Saturday, September 3, 2022

Blaster (1983)

Developer:Vid Kidz
Genre:Rail Shooter
Time:1 hour 10 minutes
Won:No (47W/49L)

One of the things I figured I'd be doing back when 1983 rolled around was play Blaster, the sequel to Robotron 2084...but that would be near the end. In these early years, arcade titles have been the highest quality ones, while home computers and especially consoles tend to be on the lower end. I like to look forward to something. Obviously, Black Widow happened and now all of a sudden there's the constant specter of MAME refusing to play, bumping up all the arcade titles from near the end to near the beginning. So I started going through the arcade titles and hit upon this one.
But now I have a problem, this really looks like a rail shooter. That Star Fox-style, fly through a pre-determined path kind of imitation flight/space sim. At first I put this in the trash pile and just moved on...but I figured I might as well play it.

While the game probably loops, that there's a proper end-goal seems pretty cool
Humanity is dead, well, except for you. Naturally the guy from Robotron 2084 couldn't save the last family from the relentless hordes of robots, so you've decided to fly off, hoping to escape. To some hopeful planet, far, far away. Feels a lot like Sinistar...and also the Idle Hands song Cosmic Overdrive. Not a bad first impression to make.

The game allows you to pick one of four stages to start with, fly-thru, asteroids, vampires and then robot section.

The fly-thru seems to be the most obvious aspect, you fly around a planet. This is quasi-landlike. You go through arches to get points, dodging robots and bombers, along with various environmental obstacles. A simple obstacle course. Remember, you can hit the arches. This strangely enough, was the hardest of the wave styles for me, rarely did I escape without getting hit several times.

Then the asteroids is where you can pick up astronauts for points, and if you're lucky find an energy pickup. Enemies are rare here, and you're mostly dodging/shooting asteroids. Fun fact, astronauts can't be hurt by you. I found it easy to survive, but hard to get a high score here.

Vampires is a series of ship waves where you more or less shoot a set pattern of ships. Your basic rail shooter setup.
Robots is also a set of waves, but if you shoot the head robot at the start of the wave, you take out all the wave. If you shoot it at the end, you get more points.
There are other waves, but they're mostly variations on these themes. There's chase sections, where in addition to rushing past asteroids you are told to chase after some enemies, and a time tunnel section, just dedicated to picking up astronauts.
I started off with the vampires section, and right away problems emerge. The game gives you a small health bar, about three hits by my estimation, and you move around very slowly. It feels like I'm trying to move around underwater. You can shoot down shots. But even if you can shoot shots or enemies in time before they fly past, it feels like you shouldn't be able to.

Something I noted is that the gun actually fires in a quasi shotgun pattern. You wouldn't notice it if you move around all the time. The first shot is a bit to the left, then goes slightly to the left, then right and a bit right, before repeating. This makes shooting in general quite tricky.

This is not a very graphically appealing game. That much you've probably already guessed, but that's in screenshot form. In motion, this game really needs a warning, because even my eyes hurt whenever you pick up the energy pickup from the asteroid stage. Everything just feels too vibrant, like some kind of weird acid trip. I'm sure with its fancy scaling graphics it had some appeal at the time, but now that its technical brilliance has faded only a vomit-inducing rainbow remains. This is quite possibly the ugliest game I've played on this blog. Not the ugliest game ever, but I shudder to bring your eyes towards that.
Unlike other games in the arcades at this time, something about this felt beatable. I felt like I could do this. Which is curious, since I pretty much already decided that this wasn't that good. Mobygames mentions that there are 20 waves, and that felt like an achievable goal. And I did slightly alter the game so I had one more life and needed less points for another.

I actually had a pretty good strategy for the game. The first part is knowing how to game the score system for lives. You get points for things you do in succession, especially the wave's big objective. You don't get points for shooting asteroids or shooting part of a group of enemies in some stages. With this method of doing things I usually rack up enough points for an extra life by the 4th stage.
The second is that quite paradoxically, the game rewards aggression on your part. Not blind aggression, of course, but you can quite easily deal with a lot of situations by just moving over to where the enemies are. Its rare for a shot to break through your own, and because you're over them anyway, you're dealing with both problems. Don't do this blindly, of course, if you can't shoot it in time, don't bother.

Finally, enemies lead their shots, very aggressively too. You can take advantage of this quite easily. And its at those times when you're clear of enemies that you can accelerate, which I found otherwise not very helpful. There's a third button which seems to just be the same.

During my push to win the game I started noticing something during the later stages. While there are the expected enemies who now shoot more and take more damage, in some cases, these new enemies seemed like they were designed to deal with my strategy.

I took a video of my final two attempts, but since MAME decided that by default, the file size of a 16 minute video made from a game who's screenshots are 5 kbs, should have a filesize of 16 gbs, I did not bother uploading this. Suffice to say I got as far as the 19th wave, and found that later sections were a bit cleverer than I thought the game was up until that point. Not immensely impressive, but still better than I thought it was.

A weird blaster with an organ like firing pattern. 1/10

Your usual motley, some enemies shoot, some don't. The few trick enemies make it a little bit interesting. 3/10

Various astronauts that function more like pick-ups than anything else. 0/10

Curiously, they did put a lot of thought into these waves, even if owing to the game's randomized nature it doesn't quite work. 3/10

Player Agency:
Discounting my distaste for rail shooters, this seems very awkward. It doesn't feel right and playing it with keyboard controls mostly works better than using a controller or a stick. 2/10

I can't say I feel like the asteroids count for much of anything. 0/10

The concept is cool, but the bright primary color graphics ruin any vibe the game was going for. 0/10

This is an eyesore and abomination against anyone with eyesight. 0/10


Simple bloops and blips. 1/10

That's 10.

This did not change my opinion on rail shooters. I get what they were trying for, and they made a valiant effort, but it doesn't quite work.

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