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Posted on Mar 25th 2011 at 02:02:30 PM by (singlebanana)
Posted under Atari, 2600, Solar Fox, Retro Gaming, Classic Gaming, Game Review


SPECS:

Game:  Solar Fox
Year:  1983
Publisher:  CBS Electronics
Developer:  Bally Midway Manufacturing Co., Inc.
Designer(s)/Programmer(s):  Bob Curtiss
Rarity (according to AtariAge):  3 = Scarce
Controls:  Joystick
Number of Players: 1 - 2 (turn based)
Average Cost:  $2 - $7 loose
Also Available On: coin-op, Commodore 64

Tagline/Description: On a daring mission to save energy-starved Earth, you must navigate your Starship through a complex matrix of precious solar-cells.  The faster you clear the matrix, the greater your reward!  Ominous Sentinels oscillate along the perimeter and riddle the energy field with fireballs.  Their slightest touch will reduce your ship to ashes.  Defenseless, you must weave in and out of their path until the last solar-cell is secured!





Not to be confused with "Star Fox," which, like a handful of other games, can attribute its humble home console beginnings to the 2600, Solar Fox is a port of the 1981 Bally Midway classic coin-op.  Its publisher, CBS Electronics, a division of CBS Toys/Gabriel Industries, began publishing video games for the Atari 2600 in 1982 (mostly big name, successful coin-ops such as Gorf and Wizard of Wor).  Since CBS arrived only a short time prior to the video crash of 1983, only seven titles were released on the Atari 2600: the aforementioned, as well as Tunnel Runner, Blueprint, Mountain King, and Omega Race.  Unlike other publishers during this time, CBS incorporated "RAM+" in some of their games, which actually increased the RAM of the 2600 system through a process called "bankswitching" (for the interested tech-savvy see section 1.2: http://www.classicgamedev...erence#Extra_RAM_in_Carts).

In Solar Fox, you pilot a starship through twenty rectangular energy fields (26 if you count all of the Challenge Racks), known as the "matrix" and attempt to collect small boxes known as solar-cells by running over them--in later racks, you will have to run over each cell twice.  In the meantime, alien defense mechanisms known as Sentinels hurl fireballs through the energy field in an attempt to destroy your ship.  You have no weapons against the Sentinels other than your piloting skills; as a result, the orange "fire" button on your Atari joystick is instead used to either slow down or speed up your starcraft (depending on which control option you select at the main menu).  The object of the game is to collect all of the solar-cells within each matrix and move on to the next rack (as each level is so eloquently referred to).  Speed and precision is the name of the game in Solar Fox and located at the bottom left-hand side of the screen is a Skip-A-Rack Timer.  If you are able to collect all of the solar-cells before the timer is depleted, then you can skip the following rack.  As a result, you are also awarded a bonus based on all of the points that were available on the skipped rack.  In Solar Fox, you begin the game with three starships and play continues until all vessels are destroyed.  You earn an additional starship for every 10 matrixes cleared, so skipping racks becomes further important to your survival and your objective to earn maximum points. 

SCORING:

Solar Cell Point Values:
------------------------
Racks 1 to 5           100 points
Racks 6 to 10          200 points
Racks 11 to 15         300 points
Racks 16 to 20         400 points

Early sexist backseat driving ad.....gnarly


.....further translated to TV to enhance the 80's "dumb blonde" phenomenon

Another means of gaining points in Solar Fox is by competing in the Challenge Racks.  These racks are basically bonus rounds in which your objective is to collect all of the solar cells in the matrix before time runs out.  In order to earn bonus points, you MUST collect all of the solar-cells before the "Challenge" timer runs out; failure to collect all of the solar-cells yields no points for the entire bonus round.  If you fail, this identical round must be played again after you complete 5 more matrixes and will not change until you have mastered it.  Even if you skip racks, you will still be awarded your Challenge Rack.  Players are awarded a letter for completion of each round and these six letters can be assembled to reveal a secret message in the game.  Sending in a letter to CBS Electronics with this "mystery word" would have gotten you a prize back in the day -- rumored to be a sticker set of some kind (they also held a similar contest for Blueprint).

If any of you have ever played the coin-op or Commodore 64 versions of Solar Fox, the first thing you will notice about the Atari 2600 gameplay is that your ship doesn't fire.  The limitation of Atari's one button joystick and cart memory were major factors in making the decision to eliminate various enemies to fire at, and instead persuaded the programmer of Solar Fox to opt for a more elusive/dodging style of gameplay.  Had you been familiar with the coin-op or seen the Commodore 64 port at a buddy's home before you bought the 2600 version, it's possible that you would have been greatly disappointed.  However, even with this major change in gameplay, Solar Fox for the Atari 2600 is considered by many to be one of the top 10 titles on the system.

Solar Fox for the Commodore 64

**video courtesy of AdigunPolack

Gameplay is fast and furious and great reflexes are a must.  As the Sentinels hurl fireballs at you from the top and bottom of the screen, you must use impeccable timing and skill to speed up and slow down your starship in order to weave in and out of their path.  The Skip-A-Rack feature also presses you to concentrate on grabbing all of the solar-cells before its timer runs out.  As you progress further into the game and play speeds up, you must make frantic, on-the-fly decisions as to whether or not you can risk beating the timer by putting your ship in harm's way.  The graphics and sound effects in Solar Fox are very simple and minimalistic, and though nothing extraordinary, they blend into the fold with other common titles and work very well for the Atari 2600.  The controls in Solar Fox are also very good, since the box-like movements in the game adhere well to the strictly horizontal/vertical mobility of the Atari joystick.

The concept/storyline of Solar Fox, like many other 2600 titles, is not fully laid out.  For example, Who are these Sentinels, and why are they trying to prevent Earth's survival?  But even so, the background is sufficient and with such great gameplay and high replay value, who really cares?  One of the best features of Solar Fox is the 2-player mode.  Turns alternate between players upon the loss of each starship.  Player One uses the left control and steers a yellow ship, while Player Two controls the right joystick and guides a blue vessel.  After all players' starships are destroyed, the winning score is displayed.  There's even an easier gameplay option known as "Parent Play" for silly, uncoordinated, and lame 80's parents.  Yeah.......I'm not making this up. 

The box and cartridge art is very colorful and adds a distinctive and pleasant look to all CBS Electronic titles.  Solar Fox is a fantastic game for the 2600 and at such an affordable price, should be picked up if you come across a fairly priced copy.

Solar Fox for the Atari 2600

**video courtesy of Highretrogamelord89**

RATINGS (on as scale of 1-4: 4 being the highest):

Controls:  4
Graphics:  3
Sound Effects/Music:  2
Concept:  3
Replay Value:  4
Overall Score: 3.20

**You might notice that I have removed the "Cart/Box Art" category from my ratings.  After a discussion with Zagnorch, we found that the ratings of some great games were being significantly lowered due to this category and he suggested possibly eliminating it.  Since most people seem to care more about the features of the game (and not the packaging), I was worried that lower ratings might deter members from checking out great titles.  I will continue to mention the appearance/packaging of these titles in my blog, but it will have no bearing on my rating.  I really appreciate and support such great, constructive feedback from our members, and if there are any suggestions or criticisms that you may have that might make this blog better, be sure to share them with me over a private message.  Thank you Zagnorch"**   


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Comments
 
Like, you’re totally welcome, ya know?

That’s soooo, like, gnarly-wicked, hella kewl and tubularly rad!

And I’m not just sayin’ it, ya know? I, like, really mean it, pinky swear!

Tee-hee! *twirls hair*

Okay, enough of the valley-girl cr@p, it’s makin’ me ill. It’s bad enough that I actually experienced such nonsense first-hand back in the day.

Thanks for including the print ad; I remember it from one of my old Richie Rich comics. Ironically, I found it so dopey that it made me NOT want to play Solar Fox . Not that it mattered; I didn’t have a 2600 anyway…

…although I did have a Commodore 64. And just judging from the game play videos, I think I’d rather have the C64 version. Still, if I come across the 2600 rendition at a reasonable price, I’ll give it a shot. Looks like you sold me yet again! Nolan Bushnell would be proud…

Oh my God… I just admitted that I read Richie Rich comics when I was a kid, didn’t I? No wonder I didn’t have any friends in grade school…
 
I really do need to get my hands on a 2600....
 
@Link41: or just pick up a 7200, since it's backwards compatible and a little cheaper, and collect for both.
 
...or, I need to offload a 2600 Smiley

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