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Spacechase - The Atari Times


Another average space shooter
by Ethan C. Nobles

April 15, 2005
The Atari 2600, like most game consoles, was flooded with an almost uncountable number of what I like to call "get-by" titles. Those, simply, are games that weren't great, but were sufficient when players wanted to take a break from Activision's Starmaster, Parker Brothers' Frogger, Atari's Adventure, Imagic's Demon Attack or whatever gamers considered the top-notch titles for the 2600. Spacechase, released by Apollo Inc. in 1981, is a good example of one of the get-by titles which made up the bulk of the games available for the 2600. As a kid, I often felt ripped off when I got one of these, particularly if I saved up and paid full price for a fair-to-middling title. However, I picked up Spacechase for a whopping $3.99 (shipping included) on eBay, and the price was right. This game won't knock anyone's socks off, but it's not bad.

The game description sure as heck sounds exciting. According to the manual, the player is in control of a "heavily armed" Mark 16 Starcruiser which is on a scouting mission over the moon. Naturally, hostile aliens attack, firing neutron missiles at the powerful Mark 16. Actually, this is another space shooter which was done well enough to be entertaining, but will never be considered a classic, must-have game for the 2600.

I'll start out talking about the graphics because this title actually looks pretty good for a 2600 game. Actually, the background is impressive - most of the action takes place over a nicely-scrolling moon which is orange with some darker features during daytime battles or purple with darker features during nighttime battles. The scrolling provides the illusion of space flight pretty convincingly. I should point out there are 24 game variations, and those are divided into two almost identical sets, the difference between them being whether you are fighting at day or night.

The scrolling looks great, but the actual Mark 16 and aliens are less than extraordinary. You get static ships which come in one whole color, although the aliens at higher levels look rather nifty because they resemble flying skulls.

The gameplay itself is pretty commonplace. The game starts off with four aliens, which move in fairly random patterns. Around 10,000 points, another alien is added, and the game moves up to six aliens around 20,000 points. If you can't to jump ahead in difficulty, you can start off at "level two" (five aliens) or "level three" (six aliens) rather than the default "level one" (four aliens). Level one is pretty simple, but the action gets rather frantic at level two. The aliens, on whatever level, fire regularly at the player and will lob heat-seeking missiles from time to time. The heat-seeking missiles are a bit difficult to dodge, and the player can choose to play games in which he either has to dodge but a few of them or a lot of them. The game is for one or two players. In two-player games, turns are alternated. Simultaneous play would have been a great option for two players but, alas, it isn't available here.

As for the powerful, awe-inspiring Mark 16 Starcruiser, it isn't much to brag about. It's a bit slow and fires off one wandering shot at a time. Looks pretty common to me. Oddly, the ship isn't trapped in one horizontal plane at the bottom of the screen. The player can move his ship vertically a bit, although I'm not sure why one would want to - there seems to be a clear advantage to keeping the ship as far away from the aliens as possible so as to get more time to react to alien shots by dodging them or blasting them out of the sky.

The sound isn't bad here. You get the typical shooting and exploding noises. Aliens, for some reason, rather "splat" when shot. That's rather entertaining, but not overly so. Truth be told, the only reason to have the sound on at all is to hear the high-pitched tone which lets the player know a heat-seeking missile has been fired.

Control is certainly adequate, but a bit stiff. Essentially, the game requires the player to move, shoot and dodge shells. The powerful Mark 16 is, as I've mentioned, a bit slow, so it almost feels unresponsive. However, I really have no complaint about the controls other than the fact they do feel a bit stiff.

All in all, this is an enjoyable title to put in from time to time, but it's certainly not one of the better ones for the system. Grab it if you find it for a good price. Spacechase is fairly scarce, but I wouldn't go too much out of my way to find a copy.


(c) Apollo

There is a 'wow' factor, but it goes away quick.
Mmm... Spaceships.
Are these the aliens?
System: 2600
Publisher: Apollo
Genre: Shooter
Graphics Score: 80%
Sound & Music Score: 70%
Gameplay Score: 75%
Control Score: 75%

Final Score: 75%

Reader Comments for Spacechase

Uh huh... by Darryl B. on 2007-06-30 16:46:52
Yeah, I remember when a friend of mine bought this back in junior high, thinking he was such a badass for having a somewhat obscure game (yet he still let me borrow it not long after he got it; uh huh). Oooh! So you can move horizontally AND vertically! So you get a repeating moon pattern below! Whoopie! Obviously this was before any of us knew of Apollo's reputation as a game company (i. e. average at best, if not even that good)...
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