Another day, another fantastic Taito Arcade Classic
Ever since Arnie donned a set of over sized wristbands, fluffy boots and an animal hide codpiece for the 1982 movie Conan The Barbarian, the muscle-bound, sword wielding warrior has been a staple hero for videogames. Barbarian 1 and 2 on the 8 and 16-bit home micros pitted you against other foes in a 2d gladiatorial battle to the death, while titles such as Myth, Black Tiger and the PC Engine series, Legendary Axe were side scrolling affairs that pitted you against a legion of mystical monsters. Arcade classic Gauntlet, as well as pretty much every RPG game every made, has a class of character (often dubbed Warrior or Fighter) that adheres to the barbarian stereotype. More recently, the Xbox 360 and PS3 title Conan, brought the Barbarian protagonist back into fashion, but it is Taito's 1987 coin-op Rastan Saga (or simply Rastan on Western shores), that is the best game involving a broadsword swinging gym-freak in a thong.
A 2D, side-scrolling hack & slash platformer, Rastan is more engaging than your usual platform arcade game due to the fantasy world setting, mythical beasts you must engage in combat and magical items that litter the game, giving it the slight feeling of being an RPG-lite adventure game (much like Zelda 2 on NES). Jumping into the PETA-enraging outfit of the titular hero, your quest is one motivated by simple greed – obtain the Dragon's Tear and the King will reward you with all the riches in the kingdom. The Western version came with a revised story line which has you, instead, journeying to defeat a dragon that's terrorising the land. Clearly the developers forgot the classic Gordon Gecko mantra of 'Greed is good' (from the movie Wall Street if you are too young to remember).
The visuals really project the fantasy world setting well
- despite some cut and paste looking backgrounds.
Starting with the classic broadsword, Rastan must journey across 6 worlds (each comprising of 3 stages), battling lizard men, chimeras, skeletons, harpies, bats and many more fantastical monstrosities. New weapons can be obtained along the way including such treats as; morning stars, maces and a fireball-spewing sword. These weapons give our hero a stronger chance of survival, but are usually hidden in hard to reach areas or guarded by a pack of bats that swarm you should you come too close. Level design is kept interesting throughout, with ropes to climb and swing from, breakable floors (just jump, then hold down and attack to smash through) and alternate routes through the stages.
There are a varied selection of foes to do battle with
over the course of the game.
The visuals are rich and colourful, with detailed and clear backdrops that really evoke memories of Dungeons & Dragons artwork, as well as RPG games of the 1990's. Varied backdrops such as temples, mountains, forests are traversed over the course of the game, and the foes you encounter are well drawn and full of character – the iconic green lizard men, the multiple armed skeletons and the 3 headed lion beast that spits fireballs are instantly memorable to anyone who has played the game enough times.
Aurally, the game impresses too, with a soundtrack that manages to evoke and epic and vaguely sinister feeling, while still being as memorable and catchy as tunes often found in cutesy platformers.
Rastan will seemingly travel through Hell itself in order to reach his goal.
Rastan has a real adventure quality about it and it draws you into its world, urging you to progress further to discover the next environment and do battle with new beasts. It is an incredibly playable game with tight controls, satisfying melee combat, and exciting stages to explore. For me, it sits alongside such arcade classics as Shinobi, Rolling Thunder, Sunset Riders, Toki, Robocop and Ghost 'N Goblins as shining examples of action 2D platformers. Rastan still holds up perfectly well today and is an absolute must-play for anyone who enjoys 2D sidescrolling action, especially those with a penchant for anything based in a fantasy world.
Ropes play a large part in the game, with some sections
requiring pixel perfect jumps from swinging ropes.
As well as playing the original in MAME, you can also find Rastan on Taito's 'Legends' compilations on PC, Xbox, PS2 and PSP, so there is really no excuse for not enjoying it today. Just be sure to avoid the truly appalling sequel (known as both Nastar and Rastan Saga 2) that appeared in both the arcades and on the Sega Mega Drive, as it does away with everything that makes the original so good, and replaces it with large, crudely drawn sprites (Rastan looks and moves like a giant baby who has soiled himself), poor level design, and incredibly boring gameplay. There was also a third, arcade only, game entitled Warrior Blade: Rastan Saga Episode III, that plays more like Sega's classic beat-em-up series, Golden Axe. It has a very cinematic feel to it due to the coin-op's two monitor display and multiple playable set-pieces involving combat on both horse and Dragon back, as well as a crazy scene where Rastan slides down a mountain side while battling multiple enemies. It is definitely a worthy sequel and is worth checking out.
The bosses Rastan faces can be extremely tough to defeat.
Rastan was ported to a huge number of home systems back in the day. Taito handled converting the game to the Sega Master System and Game Gear, as well as the MSX, while the rest of the ports were made by Ocean under their Imagine label. The ports vary in quality, with Taito's own versions, predictably, being the best. Both the Master System and Game Gear versions are great fun and look the part, but have cut down stages due to both 8-bit system's limitations. However, they are both great fun to play, and capture the spirit of their arcade parent very well.
Both Sega ports are extremely well done and are worth playing.
As with many titles, the Game Gear version is essentially the
same as its Master System brother.
Home micro computer wise, the Amstrad, C64 and ZX Spectrum versions are a mixed bag. Of course, they cannot dream of replicating the wonderful looking coin-op, but they have a reasonable stab at it. The Commodore port looks pretty good, though the sprites are fairly blocky and bland, with decent chiptune music. The main problem is its speed as it trundles along at a snail's pace. There is also a bug in the game which makes completing it impossible – one jump early on in the game is impossible to make, and you cannot progress any further – meaning there is no point playing this (shame on Ocean for releasing it in this state). The Amstrad version has some colourful sprites, but the backgrounds are pretty weak (often nothing more than one colour) and there is no music at all. The scrolling is also slow and jerky so I wouldn't recommend playing this version either.
The C64 version is impressive, despite its slow pace and blocky sprites.
The Amstrad version may be colourful but is quite garish,
and the scrolling is awful.
The Speccy version contains the usual well drawn sprites, but also comes with the usual monochrome colour scheme and colour clash, making it pretty miserable to look at. However, it zips along at a decent pace (despite some choppy scrolling) and is decent enough to play – the music is even pretty good. The MSX beats all the other home micro versions hands down, playing a lot like the Master System version, only with far less colourful sprites. It still looks and sounds good though, and is as faithful to the coin-op as can be expected for the machine. Even better is the PC DOS version, which has great visuals and plays at a cracking speed. The only downside is the truly hideous audio that negates the use of a soundcard, instead choosing the nasty bleeps and bloops of the PC internal speaker. If it weren't for the assault on your ears, I would highly recommend playing this version. My advice? Stick to the Arcade original or Taito Legends compilations and you can't go wrong.
As usual, the Spectrum version looks like shit, but it plays reasonably well.
MSX Rastan is very similar to the Master System version,
meaning it is very good.
The DOS version looks great but has the worst audio of all the
versions. Play with the sound off.