I don't know about y'all, but November has always been kind of a null month for me. There are a few birthdays to celebrate this month, as well as some holiday events (shopping or otherwise), but nothing that really grabs me or inspires me to write. But, whether I have an inspired article idea or not, the year marches forward. So, in lieu of anything themed, I'll go ahead and drag out an old idea from the stack. So, readers of the RFGen front page, I give you My Two Favorite Schmups.
I'm an exceedingly simple man, so it should be no surprise that my two favorite shooter games are also pretty simple. Part of this is due to the charm that older games seem to ooze, but also I really stink at shooters in general, or more specifically, I stink at most of the more advanced mechanics found in them. Screens filled with bullets...can't do 'em. Power-ups that follow a tiered icon-based system...I loose track too easy. Simple enough, right? Let's move on.
Game 1 - Demon AttackDemon Attack
is a fixed screen shooter coded by Rob Fulop and published by Imagic for the Atari 2600 way back in 1982. It was subsequently ported, in the grand tradition of that day, to no less than eight platforms (both consoles and computers), all of which are fairly unique and noteworthy. While it is neither the most basic or the most advanced port, the 2600 original is still my favorite. Is this nostalgia talking? Absolutely.
As previously mentioned, gameplay is very simple. There are a total of 84 levels with a hard end (though in later releases, the levels loop), and the game has a strong Space Invaders
feel to it, though with more sophistication. Three enemies "transport" (best descriptor I could think of) into three separate "layers" from off screen, and your job is to shoot them down. As you progress through the levels, the enemies will shoot bullets, lasers, and eventually split in two when shot once (also shooting bullets and lasers). Naturally the levels get harder, especially once you get to level nine, when enemy shots shadow their movement. I have never gotten past level ten, even on my best day.
One of my earliest gaming memories was of the countless hours squatted in front of the Atari 2600-attached television at my grandparents' house in 1983; a space created for me so that the adults could communicate without my six year-old chatter. Many games were played, but few specific memories have survived to the present day. Of those games, Demon Attack
stands out near the top. The looks, the sound, and the action still stand up today, and appropriately enough, I stink at it. I stunk at it when I was six (could maybe get four or five levels in), and I stink now (maybe ten), but I still want to play it. In fact, I'm playing it now on my old VCS, though all pics are from my computer (I just couldn't get the CRT to cooperate). It's not the shooter I'm best at (that would be Lifeforce
on the NES), it's not the hardest I've played (one life in Deep Blue
, seriously?), but it is the only one I've gone back to over the years on a consistent basis.
The 2600 original of Demon Attack
is extremely common and easy to get ahold of from nearly any source. There are four variations listed in the RFGen database, with little if any difference in cost that I was able to discover, assuming we are talking about cartridge only. Loose copies can be had for less than $5 USD, with boxed ones for a minimum of $10 USD.
Game 2 - Round-42Round-42
is a fixed screen shooter created for DOS computers in 1986 by Elven Software. Unlike Demon Attack
never ventured from it's roots. It started out as mail-order shareware and as far as I can tell, it never ventured past this. Kind if sad really, but we will get to that in a bit.
Without any prior knowledge of Round-42
, the best way to describe the game is as an updated version of Space Invaders
with a few fun twists. First, enemy flight patterns are as varied as their design. Some move in a slight curve, some in concentric circles, some just fly back and forth, and some move in completely random patterns. However, they all have one thing in common...they all shoot. Secondly, the screens can loop both on the vertical and horizontal, so that if you manage to dodge the ships that slide towards the bottom of the screen, they will reappear at the top. Notice I only wrote can
, because whether or not this will happen entirely depends on the round. Your only defense is your offense; a pixel-bullet weapon and a Star Trek phaser-like weapon with limited ammunition (though you get another shot every round). Needless to say, things get pretty hairy from the get-go, and if you aren't either a dead-eye shooter or just very lucky, you won't get far. Oh, and every fourth round there is a little "tunnel" to fly through, just to break things up a bit, though these appear to be randomly generated. Round-42
has some serious old-school chops.
While certainly tame by today's standards, I find the enemy design quite interesting. Most other shooters of that era featured space ships (shaped as bugs, ships, or whatever) as the primary antagonist. Not so in Round-42
, where some enemies appear to be multi-colored Q-berts, some are clearly rocks with eyes, and others something like eggs, served sunny side up. Granted this isn't on the level of weird found in early British platformers, but for DOS gamers back in 1986, this had to haven been considered quirky.
Despite the design of the game, the cake topping of this delicious shooter for me has to be it's technical oddity. Basically, unless you happen to have a computer with a CGA card and matching monitor, the only way to play Round-42
properly is within DOSbox. If you attempt to boot it up using a EGA or VGA machine, the game will be smooshed within the top half of your display. The game is entirely playable this way, but it looks really stupid. Anyway, Round-42
uses a very strange trick of CGA mode, allowing for the display of all sixteen CGA colors at once (instead of just four) while utilizing a lower resolution. Normally, if one wants to see more than the standard four colors, one must use CGA composite (most non-IBM CGA cards also included a composite jack for plugging into a standard television set), so seeing all those colors at once on a CGA monitor must have been quite a shock back in 1986.
In a stark contrast to the availability of Demon Attack
, it is nigh impossible to find a copy of Round-42
. I mean, I know there are copies out there, after all, it did maintain a measure of popularity during the shareware days. However, of all the years I've know of this game, I've yet to see it for sale once, much less a photo or scan of the disk. And as of right now, the game is only available in it's shareware form. Granted, it is the full game, but according to RGB Classics
, the creator of Round-42
, Mike Pooler, hasn't answered his emails since 2008. So while you can still play the full game, you can't register it.
Thanks for reading!