Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Rail Shooters #1

Star Wars (1983)
By: Atari Inc. Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 70,979 (it's hard via emulation!)
Also Available For: Atari 2600, 5200, Atari 8-bit, ColecoVision, Apple Mac, Apple II, Amiga, Atari ST, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, Electron, Enterprise 64

Atari's arcade heritage has always been impressive and has long been looked upon fondly by gamers who were around in their day. For most, their day was the early-to-mid-80's; a period that saw some truly wonderful games released, many of which bore Atari's proud name. Of them, one of the most memorable was undoubtedly Star Wars. Not only was it based on the insanely popular film whose sequels were still being gifted upon lucky movie fans the world over (having arrived between Empire and Return), but it was also something of a technical marvel and, even more remarkably for a licensed game, it was even rather good too! I would hope there's no need to detail the back-story here (although I do know a few people that haven't seen the Star Wars films), but suffice to say, Atari were sensible in basing their game on the exciting climax to the first film, namely the daring attack on the mighty Death Star.

It's a rather short game, no doubt intended as a quick 'fix' for the many fans of the film, and is split into only three unique stages. The first sees you, playing as Luke 'Red 5' Skywalker in his X-Wing fighter, heading towards the Death Star which is guarded by many pesky TIE Fighters. Withstand their all out assault for long enough, taking out as many of them as possible as you go, and you'll reach the Death Star's surface. Here you must take out (or dodge) the towers while taking out as many sentry guns as you can. Survive this and the final assault awaits - the iconic trench run. The route is lined by more sentry guns (and barriers on later runs) but if you make it to the end where the infamous (and rather ill-advised) exhaust port lies, you'll have the chance to 'blow this thing and go home', just like the 'real' Commander Skywalker. What kid of the era wouldn't have been excited by the prospect of doing that?!

Your route through all the stages is fixed; the only control you have is over the target crosshairs which aims your X-Wing's laser cannons. There are three difficulties you can choose from at the start. The first features only the first and third stages (the approach and trench run) while the other two feature all three stages. Whichever one you choose, finishing it will see you move on to the next automatically. Finish the last and it loops back to the start but even harder, then again, on and on, apparently until you run out of credits or give up. It's not particularly easy going though, as both the TIE Fighters and sentry guns shoot 'fireballs' at you (swirly sparkly star things), and relentlessly after the first couple of runs through the game too. You also only get one life per credit and your X-Wing only has a mere six shield points - lose them all and the next shot kills you. Fortunately you can shoot the fireballs just as easily as you can the fighters and guns, but you'll need quick reflexes to catch them all.

Like most arcade titles of the time, it wasn't a complicated affair, but it didn't need to be. The important thing was that it capture the spirit and atmosphere of the film, and it did that superbly. This was partly thanks to the authentic voice samples the game uses, and the simple-but-smooth vector graphics suit it well too. Another thing that works well is the yoke and trigger controls which are precise as well as realistic enough to help you think you're piloting a real X-Wing. Well, when you're a kid at least! And let's face it - they were the target audience, and they (we) justifiably lapped it up. A short game then, but a thrilling and hugely enjoyable one too. As much fun as it still is to play though (and it definitely is), it's a game that will never mean as much to anyone today as it does to someone who played it growing up, especially someone into the film(s) as well as video games, but at the same time, that's not to say it wasn't a technical achievement in its day either.

It was a ground-breaking release to be sure but I can't help feeling its splendour is gradually being lost to history. More so than other games of its age, I mean. There were many conversions but they generally weren't great and it's not an easy game to play these days via emulation either, and even if it was it just wouldn't be the same anyway. The only way to play it now really is if you're lucky enough to find a working original cabinet. If you do you're in for a real treat but sadly there aren't too many of those left these days and the number is only going to keep falling, and that means most younger generations of gamers will never get to experience it or understand how much of an impact it had, leaving us oldies with our occasional pangs of warm fuzzy nostalgia. It will still be an immense thrill to find it in the wild though and who could deny us having another quick go. You know, for old time's sake.

RKS Score: 9/10

Gameplay Video: Strangely there don't seem to be too many YT videos floating around of this wonderful game. Here's one I did find - the image quality isn't great but still...



  1. You're right, it really did capture the feeling and excitement of the SW universe. I'd really love to read a review of Star Wars Arcade on 32X.... :)

  2. All in good time sir, all in good time :)