Issue 2

Feb/Mar 83

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32K Disk/Cass.  1 Player

Fernando Herrera was the first winner of Atari's annual 'Star Award' for a program he wrote for his little boy called My First Alphabet. Most of you will have heard of the program but many will not have seen it as it is only available on disk due to the fact that it has to access a large number of pictures throughout the program. The idea is very simple - just show the letters of the alphabet accompanied by pictures which represent those letters. Sounds as if anyone can do it, doesn't it? The secret of Mr. Herrera's success though is an exceptional talent for graphic composition and a skilful mind in structuring the program to achieve the desired result.

With his $25,000 prize in his pocket Fernando promptly set up First Star Software Inc. and took a crash course in machine language. Now, writing an alphabet program out of love for his son is one thing, but to write a successful arcade game to launch a new company is surely something else. Does he succeed? Take a look at ASTRO CHASE and you will find that the answer is an unqualified 'Yes'.

The scenario is that the Megard Empire has surrounded the earth with a force field and placed pulsating Mega Mines which are slowly advancing on the earth. Your mission is to destroy all the mines whilst fighting off the Megard saucers. Sounds familiar? Sounds just like the sort of blurb that poor programmers use to dress up their latest Space Invader variation, but ASTRO CHASE is very different. It begins with an excellent blast-off animation to take you into space from where you see the earth, complete with a map of North and South America, surrounded by various other planets. You can't see the force field but it is there preventing you from straying too far. There are eight types of enemy fighters at the various levels but your real task is to destroy 16 mines which are slowly but surely making their way towards earth. Fernando has invented something he calls 'Single Thrust Propulsion' which means that you can set your craft in motion and it will carry on in that direction whilst you fire in any direction around you! It takes some getting used to but is a great joy once you get it right. Each of your craft will use up energy but there are energy posts at the limits of the available universe if you can get to them and 'shield' bases to give you up to 10 seconds of protection from enemy fire. The enemy saucers are not too difficult to destroy but the real problem is bumping into a 'hot star' whilst being pursued. These are tiny pinpoints which don't do you any damage as such but which you can get stuck on and so destroyed by a pursuing enemy craft.

The graphics on this are quite stunning but Fernando has gone much further and crafted a game in which he appears to have thought of everything. There are 34 levels, but if you are good you can start at any level up to 24. So as not to spoil the fun the higher levels can only be obtained by completing level 24. The best feature to my mind however and what sets this apart as an exceptional arcade game is that every 4 levels you come back to earth for a rest and each time can enjoy an animation sequence which adds a little more to the previous one. I get bored with arcade games which just give you points and more points but finding out what the next animation sequence is going to be has got me absolutely hooked! I have only managed it to level 20 and I fear that I will not improve so if somebody gets up to the Master levels let me know what happens.

The game has excellent graphics, scrolls, has music which automatically turns itself down while you are fighting! or which can be turned off and surely marks a big step forward in game design. First Star Software has set itself a big task to follow this but if they can do it they stand a chance of becoming THE Atari Software house to avidly watch in the future.