BY TOM BYRON, START ASSOCIATE EDITOR
Addiction. The very word conjures up images of gaunt, nervous figures hopelessly wandering the streets of a bleak, gritty metropolis in search of the substance that will make their lives briefly bearable again. But not all addictions are to substances. Take computer games for instance, particularly the arcade variety. At one time or another you've probably come across one that is so much fun to play that you find it hard to stop. The repetition and the slick, shoot-em-up style compels you to keep at it. Personally, I'm almost glad I'm addicted to computer games. Whenever the day gets to be too much, I take a break, load up a game, sit back and play.
But, just what makes a game addictive? Is it merely stunning graphics and familiarity of gameplay? If it were, then every glossy scrolling game ever created would be a monster hit. No, a well-designed arcade game is much more: it begins at a just-conquerable level and becomes more difficult at a pace even with the player's skill. It's not so difficult that it's out of reach, but never so easy that it quickly becomes boring.
Atari's Missile Command illustrates this point well. It has a seemingly endless number of waves that increase in difficulty as you progress. The first wave will fool you with how easy it is, but it makes you want to try the next one. Then you survive the second and third waves--by this time you may have lost one or two cities, but you're still in good shape. You're now getting the hang of it and know you can stop any wave, but then you get to the fourth wave and the rain of missiles has now become a hurricane coming down much faster than you ever expected. But you survive somehow. Even if you don't, there's always a next time. And you will win then, in fact you'll keep playing until you do. Sound familiar? Then, my friend, you are a computer games addict, too.
We Can Stop Anytime We Want
Three games have arrived in the START editorial offices within the last six months that should bear a Surgeon General's warning label: Addictive. Struggling through Missile Command, Tower Toppler or Arkanoid has become a favorite pastime around here. In fact, there have been times when people wondered if all we do is play games, but it really is research, you know. Because I'm apparently the only member of the editorial staff to be addicted to all three games, I get to do the reviews.
Of course, none of us is ready for the Betty Ford Clinic, but then again, none of us has made it to level 33 of Arkanoid yet, so there's still time. We're keeping a phone line open.
Missile Command from Atari
When I first played Atari's Missile Command over 10 years ago, I thought it was the greatest arcade game ever made with graphics and gameplay no less than amazing. It was instant addiction and if I were the only person ever to play it, Atari would still have made a profit.
I still think it's the greatest arcade game ever made. And now Atari has ported it to the ST, though they haven't advertised the fact. Since I have an ST in front of me for the majority of the day, I have plenty of time between my editorial chores to sate my addiction.
If you're one of the few people never to have played Missile Command, you'll find gameplay fairly intuitive. The premise is simple: you have six cities to defend against a hostile onslaught of Interplanetary Ballistic Missiles (IPBMs), Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicles (MlRVs), Smart Bombs, enemy satellites and bombers. With your two missile bases and both mouse buttons, blast the enemy forces as they rain from the sky. Easy, right? Well, at first....
Commanding Manual and Features
The Missile Command game manual is well written and concise. It's as a manual ought to be--it tells you how to play the game and doesn't waste your time with a pointless scenario and an elaborate copy-protection scheme. You'll find no surprises in gameplay. In fact, the manual and the game does everything to help you get through Missile Command with the least pain.
A word about Missile Command's copy-protection: there is none. Atari recommends that you make a backup of the game before you play it. If you have a hard disk to store it on, you're even better off.
Missile Command runs in all three resolutions and is accessed at the Desktop. Double-click on MISL.PRG and you're at the title screen. To get into gameplay right away click on Start under the Options menu.
|The greatest arcade
game ever? In
Command you must
save your six cities
from the ravages of
The game runs in all
On the other hand, you might want to do a little exploring. Press Control-C to exit a game and return to the title screen. The various options in the drop-down menus let you make playing Missile Command easier or harder depending on the challenge you're looking for.
At the height of my own bout with "M.C. fever," I lost patience very quickly. It helped a lot to scrap the MIRVs and SBMs, set the bonus cities for every 5,000 points and skip the first two waves. By the time I made it to the sixth wave, which I consider the most difficult, I was in great shape (though to some of you M.C. vets a high score of 250,000 is nothing to be proud of).
The most fundamental thing I can say about Missile Command on the ST is that it's fun and easy to play. The graphics and sound haven't evolved beyond the arcade level, but even that's okay. You still get all the excitement of the greatest shoot-em-up of all time.
Tower Toppler from Epyx
The best way to understand Tower Toppler without seeing it first is to repeatedly bang your head on the nearest wall. Really, it's that frustrating, that irritating and that difficult to get through. It's the first game to ever make me so angry that I threw the joystick at my ST in utter contempt. Yet I have to admit I love this game. It's compelling. I mean, once I start playing, I just can't walk away.
Tower Toppler from U.S. Gold (distributed by Epyx) is an exercise in futility--the beginner doesn't stand a chance. It's the "throw them in the water to teach them to swim" method of gameplay. This doesn't make Tower Toppler bad, just that much harder.
Impressive 3D graphics and entertaining sound effects make Tower Toppler esthetically pleasing. Beyond that there's nothing "pleasing" about it. A word of warning: the game works best with one megabyte or more of RAM. Although it usually works fine on a 520ST it does lock up once in a while.
Goal and Gameplay
Forget Tower Toppler's vague and ambiguous scenario in which you are a seadog operative who works for Destructo, Inc. (Makes you sound like a bad guy, doesn't it?) There are eight towers and two missions. Your goal is to get to the top of each tower and "topple" it. Oh, how I wish it were as simple as it sounds.
Tower Toppler boots automatically, and a joystick controls gameplay. At the title screen press the F8 function key to alternate between missions. Press the joystick trigger and you'll see the first tower.
Now, with impeccable timing and iron nerve, begin your journey up the tower. Negotiate past the various obstacles as quickly you can. You'll need some fast and clever thinking to get all the way to the top because to add to the frustration, Tower Toppler has a time limit. I think it's superfluous, and would be better without it.
A Few Things to Note
Tower Toppler doesn't tolerate mistakes, so you have to be particularly careful where you step. Start out in the wrong direction and you're one dead sea dog.
Once in a while something that resembles a model of a molecule will come flying across the screen. Avoid this at all costs! There is no way to stop or destroy it and if it hits you, you'll find yourself falling into the toxic waste below.
The pink balls you see bouncing around are balloons. They, too, can knock you over. You can get rid of them by standing the sea dog still and pressing the fire button. From your sea dog's legs will fly a small, dark ball that pops the balloon. Your weapon is also useful for destroying the flashing block barricades. I'm still not sure what this weapon is, but it works.
Getting to the End
It'll probably take several games--or more--before you make it to the top of even the first tower. I found that once you do get there, you understand the game well enough to make a good show in the next levels. (Editor's note: Ha!)
You might be a little disappointed when you finally reach the top of the first tower because nothing really happens. I guess I expected it to blow up or something spectacular like that, given the sophistication of the graphics. You'll see what I mean when (and if) you get there.
may be the
ultimate exercise in
futility, but it's a lot
of fun. With your
sea dog operative
you must reach the
top of eight towers,
in the time allotted.
This screen shot only
hints at the game's
Between levels you get a chance to gain bonus points and time by shooting at fish from inside your minisub. Be aware that the faster the fish swims by, the bigger the bonus is when you shoot it. Also, a bonus sea dog is awarded for every 5,000 points.
Tower Toppler doesn't have a save-game feature, so every time you play you'd better get through the whole thing in that one sitting. This is an unfortunate lack of a much-needed option. It takes long enough to get through a level as it is, but to get through all eight would take more hours than you probably have time for in one sitting.
There is, however, a shortcut that will at least let you go to the level of your choice. Don't look for it in the manual. I found this tip in the British magazine ST Action. At the title screen type HelloIamJMP--no spaces--and press the trigger to begin the game. Now press any of the function keys (F1 to F8) to go to the tower you wish to play. I've tried it, and it works. Note: JMP are the initials of John Philips, Tower Toppler's creator.
What can I say? More than a month after Tower Toppler arrived in the office I was still playing it practically every day. And when I took it home over the weekends I played it until my head and eyes ached. (Life? What life?) The problem is that after all that time I still made it only halfway up the third tower.
Well, the topplin' fires have finally died and I'm a free man once again, though every now and then I'll be standing in a line at the grocery store or some other public place and begin to scream uncontrollably about sea dog operatives and bouncing eyes. I hear the flashbacks end after a couple years.
Arkanoid from Taito
I may have been premature in saying I'm now a free man because no sooner did one addiction end than a new one began. I should add that of all three games reviewed here, this is the only one to which the whole START editorial staff is addicted. (Editor's note: I am not!) (Reviewer's note: Yes, he is.)
If you've played Taito's Arkanoid at the arcade, you'll know how easy it is to get hooked. This game is a Tower Toppler addiction--one easily avoidable slip and it's over. But it's also a Missile Command addiction--constantly increasing demand on your physical ability. Part of its appeal has to be its familiarity--Breakout in its Sunday best. The premise is the same: a series of bricks at the top and a paddle at the bottom. With the paddle you must hit a bouncing ball to destroy the bricks. Once the bricks are cleared from the screen, you move onto another screen and do the same thing. On the ST this process continues for 33 levels. Arkanoid is mouse-controlled and works only on color monitors.
But There is a Difference
Arkanoid's similarity to Breakout ends with the basic premise. In fact Arkanoid has features that make its ancestor look, well, ancient.
At the desktop, click on ARKANOID.PRG. After about a minute the title screen will appear, where you click the right mouse button to go to the scenario screen. Unfortunately, you must go through this screen to get to the game. Be prepared to suffer through inane music and an even more inane scenario. What a waste of memory!
According to the manual it is here that you choose two players by pressing 2 on your keyboard. The problem is that you have no way of knowing you're in two-player mode until you start the game. I've repeatedly pressed 2 only to find that I'm in the one-player mode when the game begins. Since Arkanoid doesn't have a restart game function, you have to die (or commit suicide) before you can reset the number of players.
Once you get to the game, you'll be impressed. The colors and graphics are good, though the sound effects tend to be obnoxious. In the office we usually play the game with the sound off.
|Arkanoid, the only
game that everyone
in the START
editorial offices is
addicted to. The
latest creation for
the ST from Taito
has 33 levels, and
lots of special fea-
tures to keep
The Bricks and Cannisters
The bricks on the Arkanoid game screens are different colors, and like Breakout, each color gives you a different score as you destroy it. Note that the silver bricks have to be hit a number of times before they disintegrate, and the gold bricks can't be destroyed at all.
Every now and then a colored cannister with a letter on it falls from a brick that you hit. Grab these cannisters for extra powers. For instance, grab the green C to catch the ball and aim it at the point of your choice. Grab the silver P to get extra paddles or the red L for laser fire. The pink B is the best--it lets you advance to the next level and awards you 10,000 points. By the way, the silver bricks yield no cannisters, so imagine a whole screen made up of only silver bricks--it happens at the eleventh level.
The screens themselves vary in difficulty of play, and there is a definite strategy to follow. Level three is tough to get through, but level four is pretty easy. It's in screens like level four that the laser comes in handy, because you can just mow down the bricks.
Don't be seduced by the 1,000 points each cannister gives you because some cannisters are more useful than others, and you want to hold onto the useful ones as long as possible. For example, you won't want to grab a pale blue D until you really need it. This is because the D turns your one ball into three balls, which is fine if your ball is trapped and you want to get rid of a lot of bricks in a hurry. However, keep in mind that once the D is in use you lose access to all other cannisters. Always--always--take a B or a P.
The ball speeds to a blur apparently at random. It also speeds up when it's caught in a rut. Just when you think the ball is stuck in a pattern that seems like it will last all day, it suddenly speeds up and gets past you. An S cannister will slow it down, but not by much. I don't use the S cannister very often. Actually, no one here does.
Wrap-Up and Recommendations
In the ST version of Arkanoid there are 33 levels. Taito won't admit to any shortcuts or backdoors, and like Tower Toppler there is no save-game feature.
There is a surprise waiting for you at level 33, however. Apparently it involves a battle with an alien, but I'm still working on getting there. So far I'm the reigning Arkanoid champ here by making it to level 32 (I had just one brick left). Admittedly, I had a little help, but you'll have to wait for the August 1989 issue of START to find out how I did it.
Is Arkanoid addictive? START received the game almost three months ago and every day you can still hear the occasional call for a "Noid break." Now I wonder what game will free me from this one.
Missile Command $29.95. Atari Corp., 1196 Borregas Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94086, (408) 745-2000.
Tower Toppler, $49.95. Epyx, Inc., 600 Galvestan Drive, P.O. Box 8020, Redwood City, CA 94063, (415) 368-3200.
Arkanoid, $34.95. Taito Software, 267 West Esplanade, North Vancouver, BC V7M 1A5, (604) 984-3344.