Thursday, March 11, 2021

Matter of Import 49: Space Cruiser [Taito 1981]

Today's game is Taito's 1981 fixed screen shooter Space Cruiser. In the game your ship can move horizontally and fire vertically – one shot at first, alternating with two after an automatic upgrade. This game is best compared to Galaga, released the same year. How does it stack up?

On the positive there's more variety in enemies and formation... we pass through several waves on our way to blow up the enemy planet. The first two are familiar looking mobs of enemy spacecraft, though if we manage to hit one just right it'll flip over and act as a shield temporarily. There's also this larger mothership that'll take a few shots to kill.

The enemies flit about in deceptive patterns, making them difficult to lead with your shots, and this is another title where you only get one – later two – shots on the screen at a time. You also feel slower than in some shooters, though the pacing is not, overall, too bad.

After two waves of disc-like enemies we enter an asteroid belt. Here the goal is simply to travel far enough without getting killed to activate the slip zone warning – at this point we'll start to rise from the bottom of the screen as it changes color, making dodging more difficult. One nice touch is that if you do die you don't have to start a wave over from the very beginning; you only face the foes you hadn't destroyed, and if you lose all your lives... well, this is one of those 1981 games with continues. Makes it a lot less frustrating.

After the asteroid stage you get to a friendly space station that you'll need to dock with – after dealing with a few opportunistic enemy ships. Docking gives you the game's sole power-up – an attachment to the front of your ship that gives you additional firepower, allowing you to fire two blasts every second shot.

The last phase is the enemy planet. After dealing with a few defensive craft and the missile ports in the moon, you at last fire a planet-buster from the nose of your ship, destroying the planet once and for all. Well, not for all, because now the game repeats, with you tackling the stages in the same order again.

While the game does have some nice action to it, at the same time the design doesn't feel as holistic as in something like Galaga – there's a little too much variety and it doesn't really come together into something cohesive. The graphics are also a little bit on the basic side. The score – Night on Bald Mountain, a 19th century Russian piece made famous by Disney's Fantasia but perhaps more familiar to retrogamers as the "What the Heck" level music used in Earthworm Jim  – isn't a bad rendition given the technological limitations.

Compared to Galaga, Space Cruiser just comes up short, though I give it props for its enemy variety and continue system. I'll give it a B ranking.


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