Caverns Of Mars
Caverns of Mars is a new action-packed game from Atari, Inc. Originally sold through the Atari Program Exchange (APX), Caverns of Mars is now available through dealers.
The object of the game is to maneuver your spacecraft into the depths of the planet Mars. As you penetrate the five layers of defenses you can blow up fuel silos (to provide additional fuel for your ship), Martian missiles, and "spy stations" that supposedly warn the Martian headquarters of your approach.
Your first challenge is to weave your way through the twisting subterranean (submartian?) tunnels. The screen continuously scrolls upward, so you move left and right mostly, although your craft can also move vertically. When you press the fire button on the joystick, your craft shoots twin photon torpedoes that detonate any target they contact.
After surviving these levels, you face an armada of Martian spacecraft. They don't fire at you; they just try to overwhelm you with sheer numbers, forcing you to dodge them and fire furiously to avoid a fatal collision. If you can make it past this defense, you slowly descend into the very center of the Martian stronghold, where you'll find a giant, glowing, egg-shaped bomb. By landing on it, you "arm" it, and the timer starts ticking at 30 seconds, 29, 28, 27... The destruction of the base is inevitable, but your survival is at stake too. If you don't escape from the Martian base before the time is up, you are ruined in a brilliant orange explosion. Assuming that you make it out (not very likely in your first games), you watch the explosion lighting up the mouth of the cavern, and you can then valiantly enter... cavern two.
Each new cavern is progressively harder – most noticeably when making your escape – you ascend twice as fast, making a collision with the "ceiling" rather likely. I've played the game for a week, and I still can't escape Cavern two.
You get five ships, each with 99 units of fuel. Here's the catch – if you run out of fuel, your ship explodes. It is not uncommon to meet this fate just moments before arming the bomb, or before rising triumphantly to the surface. If your ship blows up in a certain level, you have to start over at the beginning of the level.
The graphics are impressive. Apparently, the game is constructed using a custom character set in the special four-color IRG graphics mode (a rather unexploited feature of the Atari until now). Most of the animation is performed with vertical fine scrolling, and the ship is a player. It also uses a modified display list to show your status, and I think it even uses display list interrupts. All in all, an excellent use of the Atari's graphics capabilities.
Caverns of Mars is currently only available on diskette. You'll also need a joystick.
A curious feature of the program is that it names its skill levels as Star Raiders does: Novice, Pilot, Warrior, and Commander. Will Caverns of Mars replace Star Raiders in the hearts of Atari space-game fans? If so, we may soon hear a new phrase: "Old Star Raiders never die, they just move to Mars..."
Caverns Of Mars
Available through dealers.