With the home computer boom of the 1980’s, everyone wanted a slice of the pie, including some unlikely candidates such as British Telecom. While it was good to talk, the phone network giant thought it was good to play games too, setting up Telecomsoft who, in turn, gave birth to three successful publishing offshoots in Firebird, Rainbird and Silverbird until it was taken over by Microprose in 1989. And one year prior, Firebird uncaged ‘Savage’ on 8-bit audiences with an Amiga version arriving 12 months later.
Booting this up, a hefty wooden gate is raised alluding to the dark labyrinth that awaits the player as a bombastic heavily sampled tune rings out. In a bizarre twist, we then see our titular hero engaging in some casual conversation with a red-headed orc. They might be talking about his plan to rescue his Maiden from the clutches of the Dark Guardians or possibly trading hair-styling tips, who knows. But as per the manual, Savage is ready to plunge into an ‘orgy of violence’ so it’s a good job he’s come appropriately dressed for the occasion.
Jumping head first into the search for the medieval orgy, the game is essentially broken up into three different styles of games with the first being a traditional side-scrolling affair. The large sprites look impressive if slightly crude in places. Their cartoon styling works well with the over-saturated colour scheme as Savage throws axes and lighting bolts at enemies that could have escaped after opening that Trap Door.
The game has clear sense of style and fun, never taking itself seriously as words of encouragement or goading drop on-screen. The animations are simple but a good range of enemies have joined the party who explode into plumes of confetti upon death. There are some nice other graphical touches too such as the regeneration rings and armoured power-ups.
Moving onto Level 2, we’re thrust into a first-person perspective in what can only be described as a Space Harrier cross Shockwave style stage, although the game doesn’t run as smooth as the latter. Taking control of Savage’s trusty eagle, the chunky sprite work is retained from the previous level as huge columns scale towards you and enemies such as skulls, golems and mantis heads have to be shot down with your starfield. The backgrounds and scaling are a little poor but other components are nicely detailed.
The final level is an almost thrust-lite, multi-directional shoot-em-up whereby you have to navigate the eagle around a large play area, shooting down other animals and collecting various items to open the prison and complete the game. Again, the animations are a little rudimentary but the bold graphics are appealing, with the bird having a surprisingly bloody death animation. Firing out balls of flame from the beak, or anus, our flying predator makes bats and birds explode. The scrolling is smooth, only jerking slightly with quick changes of direction.
As a whole, it’s great to see the graphical form retained across all three different play styles, making it feel cohesive which many other games attempting the same often fail to do. They may not be overly awe-inspiring compared to some latter day Amiga titles, but they’re easy enough on the eye.
As mentioned previously, Savage’s title tune is pretty flamboyant and sets the tone for the rest of the game. Sound effects across all three stages are extremely good with only a couple of exceptions. The whooshes of an axe toss or the cracking of a thrown thunderbolt sound crunchy and the dying groans of foes, or the eagle, are suitably over the top. Some effects such as the star field blast in level two fare worse, soon becoming repetitive.
In regards to the music, it’s tonally out of place, feeling at odds with the sword and sorcery setting but it’s hard not to like. The composition accompanying the first stage mixes up some epic synths with samples similar to someone playing pre-arranged loops on a keyboard they got for Christmas. The second stage intro tune is by far the strangest yet accomplished of the bunch. The 80’s synthesised bass and sampled voice makes you think Chaka Khan is going to burst in at any moment. The finale is reminiscent of the early period of The Cure in places and is probably the most appropriate.
The sonics in Savage are a great showcase of what the Amiga could do. Whether they’re a right fit for the game is a completely different matter. But they’re damn catchy though.
With three varying genres of games in one, you can’t fault the development team for trying something a little different. Unfortunately, none reach the heights of their specialist counterparts. The first stage’s crunchy combat is let down by stifling platforming. The jumping arc is too rigid and the more involved sections require some pixel perfect leaps. This is made harder by the constantly respawning waves of enemies meaning any break in their formation has to be taken full advantage of. Savage is quite generous in health drops and upgrades such as the orbiting stars giving a temporary sense of empowerment. Despite some flaws, the first level does provide an enjoyable if simple arcade style romp.
The first-person style second level is the weakest of the trio, proving to be aggravating and mundane. The randomisation of the columns that result in instant death can be hard to avoid as they sneak into your field of vision as you navigate left to right. The shooting also feels imprecise and lacks any force. It can occasionally feel a little rousing as you make a last ditch manoeuvre around a column but on the whole, it falls flat, failing to replicate the thrills of similar games.
The shoot-em-up section is an uplift in quality and enjoyment. Steering your bird is responsive and taking down enemies is satisfying enough, despite some questionable collision detection. The level design is simple meaning you won’t find the journey around the dungeon too troublesome, as long as you explore each corner as you go for the required items. It’s possible to reach the end of the stage without collecting anything, although you will be promptly told that you’ve missed something forcing you to back track.
The AI across all stages is a little lackadaisical with the pathing of enemies seeming broken in places as they congregate below platforms. Controls are sharp and the game does have a genuinely rewarding sense of progression.
Savage received a variety of scores across both 8 and 16-bit formats. The Amiga version received some decent grades with many applauding what it was trying to do. The individual sections all miss the mark in one way or another but that doesn’t mean there’s no fun to be found.
For the full review, including added trivia and insight, check out the video below:
Savage isn’t a great game by any means as none of the differing levels really excel. Some of the mechanics can be a little frustrating but it’s overall sense of fun is infectious, helped by some eclectic arrangements from Kevin Collier. It is graphically very competent if slightly basic. The gameplay variance helps break up any potential monotony and if you find yourself struggling with some of the certain pitfalls present in the game, just kick back and take in the music that carries more samples than your local Avon lady.