Thanatos - The ultimate 80's Dragon flight simulator? (Review)

Today's review will take us back into the mists of time, to an age of myth and magic, of sword and sorcery, of dragons and knights fighting over a fair maiden. Back, specifically, to 1986, where Mike 'The Knight' Richardson was defending the Kingdom of Durell against the forces of the underworld, assisted by his tame dragon, Thanatos the Destroyer.

Thanatos is a sideways scrolling fry-'em-up, in which you play the part of, surprisingly, Thanatos, a dragon, who must rescue the beautiful young enchantress Eros, and her book of spells (the two of them having been separated and hidden in separate castles) and then go on to find a magic cauldron and defeat the forces of evil forever. Or until the sequel is commissioned, whichever is the sooner.

It is a very impressive looking game: Thanatos himself (or possibly herself; telling the sex of dragons is above my pay grade) is probably the biggest playable character I've seen in a Spectrum game, animated from tongue to tail, and able to walk, fly or swim as the mood takes him. Even when you're under attack from some equally large sea monsters or a two-headed dragon, the background flows past with a nice parallax scrolling effect. Even the way the dragon turns round looks good, especially in the air. Oh, and I don't know what Mike was feeding the poor thing, but Thanatos also breathes magenta flames, which comes in handy when not so friendly knights are lobbing bricks at you.

Not only do you play a dragon that takes up about a third of the playable screen, but you can also pick up those pesky knights (or rocks, but the knights are more fun) and use them as ammo. While all this is going on, the background is also full of neat little animations, from the reflection of the moon shimmering on the sea to an actual erupting volcano off in the distance.

OK, so it looks good, but is it all style and no substance? Well, Thanatos is a very easy game to get into, but less easy to stay in. I tend to take a flat-out approach to games, hit the throttle and hope I can either outrun or plough straight through any problems that might try to beset me. I'm a busy man, I have no time for things like skill or strategy. Or scoring points.

Dragons, it seems, don't work like that. Especially this one - there are no extra lives, not even an energy level meter to refer to; just the beating of old Thanny's heart. And when you're flying full tilt through a cave full of spiders so big even Australians stand on chairs screaming, or fighting off killer bees the size of helicopters, all the while making sure your pet sorceress doesn't fall off your neck, trying not to have a heart attack is necessarily top of your priority list.

The weird tulip on the right represents your remaining flame power, which apparently you can top up by eating witches, but I never saw any. I didn't last long enough to run out of flame before getting eaten by a sea serpent or something either, but I'd have probably got annoyed with the game had that occasion arisen.

That being said, if you can get your head around keeping your dragon healthy, the scenery and bad guys are a decent reward for venturing further into the game (those giant spiders will probably give me nightmares now), but if you like your gameplay a little more frantic it might get a bit frustrating that you need to take a break more often than a four year old on a ramble.

So, it looks great, it sounds... well, it does have a nice moody theme tune on the menu screens, but in game it sounds like a Spectrum game, and in terms of playability, I would imagine this could be a bit of a Marmite game. The basics are easy enough to grasp, and although the stopping and starting can get frustrating, it is kind of addictive, and has plenty of unique twists on a standard arcade format. Worth at least taking a look at for its originality and in-game graphics.

Review by Steve Trower

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