (not in the load-of-old-crap sense, they really just look like jaggedy tennis balls or something) which are fired by tapping the fire button/key and a broadsword which is fired by holding down fire and then releasing and, as you’d expect, does more damage. As Stormlord explores the levels he encounters all sorts of mythological silliness such as the giant fairy-like creatures in urns (?) which, on the 128K machines, wolf-whistle him if he walks across them and which also, unexpectedly for a time when video games were still largely for kids, show a bit of pixilated nipple. Good heavens! As far as less-friendly (and certainly less sexy) inhabitants are concerned there are killer caterpillar things, deadly plants, swarms of bees, green dragons, giant wasp-things which hatch from huge eggs and even what seem to be marauding chess-pieces. Stormlord has no energy, only lives, and touching these opponents is fatal. As well as fighting past these monsters, our hero has to solve simple logic puzzles using objects; these range from things like using keys to open doors to swapping an object with a pot of honey (objects, of which the player can only carry one at a time. are “swapped” with each other on contact in the manner of the Wally Week games rather than picked up and dropped where the player feels like it) to attract a swarm of indestructable bees so the player can pass. Springboards are also found throughout the levels and these can be used to leap from one part of the level to another, often being the only way to reach some areas.
Stormlord is a pretty tough game whose gorgeous looks accompany challenging gameplay. Whilst the arcade-adventure aspects are quite straightforward some of the areas are teeming with monsters who are difficult to deal with. Despite that, the game is enjoyable enough once a little practice has been put in and the challenge makes it reasonably addictive. Contemporary reviews were rather kinder – the game won accolades from the gaming press and found itself converted to even more platforms than Cybernoid had – including MS-DOS and the Sega Megadrive. Naturally, a sequel was expected and, in the summer of 1990, it arrived.
Although the main sprite, in common with Cybernoid II, is different to that in the original game (albeit merely a little taller here, possibly to counter the impression that Stormlord, with his beard and helmet, was some kind of dwarf) but first impressions suggest nothing much has changed – same graphics style, same nice scrolling, same impressive 128K sound. Then you start to play it and realise what a different beast it is.
Stormlord was tough, Stormlord II: Deliverance makes that game look like Caspar Milquetoast. Within seconds of starting the player encounters devious enemies, a tricky jump and pits of lava that need accurate jumping to pass, and it doesn’t get any easier; the arcade-adventure elements which added interest to the original game are also gone. The plot has Stormlord descending into hell to rescue more kidnapped fairies but that’s really no excuse for the difficulty level. Whilst the original game was tough but nonetheless seemed to encourage perseverence, the sequel is simply frustrating and annoying. It’s a shame because it’s a bigger game (it uses a multi-load system), later features such as flying on a dragon seem fun and it’s as technically proficient as ever. The magazines largely agreed; although CRASH and Your Sinclair gave this game high marks, they were down from the original’s score and the difficulty was criticised. It’s a shame, really, since this was Cecco’s second-last Spectrum game and the last to have the distinctive Cecco “feel” (Time Machine, his last game for the Sinclair machine, was a monochrome pseudo-3D arcade-adventure). Deliverance was also widely converted, including a version for 16-bit machines released in 1992 which played completely differently from the 8-bit originals.
So, in conclusion, Stormlord is well-worth a look although be prepared for the old-school difficulty level. Deliverance, though, is such a tough bastard I can’t really recommend it to anyone except people who feel they have something to prove or those who love the original so much they feel drawn to its sequel. Don’t blame me for the swearing and chucking your Spectrum (or platform running emulator of choice) through a window, though. I did warn you.
(Footnote: Deliverance has “Press up to define keys” on its title screen. How fucking silly is that?)