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Arcade: Shoot-em-up
ZX Spectrum 48K/128K
Firebird BleepLoad

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Jonathan Davies
Chris Bourne

When the latest offering from Pete Cooke, the man who wrote everything from Urban Upstart to Micronaut One lands on your desk, you'd better sit up and pay attention. Done that? Right, here's what it's all about.

Slaatn from Arcturus II has problems, not least of which is that unfortunately un-pronouncable name he's been lumbered with. More pressing, though, is that as the Arturan battle fleet (of which Slazzer's a member), was on its way to befriend the Earth, it was seized by a strange force. They started to be dragged towards the planet, and while the majority of them managed to blast to freedom, our hero crash-landed on the moon.

As is usual in these situations, rather than hang around and admire the scenery, Slaatn wants to get the hell out. Far from easy, especially as before he can escape he'll have to nobble the transmitters which are holding the ship down. These are scattered around several Earth bases, each guarded by a bunch of robotic heavies.

The game gets off to a good start, with a nice bitta Vivaldi to set the scene and hundreds of options and sub-options for people who enjoy tweaking things. After fiddling with these to your heart's content, inevitably ending up with them the same way as when you started, you launch into the first of four levels. These are each broken up into eight zones, which you may play in any order you wish.

Although Mr Cooke's games have always ranked highly playability-wise, he's tended to concentrate on graphical innovation to impress the socks off the public. Earthlight follows this tradition, in that while they may not look terribly original to the casual onlooker, the graphics feature a number of very novel touches.

The surface of the moon (covered in chequered lino for some reason), scrolls along at the bottom of the screen, with the earth gyrating majestically above. (Ooh - what poetry!) This causes shadows to be cast by the various blobs that litter the ground, which change according to their position in relation to the sun. Quite clever really, as the blurb goes to great lengths to point out.

Your ship blasts off from its pad, and by careful manipulation of the keys (all re-definable, of course), you can get it to whizz up, down, left, right and also in and out of the screen, dodging the droids as they come in for the attack.

Fortunately you've got plenty of missiles to chuck around, which are selected at the expense of shields and fuel before you start. Aim carefully, and you should find it fairly easy to dismiss the foe before they do you too much damage. Some chase you around, while others follow set patterns (these are often the hardest to get past, especially if you've run out of missiles).

If you're wondering where all the depth we've been accustomed to in these games has gone, well there isn't much. For a change it's more or less a pure blaster, with no maps to make, puzzles to solve or other such strenuous activities. As long as you get the right balance of fuel and weapons at the beginning, your blood-thirsty instincts can then take over.

The overall impression I got is one of neatness. Nice tidy menu screens, well-spoken sprites and not a misplaced pixel in sight. Even things like the character set are polite, discrete, but do their job with a subtle smattering of finesse. Polished! I could practically see me face in it, as the nurses in the local intensive care ward will tell you.

I would've said that a touch more variety could have been incorporated, but Earthlight still kept me absorbed for hours. The plight of Slaatn can't be ignored until he's off that moon and safely back with his Arcturan chums, and I'm darned well going to do my best to help him.

Although not quite as inspired an effort as the author's previous works, Earthlight is an enjoyable romp among the craters of our satellite. What are you waiting for? The Federation of Arcturus II needs you!

A scroller that's a cut above the rest. Most stimulating, thank you!


Screenshot Text

We've just blasted off from our dinky little launch pad, and already the aliens are on our tail. Sensors indicate that we've got a full complement of missiles, fuel and shields on board, so either I'm extremely good at this, or we've only just started the game. Guess which!

Ah ha! Not a dreadful Scandinavian pop group, but an exclamation of surprise, meaning that those little boxes on the ground are the transmitters we're after. They should be easy to pick up too, 'cos I've already zapped all the aliens on this level. (Admittedly by crashing into them, hem hem!)