DK Vine: Honourable Mentions: 3A: References to the Sabreman Series

3A: References to the Sabreman Series

←Back            

Sabre Wulf (1984, ZX Spectrum/BBC Micro/Commodore 64/Amstrad CPC)

What is it?  
Keep in mind this is the insert from a cassette tape box. Yes kids, games on tape, look it up.

One of the earliest games from Ultimate Play The Game (which at this point was essentially just Tim and Chris Stamper), Sabre Wulf is a 2D maze adventure game. The star, Sabreman, was your typical colonial British adventurer type, who had to survive the (randomly spawning) dangers of the jungle and escape the eponymous Wulf, while finding pieces of an amulet. The ZX Spectrum was the lead platform but it was ported to other contemporary home computers.

Fan favourite Cheeky Tiger makes his first (and only) appearance. (Thanks to World of Spectrum for the screenshot.)
The frantic confusion of gameplay cannot be adequately illustrated by screenshots alone.


Why is it mentionable?

Sabreman's DKU debut in Banjo-Tooie specifically calls back to the events of this game: he is first seen holding one of the amulet pieces, and mentions being chased by the Wulf. The Spectrum version of the game was also featured in the compilation Rare Replay alongside a few DKU titles.

More info:

Wikipedia article
World of Spectrum's entry on the game, with details, scans, maps, and magazine references
Short story published in Crash magazine, possibly from the perspective of Sabreman (misspelled as Sabre Man and named Sabre Wulf in the contents page, although it's also implied to be the experience of the author, Charles P. Cohen; likely unofficial, although the same magazine had a very long-running Jetman comic)
Archive of coverage on Rare's old website
• A couple of forum threads about Sabreman and his series generally: here and here



Underwurlde (1984, ZX Spectrum/Commodore 64)

What is it?  
Yes, one of the obstacles in this game is Literally Satan.

Following the events of Sabre Wulf, Sabreman was trapped in the Underwurlde (hellish caverns under a spooky castle). This time, it's a side-on 2D action platformer, but retains its predecessor's use of a huge, labyrinthine world. Unlike Sabre Wulf, it was only ported once. Its multiple endings open the possibility of alternate timelines or somesuch; the three exits that can be found are said to lead to different sequels in the series: Knight Lore, Pentagram, and the cancelled Mire Mare (subsequent games don't actually hold to this though, largely opting to keep all of the games in the same continuity).

Once again the Stampers demonstrate their wilful ignorance of proper spelling.
Once again swarming enemies can easily ruin your day.


Why is it mentionable?

As the continuing story of Sabreman it informs his character as later seen in the Banjo series, and it's not incompatible with his backstory as stated in Tooie as it was also released in 1984, the year he quoted to Mumbo when unfrozen in Hailfire Peaks. The Spectrum version was featured in Rare Replay among several DKU games.

More info:

Wikipedia article
World of Spectrum's entry on the game, with details, scans, maps, and magazine references
Archive of coverage on Rare's old website



Knight Lore (1984, ZX Spectrum/BBC Micro/Amstrad CPC/MSX/FDS)

What is it?  
So here's my pitch for this caption: those three heads are a barbershop trio. Hello... Hello... Hello... Hello, my Coney Island baby... whatta ya say, do I got the job?

The most ambitious Sabreman game so far, Knight Lore is about Sabreman trying to free himself from the lycanthropy that Sabre Wulf has apparently cursed him with. There is a day/night cycle, with our hero transmogrifying in the light of the moon. In a way, this game also represents the very first Rare 3D platformer, as it introduced the trademark "Filmation" engine which was used on several subsequent Ultimate isometric platformers; this style became widely popular and was imitated by many other developers. After the initial round of ports, Knight Lore was the first of Ultimate/Rare's games to migrate to Japan, first on the MSX and then a spruced-up remake on the Famicom Disk System.

That's wizard, Ani! (Thanks to World of Spectrum for the screenshot.)
Sabreman's human form. The game takes place in a wizard's castle and its grounds.
As a wolfman, Sabreman jumps higher, which can either be a help or an... anti-help?

In Japan, cute is the new normal. The subtitle loosely translates to "Evil Castle of the Werewolf".
Please, Nigel Lore is my father. Call me Knighj Lore.
FDS Sabreman looks more like he's dressed for gardening. Someone's got to mow the castle spikes, I suppose.


Why is it mentionable?

As Ultimate's first experiment in 3D mechanics, Knight Lore arguably paved the way for Banjo-Kazooie, etc. If you squint a bit. Like Underwurlde, it was released in 1984 and so is still plausibly part of the DKU Sabreman's backstory, which is good because it adds an interesting extra dimension to his relationship with Sabre Wulf. The game (the Spectrum original) was also included in Rare Replay.

More info:

Wikipedia article
World of Spectrum's entry on the game, with details, scans, maps, and magazine references
Archive of coverage on Rare's old website
Forum thread for the Rare Replay release



Pentagram (1986, ZX Spectrum/MSX)

What is it?  
Six games for the price of one!

The first three Sabreman games differed significantly in gameplay style. Pentagram, released two years after the rest, was on the other hand very derivative of Knight Lore, using the same isometric Filmation engine and a similar setting. But this time, Sabreman is a wizard! This lets him cast spells to attack enemies, and wear a pointy hat. Here's the funny thing: we (the collective we) aren't really sure if the Stampers made it, due to their notorious secrecy, sketchy details, and the "OG buyout" by US Gold. The latter company acquired the rights to Ultimate's games and continued to release titles under their label between 1985 and 1988, when the Stampers' new company Rare (which you may have heard of) took it all back. Comments by the Stampers and the titles chosen for inclusion on the compilation tape "Ultimate Play The Game: The Collected Works" seem to support the idea that any games released in this period after Gunfright (including Pentagram) were not theirs.

But that's not a pentagram, it's really more of a Batman symbol. A Batagram, if you will.
A g-g-ghost! Zoinks, Scoob! Jinkies! Etc., etc.


Why is it mentionable?

If you subscribe to the "alternate timelines branching from Underwurlde" theory then this game takes place in a separate stream to Knight Lore. The game's instructions, however, do imply that it follows the events of all three previous games. Whether or not Sabreman's appearance in Tooie follows from Knight Lore, from this, or from the third Underwurlde branch is open to interpretation, but if you wanted to get pernickety about it (as is your OBLIGATION) you could easily dismiss Pentagram's relevance to DKU prehistory as its release in 1986 (or 1985, according to Rare's website circa 1999) precludes it from being compatible with the quoted year of 1984 in Tooie. Sure, it's not implausible that it's just another of Sabreman's adventures from some other point in time (1984, say), but DKU strict-adherence-to-release-year obliges us to think of it only as a "what if" scenario.

Incidentally, Pentagram is the only one of the four original Sabreman games to not be collected in Rare Replay, possibly due to its disputed authorship; if Ultimate didn't actually make it, then it would make sense not to include it...

More info:

Wikipedia article
Discussion of the disputed authorship of US Gold titles
World of Spectrum's entry on the game, with details, scans, maps, and magazine references
Archive of coverage on Rare's old website



Mire Mare (Aborted 1987, ZX Spectrum)

What is it?  
Supposedly the planned boxart, according to the Internet. There's literally no way to know for sure.

After being teased in one of the endings of Underwurlde and previewed in magazines as late as 1987, the planned fifth instalment of the Sabreman series never showed up. According to a source allegedly within Ultimate the game was ready for release (on the Spectrum, naturally) but due to complications related to the company's sale to US Gold, the Stampers refused to let them have it. This account was later contradicted by Rare's website which said that it had been designed but not coded, and also told us that its gameplay would have been close to the maze-like original Sabre Wulf as opposed to the popular isometric style of Knight Lore and Pentagram. A map included in the 1987 "Collected Works" Spectrum compilation which references the Sabreman games hints that the final game could have involved volcanoes, but apart from this inference nothing is known about the plot or setting.

Still, VOLCANOES!



Why is it mentionable?

Mire Mare complicates the timeline theory as, despite being one of three alternatives at the end of Underwurlde, both Knight Lore and Pentagram also contain references to it as the next adventure in their ending text. This gives it the feeling of a lost legend. What really happened in the Mare? Barring a Diddy Kong Pilot-style leak, we may never know.

More info:

Wikipedia article
World of Spectrum's entry on the game, with details, scans, maps, and magazine references
Archive of coverage on Rare's old website
Retrospective on Mire Mare's development, including a picture of the "Collected Works" map



Sabre Wulf (2004, Game Boy Advance)

What is it?  
It's cool that the original game's logo is being reused so precisely; but unfortunate that it falls into the "modern sequel with same name as original" trap.

Rare's handheld team used Banjo-Tooie's redesign of the character to revive the Sabreman franchise—although it's possible that both the Tooie cameo and this handheld adventure could have been designed as Diddy Kong Racing-style backdoor pilot and Conker's Pocket Tales-style portable companion respectively, to accompany the main feature: the ill-fated Sabreman Stampede. Regardless, what we got was a neat adventure game with 2D platformer stages, where Sabreman confronts his old eponymous enemy and a nasty new nemesis to protect nearby townsfolk... and nab some treasure, the greedy bastard. Along the way there's puzzle-solving by way of an inventory of usable animals, a typically Rare-ish world and cast of characters, and lots of references to Ultimate era games both in the Sabreman series and out of it, including the non-Stamper-produced Commodore 64 titles.

Sabreman in Banjo-Tooie, after you've unfrozen the old bugger and warmed him up. Canonically he was frozen in 1984, possibly after Knight Lore, and was just fine if a bit chilly 16 years later. Human biology, am I right?
Three years later, Sabre Wulf resurfaces in DKC GBA, in his redesigned form for Sabre Wulf GBA (but a year before that game was released). But he's just a head mounted on the wall by Cranky? Except he's actually alive? How did Cranky arrange that? Well, it's a tradition what with Banjo's head in the Cock & Plucker I suppose.
Sabreman returns to the Isle O' Hags the year after his big GBA adventure and can be seen in the Jolly Roger's Lagoon course of Banjo-Pilot. Taking a holiday, or on the hunt for some Atlantean treasure? You decide!

Before this screen is a wonderful scene of Sabreman nicking the company logos. It's a lot like Bad Fur Day and all—you really ought to give this game a go.
Sabreman's campsite (note the familiar red Y-fronts—guess which Rare Archipelago underwear brand Sabreman is a customer of). In between the side-on levels are isometric sections where you wander populated areas, interacting with mumbly ignoramuses who ask for your help. It's kind of like Grunty's Revenge, you should play it.
Side-on gameplay. Although it has the eye-bleeding brightness of an early GBA game, there's some nice-looking stuff here that feels very DKU. I don't know about you, but I'm definitely getting GBA DKC trilogy vibes here; seriously, why haven't you played this game yet?


Why is it mentionable?

As part of Rare's lovely cross-promotional/world-building efforts, references to this new direction for Sabreman were seeded in a few core DKU games, most notably Banjo-Tooie with the good old fellow appearing as a surprise blast-from-the-past MIWAFYH. The new look of Sabre Wulf was then first seen as a plaque-mounted head (albeit alive and blinking) in the GBA remake of Donkey Kong Country, in Cranky's Cabin. After the release of his own game, Sabreman was decent enough to show up again in Jolly Roger's Lagoon in Banjo-Pilot (and he even appeared in an early development voxel-based version of the game). These appearances deeply cement Sabreman and his world as physically DKU-adjacent, not to mention its spiritual DKU connections that this write-up has taken pains to establish. It's easily the most DKU-ish of the Honourable Mentions (and basically the whole reason for this sordid mess of a site feature).

More info:

Archive of coverage on Rare's old website
MundoRare's page on the game, with artwork, screenshots, music, and stuff
Raregamer's page on the game, with artwork, screenshots, and stuff
The most active forum thread about the game
• An old thread and a new thread angling for the game's inclusion in the DKU



Sabre Wulf (2005, Mobile)

What is it?

Possibly as a result of their THQ partnership, several of Rare's GBA titles made their way to mobile phones: Grunty's Revenge was split into two, and of course It's Mr. Pants! had a cut-down port. Sabre Wulf (2004) got the same treatment, with the experience mangled down by French Java mobile game specialists Kaolink. The interstitial isometric interludes have been cut, leaving just a reasonable approximation of the sidescrolling levels.

The resolution of many phones is actually comparable to the GBA, so sprites can be replicated 1:1. They're a lot more limited in graphical trickery and details, though.
The isometric segments have been replaced by the pulse-pounding thrills of selecting levels from a menu.
It may have dodgy controls and barely any sound, but the graphics at least don't have the eye-searing brightness of the GBA.


Why is it mentionable?

While the game does lose a lot of charm and character in its conversion to Java-based phones, the core gameplay of the 2D levels is still there, more or less. It rides into being Honourable on the coat-tails of Sabre Wulf GBA, despite lacking the explorable 3D spaces and MIWAFYHs, certain presentational aspects, and almost all the music of its source.

More info:

A review of the game with some screenshots (seriously, there's not much info on this game online)



Sabreman Stampede (Aborted 2005, Xbox 360)

What is it?  
More features of the game: guns, hatless Sabreman, and horrifying NPCs.

This ill-fated Sabreman revival project purportedly began life as Donkey Kong Racing. Like Diddy Kong Pilot and Donkey Kong Coconut Crackers, the planned Gamecube title was a victim of the buyout and was rebranded with Rare's own IP. Unlike those other two however, Stampede underwent some major changes and had a protracted re-development cycle. Its more "final" form was going to be a 3D sandbox adventure game for the Xbox 360 with a—potentially controversial—emphasis on taming, controlling, and using wild animals in the environment. Unfortunately, the project's perceived lack of direction led to it being cancelled in 2005.



Why is it mentionable?

Footage and art of the game shows that the final product would have spiritually felt very DKU, with shades of DKC, Conker, and Starfox Adventures. There are familiar animals to interact with, including rhinos, ostriches, and elephants—potentially remnants of its time as Donkey Kong Racing—as is the ride-switching mechanic. As part of the "redesigned Sabreman" lineage (Tooie > Sabre Wulf GBA > Stampede), this title is also closely tied to the DKU through Banjo-Tooie's reintroduction and redesign of the character.

More info:

MundoRare's expose on the game's development (written by our very own Mark!)
Unseen64's page on the game, with quotes, concept art, and footage
Forum threads covering speculation and discoveries about the game, and the running joke of expecting it at E3



Jetpac Refuelled (2007, Xbox 360)

What is it?

Jetpac Refuelled is a modern reimagining of Ultimate's very first game, Jetpac. It's got all the bits and bobs: achievements, leaderboards, multiplayer, stacks of levels, whiz-bang flashy effects, powerups, robots, and explosions. It also shares something in common with Donkey Kong 64: the original Jetpac for Spectrum is fully playable as an extra.

With a helmet shaped like that, the Jetman episode of the Duckcast is inevitable.
See below for a list of the references in the border art. But I didn't mention that the rocket and fuel container are from off of Jetpac, the car is from off of Lunar Jetman, and I guess the money bag is from off of Gunfright? (Thanks to MundoRare for the screenshot.)


Why is it mentionable?

The game itself is nothing to get us too excited, but the connection with Donkey Kong 64 is surely subtly pleasing. More pertinent to this section though, is the border art that is displayed when playing the Spectrum Jetpac. In a precursor to Rare Replay's borders, new artwork is displayed around the 4:3 gameplay screen, but this one is packed with references to Ultimate's Spectrum catalogue. Along with the Jetman-related objects are the ACG key from Atic Atac, the googly-eyed robots from Pssst and Alien 8, and a few Sabreman characters: the man himself (back in classic pre-Tooie/GBA/Stampede style) with the first game's amulet in hand, Sabre Wulf itself, and the devil himself from off of Underwurlde. There's also what is probably meant to be the wizard's cauldron from off of Knight Lore and even an obelisk from off of Pentagram. Obviously the art is intended as a kind of collage and not indicative of an in-universe event that somehow involved all these characters and concepts meeting up; that would just be ridiculous! Or would it...? For you see, Jetpac Refuelled was also included in Rare Replay, the opening cinema of which at least has some manner of otherworldly conjunction of disparate worlds.

More info:

Wikipedia article
Xbox game page
Rare Revealed video covering the original Jetpac and this game
Mostly broken entry on Rare's website circa 2007
More functional entry on Rare's website circa 2013
MundoRare's page on the game with artwork, screenshots, etc.
Forum thread for the Rare Replay release




←Back            

Submitted by
Milo.
Join us and Submit!