I was playing with the demo of Gladius (warning for office workers…there’s music on that site) off a recent XBox magazine cover disk. This is the LucasArts gladiatorial combat game.

It’s really very neat. A strange melange of gaming styles. You have rpg aspects in that characters have stats and such. Some strategy bits in that it looks as though you spend your coin on building a team, with various choices of what type of warrior to hire. Then you get in the arena. Set up starting positions, with height and terrain playing a very real role in combat.

Combat is turn-based…each character moves in succession, based on abilities. You have various movement and ‘spell’ points (I’m guessing at terminology as I had no docs). You have a variety of different attacks that use up these spell points. But here’s the catch..when it comes time to attack, there’s an arcade element to the game. You have a gizmo that looks very similar to the ‘swing meter’ in old golf games. A horizontal bar with various zones in it. An indicater slides across the bar, and you have to tap a button to mark your swing. There’re big ‘normal hit’ zones that are easy as pie to hit. Then there are weak zones (which you want to avoid) followed by a very small critical hit zone, and so forth. The idea being that you can risk the critical hit but you might land a weak hit instead. The normal hit is basically a sure thing.

And that’s the basic attack. For combos you have to hit two buttons. Special attacks are carried out by various “Simon-like” mini-games (ok, miniscule games). It’s *really* fun how it blends character stats with your own abilities. But if you’re a thinking gamer, I’m hoping that sound tactics and normal hits will carry the day.

Nothing here is totally new, but the way its all combined makes the game feel very fresh and fun. This one is now on my MUST HAVE list, to be sure!