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Xena Warrior Princess: The Talisman of Fate Package Art
GENRE
Fighting
DEVELOPER
Saffire
PUBLISHER
Titus
NUMBER OF PLAYERS
1-4
CONTROLLER PAK
yes
RUMBLE PAK
yes
RAM PAK
no
BUY NOW AT

Xena Warrior Princess: The Talisman of Fate

A group of friends and I frequently get together to have "gaming nights" on the weekend. Eager for some new multi-player material to bring to the event, I hesitantly picked up a bargain-priced copy of Xena, Warrior Princess: The Talisman of Fate. I was hesitant about the purchase for two reasons: Titus is the publisher of the title (one word: Superman), and fighting games on the N64 typically disappoint.

To be honest, the first five minutes of "play testing" the title at home prior to gaming night confirmed my apprehension-- yup, it was going to be a stinker. However, I was just picking up the controller and playing without even reading the manual, so my initial discouragement was likely a result of the learning curve. To my surprise, within another five minutes, I became hooked. I got another friend to play it with me and we ended up playing it for a good additional hour-- and this was before reading the manual and learning there was even more to the characters' moves-- read: special attacks-- than what we'd figured out.

When a game can hook a jaded player that well-- especially when said player has only figured out a portion of the game mechanics-- that's something else. Furthermore, I'd never really watched the television series, but playing this game made me want to. Yet even being a Xena fan isn't necessary for having a kick with this title. There's just enough background in the manual to suck you into the franchise, and there's a lot of personality all throughout the game itself, thereby adding to the value of an already fun game.

visuals

Saffire has produced some very serviceable visuals for Xena and her exclusive foray on the N64. Each of the "world's greatest villains and heroes" battling for the fate of the world are nicely modeled, and while a little blocky here and there, their costumes, texture detailing, and shading appear far from first or second generation N64 titles. The well-chosen arenas, their designs pulled from settings of the television series, are large and colorful, and how the arenas are lit-- be it by sunset, burning houses, or light through a solitary door-- is reflected appropriately on the warriors' skin and clothing. While dynamic lighting isn't anything new for an N64 generation that's experienced a number of Rare's titles, it's nice to see a comparable effort made by companies other than the usual suspects.

The 10 main fighters also have four different costumes, so those of you who ever wanted to pit (in multiplayer) short haired Gabrielle vs. long haired Gabrielle, your dream has finally come true. Of course, some of the costumes are rather strange. Xena's got a belly dancer/genie costume and Gabrielle has something that can only be described as a 70s disco dress, and this is just for starters. You also have long haired and short haired Ares, as well as regular King of Thieves Autolycus (Bruce Campbell was on Xena?!?) and "Fu Man Chu" Autolycus. However, the strangest costume of all, yet also most entertaining, is the pink bunny-suited demon Despair. Seeing the juggernaut boss of the game run around with floppy ears and a puff tail, while growling and swinging an enormous sabre, is classic.

For a 3D fighter, camera problems are pleasantly rare. Every arena is set up like a theatre stage, essentially. There is one wall or boundary in the back and a left and right wall. All the action is viewed through the "invisible" fourth wall. Somewhat like Smash Brothers, the camera zooms in and swings down on the action if the fighters are up close, and as the fighters distance themselves, the camera sweeps up and out.

As for the fighting itself, the movement appears smooth and realistic (aside from the 20 foot high super jumps, of course). Each character has his or her own method of grabbing and throwing, from Autolycus' "grab them by the feet and swing them off the screen" to Ephiny's more alarming straddling of her opponent and choking him by pressing her staff down across his neck. Other memorable visual details include Lao Ma's graceful, acrobatic jumps, Gabrielle's staff that leaves a light blue motion trail (especially cool when she super jumps), and Xena's "homing missle" sideways, midair bicycle kick.

audio

Again, Saffire delivers beyond expectation. The music in the game is excellent and there are twenty times more audio samples than fellow tv series game Scooby Doo (yes, I'm still bummed about that game). I never knew the Xena show had such great music (as I'm sure that's where most of the game's songs came from), yet more importantly the musical compositions are reproduced here excellently-- on the N64 sound chip. Be it tribal percussion and choirs, or John Williams-esque strings, brass, and woodwinds, the music is always entertaining and only disappointing when the composition is short and loops too frequently. Nonetheless, the use of vocal samples for not only the combatants but also the music adds a nice polish.

Xena and her enemies and friends don't have much to say (Despair has the only actual lines of speech), but they have a good variety of grunts, screams and occasional taunts. Sure, some of the women sound more like men when they get hurt (hey, they're macho women), and Gabrielle sounds like a bleating goat when she dies (truly hilarious), but we can attribute this cheesiness to the general campiness that surrounds the Xena franchise.

Perhaps the most annoying or gratifying voice sample of the game depends on whether you're playing as or against Caesar-- pressing a certain button combination causes an enormous off-screen crowd to yell, "Hail, Caesar; Hail, Caesar!" and stomp so hard everyone else on screens collapses to the ground momentarily. How's that for cheerleading?

gameplay

I made a comparison to Smash Brothers up above as I use it as a benchmark against all other N64 fighters-- primarily because it's one of the (if not the) only fighting titles that's fun on the N64. Where Xena resembles this other great title is the simplicity of gameplay, although there's a few differences to controlling characters in Xena.

The analog or direction pad moves the character around (no analog-sensitive running or walking here), Z crouches, R jumps, and the four C buttons allow for strong or weak punches and kicks. A and B aren't used, unless you're in multiplayer mode and want to toggle targeting your attakcs between one opponent or another (the A button). Crouching, standing, and the direction you push the control stick/pad changes how a punch or kick will carry out, essentially allowing for a multitude of variations on the sword swinging and sweep kicking. Blocking is as simple as pushing that analog stick/d-pad in the opposite direction of your assailant when being attacked.

Each character also has two to four special moves, most of which are easily figured out by combinations of "left, right, left, right" and then a punch or kick button. The manual lists a couple special moves for each character, but there are more special moves to learn for more ambitious and experimental players.

Switching between one fighter or another in X: TOF is a painless task since there are no unique, ludicrous 30 button combinations needed for each character's special moves as in most traditional fighters produced by Capcom and Tecmo. The real trick is learning which moves are best for the stronger, slower fighters, such as Ares, Caesar, and Despair, versus the more nimble fighters, such as Gabrielle, Autolycus, and Lao Ma.

While overall the fighting system isn't as refined and lacks the special items of Smash Brothers, where X: TOF does best Mario is the 3D arenas. In Smash Bros. you could only escape your opponents by jumping or running left or right. X: TOF allows players to circle around each other, move "upstage" and "downstage," and climb up the walls of the arena to jump over the head of an unsuspecting enemy, only to land behind them and smack them in the back of the head. Truly, the main root of the fun factor lies in this 3D aspect-- movement is easy, and executing attacks with the simple control system is a breeze.

Further, the AI of the game is forgiving in the one player mode, and shouldn't be too hard for most seasoned fighting game veterans. Plus, every time you beat the one player "Quest" mode, an 11 battle affair concluding in a battle with Despair, the game rewards you with a new cheat code. Here is where you learn to allow Xena to do the forbidden-- fight girlfriend Gabrielle in the Quest mode in the unsated lovers' battle to end all battles. You can also learn how to unlock Despair and his bunny-suited alter ego. Such cheat codes are excellent awards well worth their work and motivating to play the Quest mode over and over.

multiplayer

Aside from the fun and addictive one player mode, multiplayer is truly where the best aspect of X: TOF resides. Everyone has a blast thanks to simple controls, and the healthy roster of girl warriors to choose from (not surprising given the franchise) allows girls to jump in without intimidation or feeling like an outsider. Honestly, I have not seen this good a selection of girl warriors since Dead or Alive 2, so if you're looking to hook a girlfriend on a fighting game (perhaps you can use this game as couples therapy?), X: TOF is a safe bet. What's more, regardless of your gender, no one can resist the simultaneously funny and empowering experience of getting Xena to shout her trademark "AY-YIYIYIYIYIYIYIYIYI!" battle cry while kicking a rival in the face.

There is no slowdown with four fighters in the arena, and with the camera well distanced players are never at a loss to identify their warrior-- unless everyone is playing the bunny suited Despair, of course. There's also plenty of room to move around and pick fights in, as well, and if someone wants to be a chicken, he can stand safely out of the way of pain in a corner of the arena-- just beware special attacks like Calysto's fire pillar, which erupts underneath targeted, unmoving players.

The one odd aspect of multiplayer that will take a moment to get used to is that a player's fighter will only direct attacks against one other warrior in the arena-- and that's whoever the player has previously targeted. Therefore, Joxer could be right in your face and hitting you, but the fireballs you are shooting are going across the screen at Xena since you still have her targeted and not Joxer. This situation is easily remedied by tapping the A button until your target arrow rests above Joxer. While such targeting may seem initially like a hindrance, it's a blessing in disguise when you're too lazy to run up to the player-- repeatedly using the same low kick will eventually move your player within striking range of your opponent, and unless said opponent jumps or ducks at just the right time, any projectile like a fireball will hit her.

Like some other fighting games, there are cheap moves in X: TOF-- very cheap moves. The computer can usually block them after the sixth or seventh time, but in multiplayer you can win the game and lose friends both quickly by infinitely using Autolycus' crouching weak kick. There are a few other near unstoppable attacks scattered amongst other warriors, but in the interests of you keeping your friends, you can dig that hole yourself.

overall

Xena fans will love this game, especially as something to tide them over with the television series nearing its finale. Fans can even play out heretofore only hypothetical dream scenarios. Who would win in a rematch between the usurping Amazon queen Gabrielle and jilted would-be queen, now goddess, Velasca? How would Xena fare in fighting her spiritual trainer Lao Ma? Would Joxer have a chance against Ares? Will Gabrielle cry out if Xena pimp-slaps her?

For the rest of us non-Xena diehards-- we can just enjoy the sexual ambiguity, controlling a Bruce Campbell character in a solid game, and relishing playing the Warrior Princess. Beyond that is the solid fighting engine, and above average graphics, sound, and music.

I don't want to sound too overzealous for Xena lest I get your hopes too high, and I'm not sure how much my strong praise is resultant from my own expectations being set so low, initially. Nonetheless, anyone else I've known who has given the game a try-- even people who'd not heard one thing or another about the game-- have been hooked and gotten their own copies. Since you can likely find this diamond in the rough at a great price at discount retail stores, I encourage you to drop the small amount of cash and have some new fun on your N64. Finally, I can put "great" and "Titus" in the same sentence.

final score 8.0/10





WRITER INFORMATION
Staff Avatar M. Noah Ward
Staff Profile | Email
"Death narrowly avoided, thanks to another friendly NPC."


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