Disk 15, Side 1
I don’t think anyone who has ever owned a cell phone in the last four years hasn’t played Breakout, or some version of it. Its most basic form is very simple: you control a paddle at the bottom of the screen, and a ball bounces around that you have to reflect back into bricks that cover the upper portion of the screen. Once the bricks are gone, you move to the next level, where the ball moves faster and sometimes the bricks have been rearranged. I imagine this game was invented when some lonely programmer was sick of playing Pong by himself and decided that, instead of becoming some sort of hand-eye coordination superman that could control a paddle in each hand simultaneously, he’d just close off one end, add some bricks, and call it a night. There, now he doesn’t have to make any friends to play video games! Problem solved!
In this version, Super Breakout, there are four versions of the game: classic (break eight lines of bricks, then move to the next faster level), double (where you control two parallel paddles and have two balls bouncing around, shown in the screenshot), progressive (which has six lines instead of eight which keep slowly creeping downward on the screen), and cavity (same as classic but two balls are trapped inside the bricks and can be freed). It’s a decent port, especially for the time, but these days you don’t need Atari emulation to play this game. If you own an electronic device, chances are you’ve already got a version of Breakout somewhere on it. Don’t, like, microwaves come with this game on them now?
OK, I’ll admit, as a kid I never really played this game. First of all, the disk it came on only worked sporadically. Secondly, without the instructions I just flew around in one quadrant of space with nothing to do but shoot into nothingness because I didn’t know the controls. It wasn’t until recently that I finally was able to look the controls up online and actually play this classic game correctly. So no nostalgia filter here for me!
With that said, it’s easy to see the influence this early space fighter had on numerous games that came after it, such as Space Battle for the Intellivision, numerous early Star Trek games, The Last Starfighter (which then got retconned into Star Raiders II), and even parts of Ultima I. You flew a Star Cruiser ship, trying to protect the galaxy from the evil Zylon empire (I said Zylon, not Cylon! It’s an original creation, like Ricky Rouse or Monald Muck!). You accomplish this by first looking at a map of the galaxy (an extremely small galaxy), divided into sectors, each showing an icon if there are friendly starbases or enemy ships in them. If all the sectors surrounding a base get filled with enemy fleets, then it’s KABOOM! to that starbase if you don’t save it within a minute! To do so, you must hyperwarp to whatever sector the enemy ships are in and blow ’em all up. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it is, but the beauty is in the execution (haha, little homicide humor there).
To begin with, warping to another sector is somewhat of a game in and of itself. Once you engage the warp drive, a little crosshair appears in the middle of your screen and starts moving about erratically (the farther away your destination the more erratically it moves). You’ve got to keep it in the middle of the screen once hyperspace finally kicks in (about five seconds or so after you engage the engine), lest you end up somewhere completely different in the galaxy. You know, in case you ever wanted to relive that moment from the Apollo 13 mission where they only had enough juice to fire the engines for a few seconds and had to keep the ship pointing at Earth lest they drift off into the cold, hard vacuum of space and freeze to death. You know, fun!
Once you make it to a sector with some baddies you basically just shoot at them until they explode. This is easier said than done, however, as you’ve got four different views to keep an eye on and switch between: the normal front view, an aft view, the computer targeting view in the corner of the screen, and a long-range third-person view. Also, make sure your shields are up or you’ll just die the instant you get hit by anything. In addition to losing energy every time you get shot at, each enemy shot can also damage one of your systems, rendering it either inoperable or only partially working (for example, the long-range scan suddenly starts showing ghost images). Also, if they damage your shields then you’d best get the hell outta Dodge before they get another shot in, or you’re toast. To replenish your energy and fix your systems, warp to a friendly starbase and dock for a few seconds, and you’re good to go.
Star Raiders surprised me. I had heard of its good reputation, but I’d never really sat down to play it until recently, and it was a lot better than I had expected, especially since it came out in 1979 and the graphics are pretty much crap. The controls are fairly intuitive, yet complicated enough to not just be a shoot ’em up. You’ve got to be strategic about how and when you engage the enemy, when to disengage if the battle is going poorly, and when to visit a starbase vs. engaging more enemy fighters. While some of the controls are a little redundant (I mean come on, did anyone ever turn off the targeting system?), the breakneck action is difficult to master, but a lot of fun, too. Definitely recommended.
I don’t think anyone who has ever owned a cell phone in the last four years hasn’t played Asteroids, or some version of it. Its most basic form is very simple: you control a ship in the middle of the screen surrounded by asteroids, and must shoot them all. Each time you shoot one, it breaks up into smaller asteroids until shooting the smallest sized asteroid makes it disappear completely. I imagine this game was invented when some lonely programmer was sick of playing Spacewar! by himself and decided that, instead of becoming some sort of hand-eye coordination superman that could control a paddle in each hand simultaneously, he’d just get rid of one ship, add some rocks, and call it a night. There, now he doesn’t have to make any friends to play video games! Problem solved!
In this version, creatively titled Asteroids, you can play with up to four players, and either play co-op, competitively, or on teams. It’s a decent port, especially for the time, but these days you don’t need Atari emulation to play this game. If you own an electronic device, chances are you’ve already got a version of Asteroids somewhere on it. Don’t, like, refrigerators come with this game on them now?
Rating: C+ (mostly for multiplayer)
In any case, that does it for side 1 of disk 15. Comin’ up next: the second side, featuring Monster Smash and Stargate Courier. See you then!