Friday, September 24, 2021

Matter of Import 70: Arcadia [Imagine Software 1982]


Arcadia is a fixed screen shooter for the ZX Spectrum released in 1982 by Imagine Software, and later released for the Commodore Vic-20 and 64 computers. Arcadia was the British company’s first release, and Imagine quickly gained a reputation as a flashy yet professional company, though they’re perhaps best well remembered for their very public financial dissolution while producing the much-hyped game Bandersnatch.

You know, like in Black Mirror.

Anyway, Arcadia plays like most fixed screen shooters, though the keyboard controls are unusual. Instead of dedicated buttons to control your ship, you use whole rows of the keyboard. You can press any key in the Q-row to fire, and any key in the A-row gives you thrust away from the bottom of the screen when held. Left and right movement in the Z row is a little trickier, as the keys offer alternating left and right movement - Z-left, X-right, C-left, V-right, and so forth. 

It’s not terribly intuitive - I would prefer to swap the function of the Q and A rows - but you get sort of used to it after awhile.

Using that scheme you pit your ship against waves of enemies on the screen, each with its own unique attack pattern, many of which require you to use your ship’s thrust to avoid them as they sweep along the bottom. Your goal here isn’t to destroy all the ships, no - each wave has a 99 second timer, and you need to stay alive long enough to run it out. Until that happens, the opposition is endless.

It’s a big enough change from other fixed screen shooters that it feels refreshing, despite some big ol’ swing in the game’s difficulty level-to-level. If the gameplay has a flaw, that’s it, a lack of consistent curve. Well, that and the controls, but weird control schemes are sort of a hallmark of the ZX Spectrum keyboard.

Visually it’s not bad for an 8-bit microcomputer but that’s more of a factor of the hardware. It’s decent enough for an early Speccy game. The audio is boring, however, an occasional tone without music.

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