1988
Arcade: Shoot-em-up
£7.95
English
ZX Spectrum 48K/128K
Firebird BleepLoad

74,75
Graham Taylor
Chris Bourne

Pete Cooke hasn't had much of a time with really.

Micronaut 1, whilst a jolly wonderful game, disappeared about the same time Nexus did. Now we have Earthlight - probably the closest thing to a straight zap-'em-up Pete has ever done.

It isn't just a shooty-shooty of course. For one thing it's pretty enormous, with lots of different zones and levels. For another, there are quite a few different strategies you can use to win - blasting things to bits being one of the more useful ones.

The plot is all about disabling transmitters to switch off a force field which will enable Slaatn (an everyday sort of alien) to escape to freedom. Forget all that stuff and imagine this instead. You've got this wizzy space craft, you have to pick up these sugar cubes, and all these other aliens try to blast you into little pieces. Some aliens can be destroyed by one blast from your photon cannon, others, particularly the nasty quick darty little ones, take two or more.

There are several levels and each is divided into nine zones. In each zone there are a number of transmitters (sugar cubes) and a number of aliens. Before entering each level you can adjust ship control levels which represent Shield Power, Energy and Missiles. The problem is that if you have a lot of one item you don't get so much of another.

What strategy there is involves getting to know the levels and judging what kind of balance of defences, time and firepower you need. For example, one level is very small (if you figure out what to do SECRET CLUE) but chock full of horrible aliens, therefore you need lotsa missiles and lotsa defences but not so much energy.

Graphically the game reminds me of a sort of edge-on Uridium or Ballblazer. The planet surface is a grid drawn in perspective littered with craters. The actual ships are drawn using a variety of different sprite sizes - by flipping ultra-fast between these sprites the illusion of the ship moving 'into the distance' or 'out of the screen' is nicely achieved.

There isn't that much to see in the game - later levels have different aliens, but the essential landscape remains the same, or at least similar. But it's fast and pretty slick - controlling the spaceship feels quite a bit like the hurtling around in the Uridium battlecruiser. It's easy to go very fast but it's also get pretty difficult to stop, and you usually end up smashed into a passing tree. (These are tall trees on this moon). The explosions are great! Though as often as not, once your ship has plummeted to the ground you don't get a chance to lift off again before wandering aliens wipe out the rest of your defences.

Alien movement patterns are pretty complex and varied. Some just zoom around aimlessly (like Capri drivers). Others just look like they're zooming around aimlessly. They'll lull you into a false sense of security and Wammo! Just as you were about to get the last sugar cube it's game over for you.

Sound is fairish on 48K but the 128K version plays a pretty nifty version of Vivaldi - a change from the standard electro stuff currently fashionable.

I really like Earthlight, I can see that for some people there probably isn't enough variety in the screens, but I reckon it makes up for that in speed and sheer fiendishness. There's just enough strategy to ensure some longevity without it all getting horribly complicated. For zapping purists who don't need too many trappings, just slick effective programming and lotsa speed, this is a winner!

Label: Firebird
Author: Pete Cooke
Price: £7.95
Memory: 48K/128K
Joystick: various
Reviewer: Graham Taylor

Sophisticated zapping for purists. Just enough strategy to give it some longevity.

8/10

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PROGRAMMERS

Pete Cooke has concentrated on sophisticated arcade games most recently and has produced a number of highly acclaimed titles. Invincible Island (Richard Shepherd), Urban Upstart (Richard Shepherd), Inferno (Richard Shepherd), Ski Star 2000 (Richard Shepherd), Juggernaut (CRL), Tau Ceti (CRL), Room Ten (CRL), Academy (CRL), Micronaut 1 (Nexus)

PETE COOKE'S PLAYING TIPS

Start on Zone 1 - it's probably the easiest.

When you first enter a zone just look around and work out how many sugar cubes there are to pick up - how many aliens etc - then quit the level and reset your ship's configuration.

Don't be afraid of abandoning a zone - it is possible to get completely stuck so you can't win.

Don't waste bullets - in some cases you will have barely enough to complete the level. Homing aliens are not so bad if you keep your cool - at some point they will be in an exact line with you, BLAST 'EM. Far more dangerous are the randomly moving aliens DON'T LET THESE GET BEHIND YOU!!