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Review: Scramble (Vectrex)

Posted by Rob Maerz on February 1, 2014 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (0)

If you were too busy pumping quarters in Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Galaga back in 1981, then you probably missed this great shooter released by Konami that same year.

 

Cited as the influence for the Gradius series, this horizontal shooter puts you at the controls of a cool looking space ship dodging missiles, destroying bases and bombing fuel tanks through various terrains. There are five terrains to get through before you meet the objective of bombing the enemy base on the sixth level.

 

So, how does this all translate to vector graphics on the Vectrex?

 

Pretty darn good!


 

I was skeptical about how this would play out on the Vectrex, but was pleasantly surprised.

 

The terrain drawn up in vector graphics looks sensational. Your space ship actually looks more like a vector version of the Cosmic Avenger craft, but that’s just nitpicking. Explosions appear as large asterisks on the screen and sometimes I crash my space ship accidentally on purpose just to see it break into pieces.

 

There are some collision detection issues in this release but they seem to work in your favor. You can dip your wing into the terrain without losing a life and I’ve even went through a missile without dying!

 

Aside from that, the game play is “all that.” Maneuvering through the tight spaces takes some practice and that’s even on the easiest of three skill levels.

 

It’s all about the fun factor and this port of Scramble delivers.

 

Grade: A

 

 

Review: Life Force (NES)

Posted by Rob Maerz on February 1, 2014 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

I remember my local bowling alley getting this arcade cabinet in their game room. I played it several times back in the day and to this day I find it to be a bizarre horizontal space shooter.

 

Konami ported their 1986 arcade release to the NES in 1988. The game can be played by one or two players simultaneously with one piloting the Vic Viper and the other the Road British Space Destroyer. Like many games in this genre, you can power-up your weaponry throughout the game.

 

The space monster Zelos has gone on an intergalactic buffet. Zelos needs a whooping in the digestive tract from the star fighters to save civilizations. Along the way you battle enemy defenses and bosses to your ultimate goal of destroying Zelos’ heart and soul.

 

At the onset, this game looks like same wine, different bottle. You’ll see similar enemy craft travelling in similar flight patterns as in Gradius. After that wave, things get interesting.

 

You travel through caverns facing enemy Death Hands, Belbeims (which look like ribs or horns – take your pick) and other universal scum. When you finally plow your way through all the obstacles it’s time to face the first boss.

 

Golem is a brain with Death Hands and an eye protruding from his frontal lobe. I’ve found that you can simply do circles around him avoiding the Death Hands and just start wailing on his eye.

 

I like the dynamic of this game. Once you get to Terror Zone II, the game turns into a vertical scrolling shooter and that’s pretty neat!

 

Graphically this game looks good and at the same time bizarre – appropriate for the story line. The music doesn’t fit the game, however – I would’ve chosen a jingle to the tune of Public Image Ltd’s “Albatross.”


 

There is no randomness in this game so you basically have to do repeat plays and memorize the patterns. It’s still a challenge, nonetheless.

 

This is a highly addictive game –one you can play for hours on end.

 

Grade: A

 

 

Review: Gulkave (ColecoVision)

Posted by Rob Maerz on February 1, 2014 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Gulkave is a 1986 Sega horizontal space shooter ported from the SG-1000 by Eduardo Mello and released by Team Pixelboy. This game is another example of  “what could have been” had Coleco not snubbed the ColecoVision in favor of the disastrous ADAM.

 

In a nutshell, you pilot a spaceship called the Zaiigar that shoots anything that moves. Your adversary is the Gulbas Empire who throw everything but the kitchen sink to see you destroyed. Your goal is to destroy the eight fortresses of the Gulbas Empire. Pretty easy, right?

 

Wrong! This game is tougher than tough. There are no cookie levels in this game – it’s an onslaught from the onset.

 

Your Zaiigar ship is protected (temporarily) by a shield barrier that loses energy with every hit you take. When you run out of energy on your shield barrier, the next hit you take means you lose a ship.

 

There are thirty levels known as “acts.” When you complete an act, you earn bonus points for any energy remaining on your shield barrier and you move onto the next act. The eight Gulbas fortresses that you are to destroy are located at the end of acts 2, 6, 10, 14, 18, 22, 26 and 30.

 

Along the way you can receive power-ups for weaponry upgrades, and of course, you lose the additional fire power once you lose a life. Some of the weaponry is pretty awesome like the “Screen Eraser Blaster” that shoots five beams so you can give the Gulbas thugs some payback.

 

The cartridge features a high score table, a game demo screen and (thankfully) the ability to continue the game. Music plays throughout which is typical for this genre of games of the mid-1980s.

 

The graphics are superb and if you didn’t know it you’d swear that this wasn’t a ColecoVision title. On the first act your ship is flying over nicely rendered ice capped mountains with a sparkling star field in the background.


 

The level of difficulty has its positives and negatives. The positive is that it can entice you to explore the game further by using the continue feature (if needed). The negative is that there are players that would have preferred, at a minimum, two difficulty levels (e.g. Novice and Standard) for the purpose of practicing and discovery of the game at higher levels without having to use a continue.

 

Players that seek a challenge of this magnitude in the genre of horizontal shooters will enjoy this game. It’s a hit or miss for players that don’t.

 

Grade: B-

 

 

Review: Yars' Revenge (2600)

Posted by Rob Maerz on February 1, 2014 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

A programmer at Atari was asked to develop a port of Star Castle for the Atari 2600. He said it couldn’t be done “but, here’s Yars’ Revenge.”

 

You are Yar (Ray spelled backwards – as in Ray Kassar), a fly that must destroy the Qotile (the equivalent of the cannon in Star Castle) that lies behind an energy shield on the right side of the screen. You must chip away at the cells in the energy shield by shooting them or nibbling away at them. All the while you are being chased by the guided destroyer missile (equivalent to the sparks in Star Castle) in your attempt to tunnel a path through the shield. Once you have a path through the energy shield, you can then launch your Zorlon cannon from the left side of the screen to destroy the Qotile on the right.


 

In the middle of the playfield is the neutral zone where you are invincible to the destroyer missile but not to the swirls blasted off by the Qotile. Additionally, you cannot fire from within the neutral zone.

 

As you kill off more Qotiles, the destroyer missile increases its pace and Qotile’s swirls are launched more frequently. As you advance further in the game, there will be a couple of boards sans neutral zone.

 

None of this stuff makes sense but that’s the imagination that makes games from the classic era great! This is definitive Atari 2600 of the early 80s.

 

Graphically, Yar looks pretty good as a cosmic fly and the Qotile looks like some kind of demonic cannon that constantly changes hues. Machine code was used as graphic representation of the neutral zone and the destruction of the Qotile. All this action is set to the sounds of the Qotile swirls, Zorlon cannons and an insect drone as the backdrop.

 

From a game play standpoint, thisis one of the finest titles in the 2600 library. It’s one of the few moments in Atari’s history where they made the right decision in that they released a title that was influenced by an arcade port instead of releasing a blocky flickerfest masked inside seductive box art and calling it Star Castle.

 

Grade: A+

 

 

Review: Star Fortress (ColecoVision)

Posted by Rob Maerz on February 1, 2014 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (0)

This is the home brew version of Star Castle ported to the ColecoVision by John Dondzila.

 

You command the familiar looking Asteroids type ship while you blast away the rings to destroy the cannon in the center.

 

You can use the two buttons on your controller to fire and thrust and your joystick to rotate left and right. You can also push up on the joystick to thrust which I have found is much easier. I dabbled playing this game using the Roller Controller but I found the Coleco controller to be the better option.

 

Graphically, the game looks great. Although the star field is static backdrop it’s something you’d miss if it wasn’t there. The sparks flicker but that may have been done intentionally to mimic the effect in the arcade game.

 

I like the audio effects in this translation. The drone of the rotating rings hasn’t been left out and the other effects are vintage ColecoVision: the game looks and sounds like it could have been released back in 1983.

 

There are two flaws I found in this game. The first is when you attempt to bounce off the rings: at times you will go through a missing segment and get trapped between two rings.

 

The second flaw is the lack of acceleration for your ship. When you thrust from a dead stop, for a second your ship stutters like it’s running on fumes before it actually accelerates. In this type of game you need full acceleration.

 

Between arcade, Vectrex and this version I’d have to say Star Fortress is the most difficult. The cannon watches you like a hawk and more often than not when he unloads on you it’s certain death.

 

The nostalgia has been captured in this release; however it would be more enjoyable if it weren’t so difficult.

 

Grade: C+

 

 

Review: Star Castle (Vectrex)

Posted by Rob Maerz on February 1, 2014 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

My favorite arcade game used to be Galaga. Then, it was Sinistar until I came to terms with the fact that the game cheats. Now, I can profess my love for Cinematronics’ 1980 vector classic, Star Castle. And what better system to port this brutally difficult arcade game than the Vectrex?

 

The Vectrex translation features two difficulty levels with game 1 being the most difficult and the default level of play. The cartridge was also bundled with an attractive overlay with blue tint and red ring and yellow circle in the center to colorize the rings and cannon. The overlay really makes the game look sharp (especially when you play in a dark room!).

 

Like most deep space shooters, your ship rotates left and right (using the joystick or controller buttons) along with thrust and fire.

 

The bad guy is a cannon that rotates in the middle of the screen surrounded by three rings rotating in opposite directions. Aiding our foe are three sparks that will free themselves from the rings and chase you around the screen. Colliding with these sparks is fatal.

 

The object of the game is to destroy the cannon by shooting the ring segments (but do not shoot all the segments of a ring or they will regenerate) for points in order to create a gaping hole. Once there is a path cleared through the rings to the cannon, you need to kill or be killed. Whenever you destroy the cannon, you are awarded a bonus ship, you repeat the process of destroying a cannon and the game ramps up in difficulty.

 

The difficulty is in the game’s speed. The deeper you advance in the game, the faster the sparks travel and the faster the cannon rotates to keep aim on your ship. In the latter stages of the game, you have no option but to stay on full thrust and firing at the same time.

 

The Star Castle arcade game featured some great audio effects such as the drone of the rotating rings and the thundering destruction of ring segments. The drone has been recreated well on the Vectrex although the sound of ring destruction resembles that of two brawling wooden coat hangers.

 

Graphically the game is spot on and there are no flaws to speak of.

 

The Vectrex version of Star Castle is easier for this reason: the sparks never wrap around the playfield. With that, you can always wrap around the playfield to avoid collisions. Nevertheless, the sparks increase their speed to a profound level much like the arcade game.

 

Star Castle is arguably the best game in the Vectrex library and is a must have for your collection.

 

Grade: A+

 

 

Review: Space Fury (ColecoVision)

Posted by Rob Maerz on February 1, 2014 at 12:05 AM Comments comments (0)

That Connecticut Leather Company was famous for releasing less than popular titles for the ColecoVision library and Space Fury could possibly qualify as one of them.

 

There are four skill levels to choose from in this translation of the Sega classic. Skill level 1 is the easiest, skill level 3 is considered the arcade equivalent and skill level 4 is the most difficult. Skill level 3 is what this review will be based on.

 

But first, I want you to free yourself from the Coleco controllers, plug in the Roller Controller and use that instead! The trackball allows you to rotate with precision and the placement of buttons 1 and 2 on the Roller Controller make thrusting and firing much easier.

 

The game opens with the obligatory trash talking alien. He looks like an alien but not the Space Fury creature. Fans of the old English translations of Japanese Godzilla movies should feel right at home as the alien simply moves his lips while the text of his smack scrolls across the screen. “Fanfare For the Common Man” plays in the background for some reason.


 

The spaceship you command is the common Asteroids triangular ship that appears in the center of the screen. Just like the arcade game, the alien ships fuse together to form the cruisers and your ship cannot be destroyed by the alien ships. Cruisers will then chase you down in a deadly collision or destroy you with their fireballs.

 

When the round is over, you choose one of the three docks for extra fire power and receive bonus points – just like the arcade game.

 

After you complete another round, you dock a second time and after another round you dock for a third and final time – just like the arcade game. The strategy for most players is to dock in the 9 o’clock position to obtain ultimate fire power for the remainder of the game.


 

There are compromises made translating a vector arcade game with raster graphics. For example, there are alien ships that resemble paper clips. The alien with the varicose veins found in the arcade game looks more like a one-eyed Creature From the Black Lagoon. Overall, the graphics won’t knock your socks off but they work in this translation.

 

Like the arcade game, the action is fast and furious. And as advertised on Coleco’s box for this game, it “Plays Like The Real Arcade Game.”

 

Grade: A

 

 

Review: Star Wars Return of the Jedi Death Star Battle (2600)

Posted by Rob Maerz on January 31, 2014 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

This is a game that I had sitting in a storage tub for quite some time before it ever met the cartridge slot. A few times I would give it a go, didn’t “get it” and put it right back in the tub.


One day I decided to read the manual.


You pilot a Millennium Falcon and the objective is to destroy the energy core of the Death Star. To meet that objective, you must first destroy a number of Tie Interceptors on the first screen to create openings in the Death Star’s energy shield. At that point, you need to wait for the shield’s grey energy band to deactivate before you can slip through one of the openings where you’ll hyperspace to the Death Star screen.


When you advance to the Death Star screen, at the top you will see the Death Star which is rebuilding piece-by-piece with the energy core in the middle. You pilot your Millennium Falcon at the bottom of the screen firing away at the Death Star to create a pathway in order to blast the energy core. In the midst of all this, your movements are tracked by the Death Star’s Death Ray which will destroy you if the Tie Interceptors, who are circling and firing at you, don’t do it first.


Every so often, you’ll see the green Imperial Shuttle enter the playfield. He moves horizontally in a straight line and if you collide with him you are destroyed. However, if you manage to fire with precision, you can pick up a hefty 3,000 points. You must fire at the Imperial Shuttle’s upper body which can be challenging.


Once you successfully hit the Death Star’s energy core, numerous fireballs spray out in all directions. The longer you survive without getting hit the higher the bonus.


Rinse and repeat.


Gamers that are fans of Sinistar and Star Castle (like me) will enjoy this game as it combines elements of both. The building of the Death Star parallels the building of Sinistar. Chipping away at the Death Star to destroy the energy core is akin to chipping away the rings to destroy the cannon in Star Castle.


Since the playfield wraps around, the strategy for destroying the energy core is to bounce side-to-side. This will allow you to chip away at the Death Star while avoiding getting hit by the Death Ray.


I like the graphics on the first level. The energy shield changes colors and has a sense of depth. The Death Star can be seen being built in the distance while you battle the Tie Interceptors.


The only problem with this game is the abrasive sound effects used for the bad guys zipping by. However, other effects like those used for the Death Ray are a nice touch.


For me, learning how to play by doing something basic (reading the manual) allowed me to discover a fantastic and addicting game.


Grade: A

 

 

Review: Sinistar (5200)

Posted by Rob Maerz on January 31, 2014 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (0)

AtariAge (atariage.com) released the Sinistar prototype cartridge in 2010. Naturally, I had to pounce on this one.


There are four difficulty levels to choose from (listed easiest to most difficult): Coward, Survivor, Warrior and Immortal. If you want arcade difficulty, choose the Warrior level. You can turn auto fire on or off and select 3 or 5 starting lives. The 5200 controller has multiple fire buttons to accommodate manual fire and launching Sinibombs simultaneously although it’s best to choose the auto fire option.


This is one of the rare instances where the 5200 stock controllers work very well. You need to make circular movements around the Warriors and Sinistar and the stock controllers excel in that regard.


Most elements of the arcade game have been translated. The missing pieces are most of Sinistar’s speech, although “Beware I Live” has been preserved to indicate when he is completely built.
 


One issue I have with the graphics is that it is difficult to differentiate the crystals from the stars in the background. If the star field would have been rendered in flickering reds, blues and yellows the crystals would have been distinguishable.


Additionally, the colors are washed out and do not have the vibrancy as found in the arcade game.  Despite all that, objects are multi-colored and detailed. For example, the planetoids appear as three dimensional rocks instead of two dimensional paper plates.


The game was never completed, so there are bugs in the game with the most noticeable being your score and text breaking up in bits and pieces as the game progresses. Because of that, you need to power-cycle the 5200 after each play.


I would love to see this game polished up one day. In its current state, it’s not a title you can enjoy playing over and over again since you have to power-cycle the unit after each play. Additionally, the collision detection needs to be tweaked as your bullets go right through the Warriors and more often than not you have to place the ship right next to them for the kill.


There’s no doubt, however, that under different circumstances this could have been one of the top sellers in the 5200 library. The cartridge is more geared towards collectors and Sinistar fanatics.


Grade: B-

Review: Sinistar (2600)

Posted by Rob Maerz on January 31, 2014 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Sinistar on the 2600 – you’ve got to be kidding! Can you say “flicker fest”? The 2600 just can’t handle this!


 

In 1982, Williams Electronics released Sinistar to the arcades in both upright and cockpit cabinets and has been regarded as one of the most difficult arcade games of the classic era.


You pilot a space ship that mines crystals by firing at planetoids and collecting them. Each crystal converts into a Sinibomb for you to unload on Sinistar and it’s the only method for which you can destroy him. The maximum number of Sinibombs you can store at any one time is 20 and it takes 13 to destroy Sinistar.


While you are mining crystals, there are Sinistar’s Workers who are stealing them for which they use to build Sinistar. It takes 20 pieces for Sinistar to be completely built and at that point he will hunt you down and destroy you by sucking your ship up like a vacuum. At this point, your defense against Sinistar is your Sinibombs and with 13 successful strikes Sinistar will be destroyed. You will then advance to the next zone which will be much more difficult than the previous zone.


Thrown in the mix are the Warriors chasing you around bombarding you with turret fire. At times you can be completely surrounded by Warriors and the only way to survive is to stay on auto fire while circling around them – even better if you can get a planetoid in between to use as a shield.


So, how does this action packed game look and play on that console tank from 1977?


Fantastic!


Since you only have one fire button, auto fire is on by default which frees up the button to be used in launching Sinibombs. One quirk with the auto fire is that it’s not a rapid fire.


Along with your score at the top of the screen, the number of Sinibombs available is on the left, the number of lives on the right and the scanner in the middle. The scanner indicates you current sector location, the planetoids in grey and Sinistar in yellow.


Although simplified from the arcade game, the graphics look great despite flicker (which I have seen worse in other games – Mouse Trap comes to mind). The Workers are rendered in red and they almost look like the real deal! Warriors are c-shaped with tiny squares in the center representing the turret. At first I thought Sinistar was a purple blob, but then I got a good look at him where I could see the details of his eyes and jaw.


As you can expect the game play is easier than the arcade game. At first I couldn’t figure out how it was possible to destroy Sinistar since the Sinibombs never gravitated to center. But, really all you do is unload at least 13 Sinibombs in succession to destroy him. However, as you progress in the game, Sinistar is built faster than the previous level, so don’t take this game for Big Bird’s Egg Catch.


When you destroy Sinistar, the screen flashes through all sorts of colors and there’s a chorus of explosive sound effects. Then you hear some menacing rhythmic notes followed by a jingle that sounds like something out of Bump ‘N’ Jump.


As you can guess, there is no speech in this game indicating when Sinistar has been built completely. So, instead of “Beware I Live” there is a pulsating sound effect that clues you in on the imminent attack.


It’s too bad that this game was not released in 1984 due to the industry market correction at that time. Under different market conditions, Sinistar would have been a hit.


Grade: A

 

 


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