Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Matter of Import 54: Battle of Hoth [Tsukumo Original Soft 1980]


One of the very few Apple II games that wasn't released in the US.

Battle of Hoth is a fixed screen shooter released for the Apple II in Japan by Tsukumo Original Soft. Produced without a license to use the Star Wars intellectual property, the game is set during the events of the Empire Strikes Back during the Empire’s assault on the Rebellion’s Echo Base. Putting the player in the cockpit of one of the Rebellion’s Snow Speeders as you face an endless army of indomidable AT-AT walkers, marching inexorably towards the base. Your goal is simple - hold off the mechanized infantry long enough for your companions to evacuate the planet.

Gameplay takes the form of flying left to right towards the line of advancing AT-ATs. In the movie, Luke Skywalker was forced to use grapple lines to trip up the enormous machines, but the game simplifies this into a basic shooter - one shot from your speeder’s cannon is enough to destroy any of the mecha. Unfortunately for you, the game also renders your speeder as almost the same size as the invaders, meaning that it takes some skill to avoid getting shot in return.

The AT-ATs come at you in roughly three rows, and as soon as you destroy one, another appears at the right of the screen, giving the game elements of much later Tower Defense games. If you can hold back the waves of foe for 300 seconds, the base has been evacuated and you win. If not - if you run out of speeders or let the AT-AT reach the right side of the screen, you lose.

It’s a difficult game, to be sure - you have no control over the speed of your horitzontal movement and your vertical travel is comparatively slow, meaning you can’t so much dodge enemy fire as you do try to anticipate where it’s going to be. New AT-ATs appear at a somewhat randomized position, meaning the player needs to be both lucky and forward thinking to avoid destruction - the seven speeders you start with feels like a lot at first, but they go fast - far faster than the timer.

It’s not a bad implementation for an early Apple II title, but it feels as if technical requirements sucked away all complexity from the idea of a snowspeeder-on-AT-AT battle. Playing left me with nothing more than an impression of unmet potential. 

I give it a D ranking.

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