Thursday, February 18, 2021

Matter of Import 36: Space Launcher (Arcade, 1979) Why be the launcher when you can be the missile?


 

At first glance you might think that Space Launcher is another one of those fixed shooters inspired by Space Invaders and Galaga – and you'd be forgiven for thinking so, because it does have the marching chorus line of alien invaders at the top of the screen, while your launcher scrolls left to right at the bottom.

Nintendo's already released two, after all – Space Fever and SF-Highsplitter. Sure, it looks a little different with those sparks in the middle of the screen and the roof on top, but Space Fever had had blocks of aliens bumping into each other and SF-HighSplitter had had extra wide aliens that split into two when you shot them, and it didn't save them from being fundamentally Space Invaders clones.

So your expectations might not be high... until you press the fire button. At this point your entire ship starts accelerating, and you realize you're not the canon – you're the missile.

In Space Launcher you need to pilot your missile to the docking bays at the top of the screen, avoiding enemy fire and the sparks or mines in the center. Once there, you need to return back to the bottom. When you reach the level of the aliens your rocket generates a small shield enabling you to plow through them – if you hit them head on, a side-swipe will still kill you.

Each mission to the bays and back makes the game slightly more difficult, with more mines and faster enemy ships that fire more often. The difficulty curve is well plotted, though, and gradual enough that it isn't jarring while being definitely present.You'll reach a point where you lose a number of ships in quick succession but it doesn't feel as though the game has suddenly gotten too hard; it's just that you've reached the furthest point of your skill.

The graphics are simple but not unappealing, using the solid color bands for sprites seen in a number of other games of the sort, and the music isn't grating – which, for a late 70s game, is the best we can really hope for.

It's really a shape we didn't get this title in the US – I easily found it as fun to play as Galaga and Asteroids. I'll happily give it Matter of Import's first A ranking – I might even go for the 'S', but there's a hollowness here, an emptiness. Maybe it's a little too simple.

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