Game: Laser Gates (aka. Inner Space)
Developer: Imagic, VentureVision
Designer(s)/Programmer: Dan Oliver
Rarity (according to AtariAge): 5 = Rare
Number of Players: 1
Average Cost: $10 - $25 loose, depending on condition, label fading is fairly common
Also Available On: Atari 8-Bit (as part of a compilation called "1-2-3 Imagic") and on the Atari 2600 by Zellers as "Laser Volley" - also available for the Atari 5200 as a part of a homebrew compilation called "AtariMax" (http://www.atarimax.com/5200sd/documentation/
Tagline/Description: "The thousand galaxies quake at the news: the Cryptic Computer, the galactic defense synthesizer which has maintained peace for the five centuries since the Wars on Zevon, has malfunctioned! Four Failsafe Detonators inside the Computer will now initiate universal self-destruct! The Governors of Enderby order the Dante Dart into action. Only it can spiral down through the nearly impenetrable defenses of the Computer in order to reach and destroy the Detonators!"
In honor of finally scooping up the last game (sans "Atlantis II") to round out my collection of Atari 2600 Imagic titles this week, I chose to review the shmup Laser Gates. Imagic is one of my favorite game publishers for the 2600 and best known for releasing such popular titles as Cosmic Ark, Atlantis, Demon Attack, Star Voyager, and Dragonfire. I always felt that Imagic put a lot of thought and effort into their games. Their games are typically visually pleasant and colorful, and each of their titles are diverse and cater to multiple types of gamers.
**like other titles repackaged and republished by Zellers, the artwork had little to nothing to do with the concept of each game
The roots of Laser Gates can be traced back to a little company that tried to cash in on the video game craze of the late 70's/early 80's, known as VentureVision. VentureVision was started by former Apollo programmer, Dan Oliver and is best known for developing Rescue Terra I (a very rare, and in fact their only released title). Though they had some success with the game by setting its price at $19.99, VentureVision soon found they couldn't stay in business at such low profitability. Dan Oliver was soon picked up by the very successful developer Imagic and brought with him a prototype that he was working on for VentureVision known as Inner Space - later retitled Laser Gates before being released by Imagic.
In Laser Gates, you pilot the Dante Dart through the innards of the Cryptic Computer, a defense system that has helped maintain planetary peace for years, but is now malfunctioning and set to self-destruct and destroy the galaxy. Your mission is to pilot the Dart in an attempt to destroy the computers four Failsafe Detonators located within; a concept which is certainly interesting (think Tron meets the HAL 5000). The cavernous computer is filled with enemies, including byte bats, homing missiles, rock munchers, and radar mortars, plus, defense mechanisms such as Densepack Columns and Forcefields. Densepack columns are solid features which must be shot through quickly and opened up wide enough in order for your ship to pass through. Forcefields sometimes vary in size and come in three varieties: flashing, flexing, and fixed; Flashing Forcefields appear for a brief time, disappearing and reappearing in the same spot, Flexing Forcefields have an opening that moves up and down the forcefield spectrum, which forces you to navigate through a moving space with accurate timing, and Fixed Forcefields act like electronic jaws and appear from the top and bottom of the screen in an attempt to damage your craft. On top of all of these enemies and obstacles, once you reach the Failsafe Detonator, it may be booby-trapped! In order to destroy a Detonator, you fire at the pins located on the side of the Detonator; however, some of these pins are booby-trapped and cause damage to your craft when fired upon. Safe and booby-trapped pin locations change randomly from game to game and striking a booby-trapped pin more than once on a Detonator results in an instant loss of your ship. Each Failsafe Detonator is marked with the numbers "6507," which interestingly enough corresponds to the Atari 2600's CPU part number. **Gaming General's Warning** Destruction of all four Failsafe Detonators in Laser Gates has not been linked to causing malfunctioning Atari 2600 systems.....yet.
What you will immediately notice upon popping in Laser Gates is the small game play field, which only takes up approximately two-fifths of the screen! The remaining portion of the screen is taken up by the control panel, which calculates your score, monitors your shield and fuel levels, and displays the D-Time (the remaining time you have until each Failsafe Detonator explodes!). Having such a small playing field doesn't make the game impossible, but for a game that requires such precision, it certainly increases the difficulty tremendously. You must monitor your control panel closely, since running out of energy (easily replenished by energy pods found throughout the game), being hit after losing your shield, or not destroying a detonator on time will result in a GAME OVER.
One of the best features of Laser Gates, as opposed to most shmups, is that you take damage instead of instantly losing a life when hit by an enemy or an obstacle. Due to the continuous action, fast gameplay, and multitude of enemies/defenses, taking damage is a necessity and keeps the game from becoming overly frustrating. Damage to your ship is determined by the "shield" meter located at the bottom of the screen. You begin with 24 shield units and each enemy and obstacles diminishes a specific value: crashing into the computer wall (-1 Unit), shot from a rock muncher or radar mortar (-1 Unit), and colliding with a byte bat, rock muncher, homing missile, radar cannon, Densepack Column, or any Forcefield or Detonator (-6 Units). You are awarded an additional 6 shield units for every 10,000 points scored. Scoring is also calculated at the bottom of the screen in your control panel, and is determined as follows:
Pass Forcefield . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .400 points
Destroy Radar Mortar. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115 points
Destroy Rock Muncher. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .325 points
Destroy Bat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 330 points
Destroy Homing Missile. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .525 points
Destroy Detonator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6507 points
Laser Gates is a fun game, but could have been made even better by shrinking the the control panel and increasing the size of the gameplay field. The precision required for this game is not really suitable for the stiff Atari joystick and I find myself using a more user-friendly and accurate controller (an Epyx 500XJ) to score higher and make it further into the game. The box art is silver and flashy, but the design is horrible and it doesn't really express the concept of the game (not sure what would have tempted consumers to buy this game back in the day). The cartridge is text-only and extremely bland; however, like earlier Imagic cartridges that changed from a picture to text-only, I assume that these new labels were much cheaper to create in a declining video game economy circa 1983.
With all of this negativity, you might expect a poor review of this game, but that's not going to be the case. Laser Gates is fun to play and a title that I find myself coming back to often. The concept is extremely cool and all of the variables (diverse enemies, defense mechanisms, energy, shields, D-time, etc.) make it complex and completely engaging. The graphics are pretty good for the 2600 and though they could benefit from a bigger field of play and could look a bit more "techy" (hello, you're inside of a computer), they hold up and create a fun atmosphere. The price point for a used copy of Laser Gates isn't the best, but if you're a fan of shmups and/or Imagic titles, then you should definitely consider adding it to your 2600 catalog.RATINGS (on a scale of 1-4: 4 being the highest):
Sound Effects/Music: 3
Replay Value: 4
Cart/Box Art: 1
Overall Score: 2.83