Pile some banana skins into your Mr Fusion and fire up the Flux Capacitor as I delve back into the annals of videogame history for a teary-eyed look at a fire-breathing classic on the Sinclair Spectrum.
Depending on your age, the early days of 8-bit gaming will either fill you with fond nostalgia or make you giggle, point and scream “Did people actually pay money for that rubbish?”
Well hopefully, less middle-aged readers can contain their howls of derision as we take a look at one of my favourite classics of yesteryear; Thanatos on the ZX Spectrum.
Enter the Dragon
Thanatos was developed and published by UK developer Durell Software, publishers of such other classics as Fat Worm Blows a Sparky, Turbo Esprit and the Sam Fisher-like Saboteur 1 and 2. The game casts you as Thanatos the Destroyer, a massive green Dragon on a mission to rescue a sexy sorceress, find her spellbook and cauldron and stick it to the forces of the underworld.
Seeing as you fly sideways taking on the foes that assail you, Thanatos could be loosely classified as a side-scrolling shoot ’em up, but it’s much, much more than a mere R-Type clone. For one thing, you don’t really ‘shoot’.
While it might look like a steaming pile of eight-colour pixels today, the huge main character and amazing (for the time) parallax scrolling helped it sell a quarter of a million copies back in the 80s. It was no doubt helped by the thing that makes Thanatos so ripe for a 21st Century remake – a whole Smaug-asbord (sorry) of dragon abilities to play with.
A dragon wouldn’t be a dragon without fiery breath and Thanatos didn’t disappoint. Your fire-breathing abilities could be used to attack airborne assailants such as giant bees and two-headed evil dragons and much fun could be had strafing the ground, torching the angry spear and bow-wielding humans. You could also blaze away at obstacles such as burning through a set of solid, oaken castle gates, although why you didn’t just fly over them is anyone’s guess.
Your powerful talons could also be used to great effect when hovering or low-level flying. Close your claws around a cart-sized boulder and drop it on a mob of stone-throwing peasants, or just pick up the peasants themselves and drop them on their friends or just to enjoy the splat.
But you didn’t have it all your own way, and where there’s a dragon there’s bound to be a brave knight on a charger ready to make his name by putting your head on his lance. The thing was, once you’d picked up the sorceress Eros, you had to drop her off to let her pick up her spellbook or use her cauldron. This is when you’d hear the Spectrum’s bleepy imitation of hoofbeats and it became a race against time, gravity and your bulky frame. If you didn’t take off quick enough, the knight galloped on screen and skewered you, but if you managed to avoid his pointy weapon, you could swoop down and pluck him from his horse with your claws. Once he was deep fried you could fly back and do the same to his riderless mount. Great fun.
Despite the healthy sales, no sequel was forthcoming. In 1987, Durell sold on its game development rights to Elite Systems (publisher of 8-bit conversions of arcade games such as Space Harrier and Paperboy) to concentrate on the more stable business software market.
If Thanatos were to ever get a modern makeover, a fully 3D realm to fly over and terrorise would be stunning. Free-roaming gamplay mixed with angry peasants, heavily defended castles, mythical monsters and of course busty or buff (depending on your sexual orientation) magic-users to aid you on your quest. It’d be flamin’ brilliant – in fact, that could be the tagline – “Thanatos 2018. It’s flamin’ brilliant” – who wouldn’t buy that?
Spiritual successors: Crimson Dragon (Xbox One), Panzer Dragoon (Sega Saturn), Drakengard 3 (PS3)
[NB. I wrote this article several years ago for some ungrateful sons-of-liches. I thought the premise was a good ‘un, so I’ve resurrected it here. Would you like more of these?]