Friday, August 5, 2022

Gravitar (1982)

The title screen rapidly moves in and out, which even if I wasn't taking screenshots I would find annoying
Time:1 hour 35 minutes
Won:Not possible

One of the funny things about playing games on the internet is finding titles you didn't realize ever existed. As an American, its not really shocking for European, Japanese or the rest of the world to have games I don't know about, but it is when its an American game, released in arcades! It was even in a movie I've seen! There are reasons for this of course, the game didn't do very well, and if you're paying attention to what kind of game someone is playing in a movie, you've either watched that movie too many times or its a crappy movie.

Gravitar is a game along the lines of Asteroids, except that now gravity plays an important part in the proceedings. You can rotate left or right, accelerate, shoot and use a shield/tractor beam. Its a game that starts off very unforgiving, with gameplay requiring constant adjustments as you try to figure out where you're going, where you're shooting, and where enemies shots are going. It doesn't feel like it ever lets up for long.

I almost forgot, fuel plays an important part in things, and hoo, boy, that's a lie, because you will never forget about fuel. You cannot afford to forget about fuel. If you forget about fuel, that's it, game over. Fuel is consistent throughout your lives, and running out of fuel means that the game bypasses whatever lives you have remaining. You can shoot and turn without using fuel, but that's all the concessions the game gives you. That tractor beam? You need that to get more fuel. Also the tractor beam? Every second you have it going costs 100 energy points.
Which leads to the obvious flaw in the game. Its very much possible to play Asteroids well. I believe I've done that at some point. Its also possible to play Lunar Lander well. But at the same time? This is basically what the game asks of its players. I'm not up to that task, but I tried at least to win one round. The game has three different sets of levels and four different universes, that is, the level set is the same, just the fundamental rules are different.

The game, as much of the game as most people are likely to see, consists of 5 planets and a star. The star exerts gravity, slowly dragging you towards it, as gravity is wont to do. You only have to take out one planet, in theory, a reactor planet which is in the middle left, but the others are good practice.

Once on the planet's surface you have to take out all the ground turrets, not crash, not get shot, and pick up fuel before escaping back out again. This is a bit difficult at first, since you shoot in the same direction you move forward on, so shooting and thrusting is never a good idea. This is unfortunate because your enemies are very, very eager to shoot at you.

And make no mistake, the game makes it very difficult to fight back while you're shooting at these things. You get one area that's normally designed before you're off dealing with weird planet designs. You practically get no way of testing your abilities before you're forced to engage in all sorts of aeronautical trickery. I guess this would be easier if you played Lunar Lander a point. I'll get to why that's not going to help too much.
Rounding off the planets is a reactor planet, without any gravity, the only level of its kind. You have to fly in, shoot the core, fly out in a certain amount of time. Holy crap this thing is precise, and its strange suddenly flying in the game without gravity, because that's basically this game's gimmick. Later versions of this level are supposed to have less time to clear it. I won it...eventually. Only, I didn't get back out. Since I read that clearing the reactor planet is supposed to advance to the next set of levels I suspect either someone is lying or by not getting out in time it didn't count. But since I still survived its a positive!
I'm unsure if these problems are because I'm just not that good at this kind of multi-tasking or if the game generally has problems. The last time I played a game along these lines, was A-10 Tank Killer back near the beginning, which I did indeed crash a lot in. However, I'm not about to say that was due to anything but my own hubris, even if it had a similar problem to this game. (and now that I think about it, I probably should have flown slower whenever I was shooting at something on the ground) This is less clear. My ship has the aerodynamic profile of a misshaped rock, so there's a lot less momentum than there should be.
Despite all this, there are several flaws in the game that aren't necessarily related to the brutal difficulty loop.

On the overmap screen, two spaceships constantly spawn out of the reactor planet. Not fast enough to necessarily be a problem, but fast enough that taking one out while also getting shot is a net loss. But the real problem is when you accidentally touch them. Rather than killing you like a sensible game would have, Gravitar throws you into something out of Spacewar. It just feels so completely pointless. This is the one time the boundaries of the screen act as a sort of bouncy wall. Killing him, which isn't that hard to do, takes you back, but its like all trips out of the planet. That is, you have to wait before you can start speeding away again. Wasting time and possibly resulting in you being in a worse place for it.
I also found that sometimes the lower left planet cannot be reached without practically draining your fuel to get there.
I had a particular problem with one level, an asteroid. Now, planets have had normal gravity and worked like planets, go left and you'll eventually return to where you started. This is different. And it doesn't quite work like it should. Oh, being left or right slowly drags you towards the planet as you expect, but it feels wrong. Like the events that are unfolding aren't quite right.

So at some point I decided to go around the planets from hardest to easiest, and something funny happens if you do that. Planets that previously had only one or two enemies there now suddenly have many. Which means that this approach isn't really all that helpful. It feels like at every turn the game is preventing you from doing anything that might make your live easier.

I can win them individually, but it seems like if I try anything more than that the game is too difficult for me to even have a chance. And I think this is why the game didn't do too well. I spent what would be quite a bit of change fruitlessly trying to win even one round, and I couldn't do it. I eventually reached the second round with save states. Barely. MAME's bookkeeping mode tells me I spent about 12 dollars in quarters, which seems to me a colossal waste.

A very standard weapon. 1/10

Very basic enemies. 1/10


They do a lot with such a simple concept, even if owing to engine limitations it often doesn't quite work out. 2/10

Player Agency:
I felt like I was fighting the controls every step of the way. I feel like if you're going to do a concept like this you should be a twin stick shooter or offer more than one attack. 2/10


There's a constant, despairing sinking feeling. The game plays like you're in a constant fight against the forces of nature themselves let alone those who have decided to fight against you. I'm not so sure that's a positive. 2/10

Simple wireframes, I've seen worse. 1/10

I'm not even sure they even pretended. 0/10

Not your typical blips and bloops. No, here we get a very annoying rocket thrusting sound, and a power generator sound on the main screen. Yugh. 0/10

That's 9, or roughly comparable to the rest of the arcade titles I didn't like. Good concept, awful execution.

Something that had me curious, despite me reaching maybe 20k points once, there are people who have reached not only 800k, but millions upon millions of points. What the hell? So I look on Youtube for a longplay, and oh, MAME is doing a somewhat poor job of emulating this here title. The outlines are much brighter and the sound is less annoying. I'm not sure that it plays better though.

There is one last game for 1982, that I didn't even realize existed until after researching this entry. Its something I was genuinely surprised to find. This might take a little while, since MAME's been acting up.

No comments:

Post a Comment