When I think of the 1980s, I am immediately reminded of G.I. Joe cartoons, hair bands, Mr. T cereal, Saturday Supercade, Mary Lou Retton, and John Rambo - all of which make that decade distinct in my mind. Perhaps the most significant reminder of the 1980s for me, though, is the rise of the sword and sorcery genre, brought forth primarily due to the popularity (and controversy) of Dungeons & Dragons, but given continued attention through a slew of movies released during the time. These movies ranged from Boorman's often eerie retelling of Arthurian legend in Excalibur to the only non-musical Disney animated feature at the time in The Black Cauldron to the guilty pleasure of Hawk the Slayer to the dreadfully awful Deathstalker movies. Arguably the most influential of these movies was Conan the Barbarian, starring then rising star Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The fascination with Conan and the barbarian hero archetype he made famous can be witnessed in several video games during the '80s-Ax-Battler from Golden Axe, Gogan from The Legendary Axe, Thor from Gauntlet, and even Conan himself appeared in a forgettable game or two of his own during this era. In my opinion, though, the best rendering of the Conan character was accomplished in Rastan, a game produced by Taito for the arcade and later ported to the Sega Master System.
Rastan is a hack-and-slash platformer in which you traverse seven levels of the land of Semia in order to rescue a princess. No, Rastan is not innovative in its storytelling, but that really doesn't matter. Rastan is about cutting down skeletons, harpies, wizards, chimeras, and medusae as you make your way to the boss at the end of each level. As you slay your enemies, you will occasionally be rewarded with potions, shields, and armor, but your enemies will also leave behind vials of poison which will deplete your health. In addition to these items, you'll find weapons that will increase your reach and damage, including the fire sword which launches fireballs with every swing.
Though Rastan does not have a time limit for each level, it does employ a penalty if you move at a leisurely pace. After a certain amount of time passes, night begins to set in, and you suddenly find yourself besieged by bats that will plague you for the remainder of the level. While the bats don't appear during the boss levels, the game once again finds a way to ensure you dispatch your foes quickly. The manual implies that the air in the boss chambers is poisonous to Rastan, and your health will deplete slowly for the duration of the battle.
Speaking of the bosses, Rastan has some of the best looking I can recall on the Sega Master System. Though most of the enemies you encounter during a level will not be very detailed (though the graphics are still good for the Master System), the bosses are often large and relatively well defined, especially the three dragons you will confront before the game's end.
The music in the game is also very good for a Master System game, and you may find the tunes running through your head long after finishing the game.
The only real complaints I have about this game are the ease with which some of the bosses can be defeated and the overall length. The first boss, Kentorous the centaur, can be defeated with only a few downward thrusts of your sword, and the third boss, the wizard Shukumas, will stand in one spot for several seconds before teleporting, allowing you to do heavy damage by merely standing in front of him and repeatedly swiping him with your sword. As for the game length, you can expect to play Rastan from beginning to end in 20-25 minutes, though they will be 20-25 minutes of some of the best hack-and-slash gaming to be found on the Master System.
Among the limited Master System library, Rastan stands out as one of the best action titles available. It brings together good graphics, fun gameplay, and for the Conan fans among us, an ending that is very appropriate for a Conan-inspired character. I consider Rastan one of my favorite titles in my Master System library, and after comparing it with the arcade original, I think the Master System port comes out on top. Certainly, the graphics cannot compare with the coin-op, but where the original was created to be a quarter-muncher, the Master System version feels like a more balanced game.
A quick tip for those of you who find that the three continues are not adequate to get you through the game - before turning on your Master System, hold down the both buttons and the D-pad to the lower left. Continue to hold until the Rastan title screen appears. If the title is blue instead of gold, you have unlocked unlimited continues. Now you may play as recklessly as you like.