The Laser Guide to Video Games - Review - Colecovision - Vanguard - Star Castle -  Crazy Climber









In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Laser Guide to Video Games

Vanguard -
Colecovision - Collectorvision Games

Placing its format on the 1981 arcade title from Centuri, Vanguard remains a formative title for the shoot-em-up genre. It's uncompromising forward-looking design set the stage, at least in part, for many titles that followed. The players pilots a solo ship placed against waves of enemy forces. These take a variety of forms including stationary objects that can be shot for points and moving foes that fire back in your direction. There's an impressive variety of enemies as you travel through the tunnels and corridors of the game. Its a long-path to the conclusion, but these are divided into different zones. Each presents different type of challenge. The standard styx and future zones move left to right and see you travelling through long tunnels, avoiding enemy fire while shooting nearby objects. During these stages you'll find numerous power-pods. Flying over these gives you limited invincibility and plays a short tune, which ends simultaneously with its end.

This early innovation added a layer of strategy to the game, that allowed you to not only fly past foes, ramming them out of existence, while also allowing you to move past the thick barriers dividing the level in portions. This made the gameplay somewhat forgiving but not interceding. Ample skill was required to reach the end. Another feature of the game occurred during the rainbow zones. The action switched to a diagonal perspective and the enemies switched to large bulbs that had to be avoided and destroyed. These opponents moved in straight lines horizontally and attacked relentlessly. Near the end of your fight, there was a penultimate encounter with space snakes that writhed across the screen. What was interesting about these elusive creatures was the fact that you could choose either to destroy them or dock with them to gain extra points. Finally, there was the game's most interesting innovation, a boss fight at the end of each level. Staring down at you from the top of the screen, his defensives slid back and forth, requiring you to shoot into their gap, which was narrow and shifted positions.

Adding to the difficulty, the levers slid in beneath your ship, encumbering its maneuverability and making it imperative that you shoot the boss as quickly as possible. After you defeat the boss, you restart at the beginning of the level, but the zones are now placed in a different order, which presents a different challenge for each stage. These elements came together seamlessly and made for an engaging game simultaneously challenging and entertaining. The Colecovision version of Vanguard that's arrived via homebrew programmer Chris Derrig with assistance from the Collectorvision staff, is probably one of the most=polished and highly enjoyable home versions of the seminal game to appear on classic hardware. The game begins on a surprising note with an elaborate cinema sequence showing the ship taking off from its hangar to face its enemies. This is a surprising addition that adds a new, somewhat modern dimension to the game. Before you begin, you can choose one of several difficulty levels and other options. As you pilot the ship, you'll notice that you can fire a stream of shots in either a horizontal or vertical direction. Depending on the location of your opponents, this flexibility makes them easier to target. It also goes a significant measure in adding versatility to the shooting action, extending Vanguard's long-term appeal to a large degree.

One of the more interesting aspects of this particular release is that it features numerous voice samples of computerized speech not heard in the more widely-assimilated home versions. These occur with surprising frequency and while the voices might seem distorted and somewhat garbled by today's standards, they add a cool retro sheen to the proceedings that is surprisingly effective. The only significant drawback is that these samples cause a slight pause to occur. Its not detrimental once you become accustomed to it, but it does slow Vanguard's momentum slightly. The sound effects and music are otherwise superb, accurately mimicking the arcade's audio with surprising fidelity and superb renditions. Visually, the game matches the look of the arcade game with a highly accurate translation that recreates the arcade game's visuals faithfully for the most part. Some of the background features scrolling can be a little clunky at points, but the main ships and objects on the screen don't share this minor flaw. The scrolling can be a bit distracting at certain points but shouldn't diminish your overall enjoyment of the title. Its been a long time coming, but Colecovision owners finally have a chance to play a robustly entertaining and elaborately implemented edition of Vanguard that showcases the programmer's impressive skill implementing new techniques and extracting previously unheard capabilities from the console.

Crazy Climber Redux - Colecovision - 8-Bit Milli Games

Taking inspiration from the original arcade game from Nihon-Bussan in 1982, Crazy Climber Redux offers more than just a faithful translation of that game, adding new modes and features that make for an engaging title that stands apart on its own. Crazy Climber's basic premise puts the player in the role of a skyscraper climbing rogue who's mission is to reach the top floor of each building and fly off in your rescue balloon. It's not as simple as it sounds, each building is littered with numerous windows that you need to navigate in order to move higher. The windows undergo a constant switch from opening and closing., You can scoot right over the open sections, but closed ones will block your path. If you're particularly unlucky, a window will slam shut on your before you can pass over it, causing you to plunge downward and lose a chance. Moving over the windows is easy and you can switch between different upward paths as you play the earlier stages.

This technique can be performed relatively quickly but there's a catch. As you traverse upward. the building's width narrows until you have only two, the one path to follow. This is where things can become tricky, as you have to navigate the sections, and go off the main path and wait until there's an open window nearby. You need to do all of this while you avoid objects that fall from above, such as bottles or rocks, which s easy enough but becomes harder as they fall at a faster rate and pace as you climb higher over the building. Players will also need to avoid other flying objects such as birds and cats that roam at random intervals over their path, which aren't entirely simple to avoid. Taken together, the concept is relatively straightforward but the accessible mechanics and unencumbered gameplay are the key elements behind the game's long-standing appeal.

This excellent version for the Colecovision was programmed by US homebrew maestro 8-bit Milli, who'd done a superb job implementing the game. Players can chose to use either a single controller for a simpler, more accessible approach or use a double-controller mode for a more accurate recreation of the arcade title's dual stick controls. Crazy Climber Redux has a great interface, moving the character around the screen is responsive and quick with an intuitive feel that's easy to learn, in both control modes. Its a little tricky mastering the timing and positioning especially as you move further and higher up the building's surface. anticipating the actions above you helps a great deal, and showing a little patience doesn't hurt. Occasionally, the windows' rhythm and timing can be unpredictable but its really nothing that can't be mastered with a little practice. Crazy Climber Redux stays largely faithful to its arcade game counterpart in terms of gameplay, but this version applies significant enhancements. The biggest chance are the special heart powers, Indicated simply at the bottom of the screen, pressing either side button gives you immunity for a short time, allowing you t o progress upward without fear for a few seconds,

At the early stages you can effortlessly traverse closed doors, but the harder difficulty levels prevent you from doing this. This makes the game more accessible for newer players, but veterans might want to play without using these for a more accurate representation of the original game's difficulty. Visually, the game does an excellent job of mimicking the arcade game, its presentation and structure is nearly pitch=perfect throughout with smooth, scrolling animation of the main character and objects unfolding effortlessly. The game manages to scroll smoothly as you move upward as well, making for a resplendent edition of the arcade game's aesthetics. Excellent music and effects round out the package, wit authentic sound effects recreating the sounds of the original expertly.

Taken together, these elements combine to form an excellent conversion of the classic coin-op that adds significant additional features that enhance the gameplay without losing sight of the straightforward approach that made the original so appealing. This achieves an excellent balance that creates an immensely enjoyable game that showcases the console's power and the programmer's undeniable talent. It has taken some time for a conversion of Crazy Climber to appear on the console, but the extended wait has been worth it, this conversion is mostly superb and the new additions should appeal to novice players unfamiliar with the title and while adding unexpected elements that should please experienced gamers who enjoyed the original title.

Star Castle - Colecovision - Team Pixelboy

Taking control of a lone star fighter, this outstanding conversion of Cinematronics' 1981 arcade game puts you in control of the ship. It tracks you and the enemies on a single screen. Star Castle centers on fighting against the intimidating enemy ensconced at the center of the screen. Your objective is deceptively simple: you need to destroy the enemy. This can be achieved with a single shot, but the trick lies in setting up the opportunity. Before you're able to shoot at the fortress, you have to watch out for space mines. Released by the Star Castle, these fly from the inner regions and chase you around the screen relentlessly. You need to either avoid them or shoot them to clear a path to the fortress they protect. After you're done navigating away or destroying them, you only have a few seconds until additional mines are released. Fortunately, this break gives you just enough time to focus on your main mission. The base consists of a large cannon surrounded by three concentric defensive rings. Each if these rings is constantly spinning around one another in opposite directions.

Breaking through the rings is more complex and challenging than it might initially appear. Shooting the rings causes a segment of its fortress to disappear, which opens up a narrow path that allows you to shoot at the next layer spinning within. Opening a gap you can shoot through takes some practice, but can be done with effort. Shooting the outer rings can be done somewhat easily, but timing your shots to the inner rings is more difficult. Making things more complex, you need to shoot strategically when you clear most of the segments in a ring. if you shoot all of them, that ring completely regenerates all its pieces, meaning you have to start over completely. Once you've breached the third and closest ring, there's no time to relax.

The cannon is the last line of defense. After you've opened a gap, it fires large fireballs directly in your path. These are blasted almost without pretext, and usually aimed directly at your ship. between the openings. It doesn't hesitate to shoot, and its quick reaction makes its shots difficult to avoid. This is especially true when you maneuver the ship at a close range to the fortress' circumference. Finding a distance that allows for accurate shots while giving you enough space to evade the cannon's blasts takes some practice, but you can usually locate a spot that's effective and relatively safe. If you make the final shot and destroy the Star Castle, you are rewarded with a large point bonus plus an additional life, which helps extend the gameplay.

It feels like a triumph to defeat the first Star Castle but this represents only your first encounter. The game's early stages become easier with time but the later stages become increasingly difficult as you destroy enemy bases. Everything increases in speed and momentum as you defeat castles. Running from the mines becomes much harder as they ramp their speed up significantly when you reach its later stages. Additionally, the fortress takes less time to shoot giving you a much smaller window that you can use to evade its fire. The increased speed makes the gameplay mechanics much more challenging, and you'll need to have gained sufficient proficiency in order to survive for long. Fortunately, the game's controls and interface do an excellent job in recreating the feel of the arcade game. Moving your ship around the requires you to use the thrust feature wisely. It builds slowly, which propels you to a good pace quickly.

However, your ship doesn't come to a complete stop immediately when released; players need to time movements carefully to avoid crashing into the mines or bouncing off the rings unexpectedly. Maneuvering the ship is intuitive and smooth thanks to a solid interface that uses the system's 2-button controllers effectively. The right button handles thrust while the left side fires your shots. Turning is fast and effective and this version of Star Castle performs an excellent task in its fastidious recreation of the arcade game.

Despite the inherent limitations when attempting to translate the arcade game's vector graphics to a lower-resolution raster format, it maintains the clean, look that made the title so enduring. Star Castle stays faithful to the original game, uncluttered by needless enhancements. The lines look fairly sharp in this edition and its consistent frame rate makes for an exciting title that maintains the pace of the original. Animation and movement are smoothly achieved without compromising speed. Occasional appearances of minor flicker are visible sporadically, but these small imperfection don't hurt the overall quality to any significant degree.

By any measure, this is an impressive achievement, considering the technical limitations of the translation to raster, is that Star Castles maintain its inspiration's visuals, it creates a stunning aesthetic conversion. Likewise, the sound effects are accurate and faithful complimenting the action perfectly with pronounced shots jumping out the speakers, underlined by the Star Castle's consistent growl underneath the action. The sound is likewise brilliant without any audible imperfections. Its high-fidelity sounds echoing with thunderous impact and pronounced effect. Taken together, the combination enhances the title's exceptional appearance and fantastic play mechanics. Star Castle stands above even more elaborate conversions, its a superbly implemented title that marks a long-awaited and hoped-for conversion that delivers an exciting, challenging experience most players will enjoy and appreciate immensely.

- Michael Palisano