Review: Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom (Atari 5200)

In this review, we fire up the main thrusters in the Atari 5200 game Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom. We find out how well this third person shooter plays.

This game was released in 1983.

It would seem that the goal of this game is to fly through checkpoints. After three rounds of this, you take on an enemy ship in space. Destroy the enemy ship to advance to the next round.

The player starts on level 0.0. In this level, all you have are the checkpoints to contend with. In the HUD (Heads up Display), there are small space ship icons. For every checkpoint you pass through, you eliminate a ship icon. Eliminate them all and the screen flashes as you advance to the next round.

On level 0.1, you get a small number more ships, only this time, you get the occasional fly-by of enemy ships. Shoot some of them down, and you can eliminate a few extra space ship icons along the way to reach your goal faster.

In level 0.2, it’s the same thing, only you get an additional kind of ship. In addition, you have a large number of ship icons to eliminate to advance.

Finally, in level 0.3, yo fly through space. You have no check points. Instead, you have to shoot down the enemy ships to eliminate the ship icons. When you bring the number down to 1, the boss ship appears. You have to get a direct hit in order to complete the mission. After this, you advance to level 1.0 and the level pattern increases, though the difficulty does ramp up.

In the 1.# rounds, you move a little more quickly. In the 2.#, the width of the checkpoints tighten as things gradually move faster. Also, some ships also begin firing at you. After this, the difficulty just keeps going up until you lose all of your ships.

You start with 3 free lives. For every 20,000 points, you gain an extra ship. This can easily help things along.

There is one additional enemy: your limited fuel supply. If you run out of fuel anywhere between the levels #.0 and #.3, you die, lose a ship, and are forced back to level #.0 again. The fuel you start with has to last all the way until you take down the boss ship. If you successfully take out the boss ship before you run out of fuel, your ship will get 100% re-fueled before you start your next mission. With the amount of fuel you get, it puts emphasis on getting through some of the levels as quickly as possible. It’s pretty easy to run out of fuel by the time you see the boss ship at the end of the mission.

It might take a round or two before you figure out what you need to do, but this small amount of trial and error to get used to the controls and objectives generally don’t last long.

The difficulty curve is a little on the steep side, but it isn’t too pronounced. Once you get used to the basics, the first two missions aren’t all that bad.

Because of so many dynamic elements at play, the replay value is pretty good. As you develop your skill, you’ll find that it’s more than possible to make it further and further into the game.

The problem I have with the game is the way the checkpoints move as you get closer to them. If you have to back left or right somewhat sharply, even if you straighten out, the sideways movement is somewhat exaggerated. If you sharply move and pass through the middle of the checkpoint, you’ll very likely smash into one of the pylons. As a result, any significant movement requires a lot of counter-steering. The movement is not that natural at all and ultimately held this game back a bit.

Still, this is a pretty solid game. It has a fairly straight-forward mission system. It’s fairly easy to understand how things work. It’s more than possible to learn how the game works by just winging it. The pylon movement is the only real problem in the general gameplay system, really.

Graphics has some strengths here. The continual color pallet changing between missions works well to keep the variety. Ships are reasonably well drawn. The pylons are well rendered. The game also feature full screen coloring. There is, however, one major pitfall to this game. It’s extremely difficult to see enemy shots. While the shots are just like yours, the shots tend to get lost in all the color on the field. This hinders gameplay a fair bit. If it weren’t for that, I would call the graphics great.

There is no real music to speak of, but the sound effects work pretty well. So, fairly decent sound overall.

Overall, this game is pretty solid. It’s more than possible to learn the objectives and how the game handles without too much trial and error. The problem is the side-to-side motion of the pylons that makes the game awkward to play at times. The graphics were nicely done, but the enemy shots are next to impossible to see. Different colors or a stroke around the outside of the shot might have helped here. There is no music, but the sound effects are decent enough. While I won’t call it an amazing game, it’s still a pretty solid game worth trying.

High Score: Over 131,000 points (didn’t catch the exact score as the game took this off too quickly).
Died on level 3.3

General gameplay: 21/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 6/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 76%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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