The Empire Strikes Back was by far my favourite of the three Star Wars films. It had everything... heroism in the snow, romance, mutilations, cyrogenics - and even a Jedi master who sounded exactly like Fozzie Bear! Atari's subsequent coin-op obviously couldn't include all of this, but it did manage to incorporate plenty of blasting and flying action across four action-packed levels.
But could all of this be fitted into the Spectrum's relatively small memory? Domark obviously thought so, and brought in the aptly-named Vektor Grafix programming team to prove them right - and quite a job they've done too! The finished article is fast and compulsive and looks and sounds quite good too.
In Level One the player takes off in Luke Skywalker's snowspeeder, blasting through the empire's lines and destroying its Probots before they can transmit information about the rebels whereabouts back to Darth Vader. Points are awarded for destroying the Probots, their transmissions and the fireballs which they shoot in your general direction. A doddle.
The destruction continues along the same lines in Level Two, except this time the enemy is a little tougher, consisting of two different types of Walker, the AT-AT and the AT-ST. The AT-ST is small and fast and destroyed by the snowspeeder's usual missiles. The AT-AT is bigger and slower, but it's also more heavily protected. Only two things will destroy one of these mammoths: the first is a direct shot to the head, while the second is wrapping a tow cable around its legs - and just try doing that when the going gets tough! Tow cables are fired by pressing T, and although the instructions say that there's only a limited amount available I never seemed to run out no matter how many times I tried this tactic.
Between Levels Two and Three you undergo a dramatic change, and all of a sudden you're Han Solo at the helm of the Millenium Falcon. This time the enemy comes at you in Tie Fighters and once again the object is to destroy all in your path while avoiding the missiles.
Level Four is easily the hardest (can I say that?) Remember the scene in the movie where Han takes the Falcon into an asteroid belt to try to shake off the pursuing Tie Fighters? Well guess who's turn it is now. There are so many rocks flying around that it's almost impossible to get through this stage intact. It's also at this point that the slightly odd joystick action starts to cause problems (the on-screen cursor moves upwards when the joystick is pushed down and vice versa).
When starting off, the player is protected by five shields. One of these is lost each time a missile or asteroid gets through and unfortunately they're irreplaceable. Targets are set at the beginning of each level and meeting these wins a lettered icon. When these icons are collected in order to spell J-E-D-I the player becomes temporarily invincible.
The front end is plain but functional. There's a choice between three levels of difficulty (easy, medium and - believe it or not - hard!) and an optional training manual which gives a quick rundown on the empire's hardware. The pre-game blurb also contains the scenario, hints and tips and a full list of points scored for each kill.
In the words of the immortal Yoda 'Adventure, excitement - a Jedi craves not these things' but he or she is certainly going to get them from this blaster. However, if I have one reservation about The Empire Strikes Back it's about the game's lastability. The problem is that the gameplay is just a touch too easy and therefore most experienced gamesplayers will lose interest relatively quickly (or maybe I've just learned to use the force - but I doubt it). It's good, but a little more work and it may have been a classic.
An accurate coin-op conversion that comes agonisingly close to being brilliant.