Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Starquake - Sinclair Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 (1985) & Atari ST (1988)

[Commodore 64] The pick of the 8-bits

Starquake is an addictive and very slick arcade adventure with platforming elements.  It was released for a host of 8-bit machines in 1985 and for the Atari ST three years later in 1988. Your goal is to repair the unstable core of a planet that has appeared from a black hole before it destroys the Universe.  

You control a character called BLOB (Bio-Logically Operated Being) and your first task is to search for the planet’s core.  The core is made up of a number of objects that must then be located by searching the 512 screens that make up the planet.  The objects then need to be returned to the core to make it stable.

There are various aliens that inhabit the planet that can be dispatched with your laser.  Most of the aliens will drain your energy but there is one that can kill you immediately.  You can also build short-lived platforms beneath you to reach higher places as you are unable to jump. BLOB has a limited supply of ammunition and platforms, and his energy supply constantly depletes though further supplies of each can be picked up.  There is also a generous scattering of extra lives in the form of joysticks (remember them?).

While on foot BLOB can only move left and right (and fall down) so there are a number of other ways to navigate the planet.  The most useful form of transport is a hover pad.  These can only be boarded and dropped off in particular places but can fly in any direction. The major disadvantage of a hover pad is that you can’t pick up any core objects while on board. Teleports are another quick way of getting around.  Each teleport has its own unique code and one is handily located quite close the core.  In some areas there are also vacuum tubes which can suck BLOB up to higher levels.
[Amstrad CPC] BLOB about to pick up the most useful item in the game.
The most useful object that can be found is the Access card.  Numbered chips can be picked up to get you through security doors and to gain access to the Cheops pyramid.  An Access card can replace all these chips.  The security doors allow you to explore further areas of the planet and the Cheops pyramid can be used to trade one of your objects for another (usually one needed to repair the core).
[Spectrum] The Cheops pyramid allows you to trade unwanted items for something more useful
I had Starquake for the Spectrum back in the 80’s and completed it again with my old map.  I achieved an adventure score of 58% which is roughly the percentage of the map I used so I’m guessing you need to visit every screen to get 100%.

The game is very polished and would be worthy of being published by Ultimate.  Of the versions I played, none of them stand out aurally with the sound mostly consisting of effects.  The Commodore 64 has the best visuals of the 8-bits.  The graphics are colourful and forego the chunky sprites the C64 is normally known for.  The Spectrum version, as usual, is brightly coloured but has monochrome sprites.  In contrast the Amstrad version has rather subdued graphics which puts it in last place.  All games play the about the same which is the important thing.

Coming 3 years later and with more power behind it, the Atari ST unsurprisingly boasts the best looking version although it is hardly stretching the hardware with a game such as this.
[Atari ST] As expected the ST version has the best graphics of all.

**SPOILERS**  [Spectrum] Completing the game....


  1. I'm ashamed to admit I've never played this one but I keep meaning to and this post may give me the kick up the bum I need :P

    1. You really should give it a go. I can recommend the C64 or Speccy versions.

  2. What I like about spectrum games are that duplicate game graphics are usually displayed with different colours i.e. the 2nd amstrad pic (port from spectrum) shows the same creature rendered in three different colours.
    When games got ported to 16-bit equivalents such as the Atari-ST; though more colour got added to a graphic; duplications of that graphic always looked the same. I think 8-bit to 16-bit conversions lost something because of this. I remember being disappointed when I played the Atari version after having played the spectrum one.
    good blog by the way. regards Cole

  3. Hi Cole and thanks for the comment. I couldn't agree more regarding the 8-bit to 16-bit conversions. It doesn't matter how much you tart up a game like Starquake it's still the same underneath. I prefer the clean graphics on the Commodore 64 version myself.

    The Amiga and ST really come into their own when developers such as Bullfrog and The Bitmap Brothers appear on the scene and create games the 8-bits couldn't hope to run. Populous and Speedball 2 immediately spring to mind.