Eight great games for the Vic 20. (evaluation) David Busch.
Software packages like the ones described here are among the reasons that more than a million Vic-20s have been sold in the past two years. Sold at discounts in the $80 price range, the Vic-20 offers more game machine than dedicated game-only video units, and more computer than the add-on keyboards for the Atari VCS and other systems. It is also priced lower than either. Choplifter
The scenario of Choplifter is reminiscent of the ill-fated Iranian hostage rescue. Your helicopter is charged with the mission of rescuing stranded hostages and returning them to the base safely. Armed with both missiles and bombs, the chopper, controlled by the joystick, must land near the hostages, wait for them to climb safely aboard and then return to safety, avoiding hostile fire from enemy tanks, planes, and killer satellites.
The first few missions are easy. Hostages run loose on the plain, which is rendered in a perspective view, and the helicopter need only land near them to draw their attention. The status line at the top of the screen tells the player how many hostages have climbed aboard the chopper (it can hold a maximum of 16 at a time), how many have been returned to the base so far, and how many have been killed.
The player is given three choppers and a maximum of 64 hostages to be either rescued or killed. Landing on top of a hostage spells certain death for him, and the enemy tanks usually knock off a few while firing at the chopper. If the helicopter is destroyed by tank, satellite, or bomber, all aboard are added to the "dead" column.
After the first 16 are rescued, the remainder of the hostages must be freed from prison camp, embassy-type buildings, chiefly by landing on the building. After the first couple rounds, the bombers and killer satellites appear, making the rescue even more difficult. Even so, I found it fairly easy to achieve the maximum score. After that, the game has little challenge, except, perhaps, to try to cut down the time needed to rescue all 64 hostages.
The graphics are very good, especially the 3-D effect of the perspective view. I did find it a bit unnerving to have the "closer" stars in the sky appear to scroll faster than those in the "background." Incidentally, I found the Apple II version of Choplifter which has higher resolution graphics, to be a bit more difficult to play. I never did get a perfect score on that one. Serpentine
Serpentine is another popular, multi-system game, a combination of Pac-Man style maze games and the lengthening snake challenges. In this game, your snake competes with enemy snakes for living space and food in a maze. You move your snake through the maze with the joystick, eating frogs, other snakes' eggs, and portions of the other snakes themselves along the way.
As long as your snake is shorter than the enemy serpents, it must be content to sneak up behind and nip segments off the others' tails. It is also possible to lie in wait in an alcove and bite the middle of an enemy reptile as it passes. Attacking head-on results in your snake being eaten.
Each meal causes a snake to grow in segments, and if yours does exceed the length of a rival, the other snake turns white and can then be attacked head-on. Snakes of a certain length lay eggs, which, if not eaten, hatch into more snakes.
Killing all three enemy snakes in a round ends the round and advances your snake to the next screen. Points are amassed along the way; eating a frog nets 500 points and one new segment. Eating a spotted egg is worth 150 points times the level number plus one segment. A tail segment counts for 150 points in levels one and two and increases by 100 points on each higher level. The head of an enemy snake is worth 200 points in levels one and two and increased by 200 points on each higher level.
One nice touch in this game is that pressing the fire button activates a pause feature. You can go have lunch and come back to free your snakes from stasis.
The music that accompnies the action varies from fanfares to Indian snake charmer tunes and becomes rather monotonous after a while. If that, or the constant hissing of the snakes gets on your nerves, resort to the volume control on your TV set or monitor and tune them out.
This game should appeal to accomplished gamers more than Choplifter, because, at least in the Vic-20 incarnation, achieving high scores is more difficult and scoring is open-ended. Astroblitz
Just what we needed: another version of Defender. The graphics in this implementation are multi-colored, but the ships and objects somewhat gross in size, given the proportions of the television screen. If you are far-sighted and looking for a Defender game that can be played without glasses, this may be your choice. The l-a-r-g-e ship occupies more than its share of screen, and the scanner extends along the whole top.
Actually Astroblitz is no snap to play. Oncoming enemy fire is vicious and can come from saucers, gun towers (which are worth 150 points when destroyed), and other menaces. Joystick movement of the ship is precise, but there is no provision for hyperspace, smart bombs, or other handy tools to even the odds a bit.
However, you do get five ships. When death seems to occur instantly and you feel as though you are going through lives faster than acts at the US Festival, the large backlog of ships in reserve is quite welcome. Taken as a whole, Astroblitz is a decent version of Defender. You get to enter your initials at the end if you better the top scores, and the disappearance and emergence of the opening screen from an apparent black hole is something to watch.
Broderbund is one of the leading software houses marketing games today, and their two Vic-20 diversions, Shark trap and Martian Raider, are worthy banner bearers for the line. Melbourne House is a new name in the United States, but has been selling Vic-20 games overseas for some time. The Broderbund games represent Vic-20 game technology at its apex; the Melbourne games show what can be done inexpensively, and offer a bargain of sorts to those who want to expand their game library quickly and at minimal cost. Shark Trap
There is no doubt about it, Shark Trap is the most addictive computer game I have played in ages. I found myself batling the sharks for hours, promising myself one more play to better a previous high score. Shark Trap is probably the most fun you can have for less than 25 cents a game.
The player moves a cursor about the screen, laying "nets" that both isolate the sharks and lay claim to larger and larger portions of the territory, Qix-style. Once a given percentage of the screen has been covered with nets (this seems to be about 85%; the instructions don't give a clue), the screen clears and the next difficulty level is reached.
In laying the nets, the player must avoid four rather stupid sharks, which attack if you get too close. The sharks seem to have a poor sense of smell, because they don't present much of a danger at first, unless you are very, very careless. A good strategy is to confine the sharks in a small area and then lay nets in the other half.
The game would be simple, except for one thing: the sharks sometimes eat the nets and escape. Then it is necessary to rope them in again. To complicate things, two octopi are deposited on the screen each time a level is completed. While the eight-armed ones do not roam about, they are deadly to touch. Because the netlayer moves so quickly, inertia alone can carry you into an octopus if you move the joystick without due caution.
You get three lives in which to accumulate points by filling unoccupied screen with net. You can backtrack over existing net, but you earn no additional points while doing so. To make things really interesting, the sharks speed up their movement to Warp 2 when you reach 10,000 points. Yourremaining netlayers become sharkbait quite quickly at that speed.
The sharks can't be killed, just temporarily neutralized. But, sometimes, a shark will attack and eat half an octopus. The other half continues to be as deadly as before. The animation (moving sharks, tentacle-waving octopi) is very cute in this game, but the sailor's hornpipe theme song becomes tiring very quickly. Martian Raider
Martian Raider is an excellent Defender-style pastime that, like Shark Trap, can be played with either joysticks or by using the keyboard. Keyboard commands provide an added measure of flexibility. Since a joystick has only one fire button, pressing it releases both bombs and photon torpedoes simultaneously--a clear waste of ammunition.
Wasting ammunition happens to be the goal of the game, however, as green Martian ammo dumps are a primary target for the attacking craft. You get only three ships, but you accumulate points for both elapsed seconds and objects hit. Enemy attackers are varied and challenging. Ground-based ships may lift off to get you and at each successive level, new menaces, such as meteors, appear to make things really hairy. If you like scrolling attack games, give this one a try. It is a pretty good effort. Vic-20 Games Pack
Do you rarely rise above street level in Crazy Climber or Donkey Kong? Is your Pac-Man undernourished from lack of energizer dots? If you need to practice your arcade skills before showing your face again, try this Vic Games Pack from Melbourne House. None of the games will threaten the most inept arcader, and the price is less than a week of playing Dig Dub.
The five programs are me-too implementations of Galaxian, Space Invaders, Defender, Asteroids, and one apparent original. Written in either Basic or a combination of Basic and machine language, most are really too slow to be of much challenge to the dedicated game player. They do give you a chance to add five games for the price of one.
Alien Blitz, for example, is the world's easiest Galaxian clone. While the action is fast enough, the enmy has incredibly poor aim. In fact, even deliberate suicide can be difficult. You start with either three or four bases; but I was never able to use them all up to find out for sure.
Invaders shows you what it would be like to play arcade games on a really busy time sharing system. When you shoot a missile at the ponderously advancing alien horde, it flies unerringly toward the target at a snail's pace. Youmight want to set up a second computer to play some other game during your spare time.
Ground Attack introduces the nonscrolling scrolling game. In this Defenderoid game, once you have traveled one screenful from left to right, the screen is erased, and a new one appears. clever touch.
The pace picks up in Space Rocks, which is (what a lucky guess) an Asteroids-style encounter. This game uses the Vic-20 joystick and is actually a decent version of the arcade classic.
Saving the best for last, Storm is a slow-moving, but enjoyable encounter that has been adapted from no arcade game with which I am familiar. The object is to zap offending aliens as they emerge from a black hole and start toward you as you roam the left edge of the screen. Various kinds of weapons are available, and it is tricky to keep up with all the attacking forces. This game and Space Rocks are probably worth the price of the Games Pack alone. Swarm
In Swarm, you are a tiny person who races around the bottom of the screen, attempting to blast a swarm of attacking insects. Some drop straight down like the spiders in Centipede. Others scroll down more slowly, although none can be said to have segments. The movement is distinctly chilopodic, however. Zillions of little dots have to be shot, and there are butterflies, birds, and other nice targets from which to select. The whole scenario looks like yet another John Carpenter remake of Hitchcock's The Birds.
You start with five little guys with which to fend off the invasion and a mind-boggling coice of 40 expertise levels. The top difficulty level is fun to try just once, just to give new meaning to the term annihilation. Beginners will have more fun at the easier settings.
Swarm has a few nice touches, but is a bit too free-form to suit me. I prefer the regimentation of a Galaxian style game. Give me disciplined aliens, so I can plan my moves a few femtoseconds in advance. Sidewinder
Sidewinder is the best Defender variation for the Vic-20 I have seen. Its impressive array of features can be attributed in part to Tronix's use of the 8K memory expander--a rarity in a sea of software aimed at the lowest common denominator. Sorry, but you folks who bought your Vic-20s just to play games are going to have to purchase one of those nasty programmer-type memory Expansion Cartridges to enjoy this great contest.
A fast-moving jet helicopter is your vehicle; you have four with which to protect the planet from vicious invaders, including the dreaded black satellite. You may set the initial difficulty level from one to ten, depending on how brave or foolish you feel. Joysticks maneuver the chopper on its mission, which involves shooting down the bad guys while protecting a series of radar towers. The scanner may or may not be of help, depending on your ability to focus your attention on two parts of the screen at once.
When destroyed, the radar towrs collapse in a messy lump that spoils the landscape and serves to remind you of your recent defeat. Worse, when all the towers have been eliminated, the scene turns black and you are forced to operate in the dark.
A free chopper is awarded at 3000 points. Another may be bestowed later in the game -- I never got that far. Like Defender, this can be a difficult game.
Products: Choplifter (video game)
Serpentine (video game)
Astroblitz (video game)
Shark Trap (video game)
Martian Raider (video game)
Vic-20 Games Pack (video game)
Swarm (video game)
Sidewinder (video game)