Game Review: Kane (Commodore 64, Mastertronic)

Kane, Commodore 64, Mastertronic - IC0096
  • 6/10
    Score - 6/10
6/10

Summary

Kane is something of a mixed bag. Taken individually, none of the stages are anything special but come together to make a good but sadly flawed game. It looks great and offers plenty of variety to the players, but the two horseback levels are extremely unforgiving and let the rest of the game down. This could have been one of Mastertronic’s finest releases but falls short.

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User Review
6.5/10 (1 vote)

One of the things that always drew people to Mastertronic games back in the 80s was the vibrant cover art. Whether it was the futuristic styling from Mark J Brady or the cartoon capers of John Smyth, it was always eye-catching. In the case of Kane, the combination of the comic book artwork and the wild west theme grabbed people’s attention – and mind – immediately.

A Man Called Kane?

Like so many of us, I never bothered reading the instructions when I used to get a new Mastertronic game as a kid. So for years growing up I always thought that the lead character in the game was called Kane. Eventually, decades later, I finally bothered to look at the inlay to see what the game was actually about and discover the game’s real storyline!

Taking on the role of Marshall McGraw, you’ve been tasked with visiting the Wagan tribe – a Native American settlement – to broker peace with them as the NAST Railway Company wants to build a railroad straight through their sacred burial ground. You have to earn their trust, gain peace tokens from them and taken them to the US President and stop the railroad from being built.

Gameplay

The game itself is split over four distinct stages, each presenting the player with a completely different style of game. First up, you start in a canyon and have to prove your worth to the tribe by hunting the tribe’s favourite food – migrating duck – using nothing but a bow and arrow. The more you shoot down, the more peace tokens you earn. Each one you successfully strike down, you get an extra arrow. Run out and it’s on to the next stage.

This time, you’re on horseback riding to the town of Kane (yes, here’s where the game gets its name!). Riding from left to right, you have a strict time limit and have obstacles blocking your journey. Mis-time any of your jumps and you lose a peace token. Lose them all and it’s game over.

Arrival At Kane

One you get to Kane, the game changes once more. the NAST Railway Company has hired a gang of local thugs to stop you making it to the President. Hiding away in buildings in the town, you’ve got a limited amount of ammo to take them all out. The scene is set out in forward facing shooting gallery style. You can physically move left and right to dodge incomming fire, and move your gunsight towards the hired guns. Take them all out and it’s on to the final stage.

Back on horseback again, but this time you’re chasing a train that’s just left heading to Washington. No time limit this time, but you have a number of coaches to get past to reach the front of the train. Get to the front and you can hand over any remaining peace tokens that you have got left to save the tribe. But as before, it’s not that simple as there are obstacles in the way and any collision will lose one of your valuable tokens.

Audio-Visual Delight

The game opens up with an arrangement of the William Tell Overture playing which sets the scene for the game superbly. This is played again during both of the horse riding sections. Sound continues to impress throughout though – background music on the first stage is a quite relaxing drum beat playing, while accompanied by sampled screeches each time you shoot one of the ducks down. More sampled sound is featured every time you die throughout the game, whether you are shot in Kane, or thrown from your horse in the riding stages.

The graphics are another impressive achievement and the screenshots here don’t do them justice. While the backgrounds themselves are well drawn, it’s the main character sprites that are truly remarkable. The animation on them is stunning, smooth and is easily some of the best seen in any Mastertronic release. I’d say that the main character has been inspired by the lead in Impossible Mission and is just as good, but the animation for the horse is of just the same high standard.

Four Games Are Better Than One?

Taken individually, I’d say that none of Kane’s four stages would stand out as anything special. The first is probably the most addictive if I’m honest and needs the most genuine skill from the player if you’re going to be able to progress with as many tokens as possible. Unfortunately, the two horse riding sections let the game down badly, as they are frustratingly difficult. They need almost pixel-perfect precision and timing for your jumps and having half of the game made up of these lets Kane down as an overall package.

Playing through all of the stages (and there is an option to select stages individually to practice them from the main menu), I do get the feeling that these stages weren’t tested as well as they could have been. That or the developer had a twisted sense of humour and wanted to torture any players who attempted to complete it.

A Positive Story

One thing I did notice with Kane was that – despite the impression given by the cover art – it moved away from the stereotypical “cowboys and indians” plot that countless games, movies and TV shows had done before it. Apart from the wording in the manual, it dealt with the tribe respectfully and it was the railroad company that were presented throughout as being the “bad guys” of the game. Considering the audience this was being marketed at, this was actually quite a bold move from both Darnell and Mastertronic, even if they didn’t necessarily realise what they were doing at the time.

Overall

Going into this I had fond memories of playing Kane growing up. Truthfully, I thought it was one of the best Mastertronic games I’d ever played, and when I loaded this up to review it I had high expectations. And to be frank, I was disappointed. The graphics and sound still held up just as I remembered them, as did the duck shooting and gun fight stages, but as soon as the horse riding levels came into play, it spoiled everything.

Kane really had potential to be one of Mastertronic’s all time greats. And if the difficulty balance had been a little less harsh and gave players even just a fighting chance on the horse riding stages it could have been perfect.

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You know what we think but why not share your thoughts on this game! Let us know what you think of it in the comments below, or add your own score using the slider in the summary box at the top of the review!

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