Before I get into the nuts and bolts of this title, I can't believe how giddy I was when I picked up this game, opened up the manual and saw it was released in 2003. Back in high school, I remembered opening my yearbook from 1985 and was a bit dismayed to see the Atari stuck on a list of things that were no longer considered to have, well, any cultural relevance at all. Indeed, the Atari was "out," along with other fads such as the pet rock. Well, I'm glad to report the author of that list was dead wrong - with games like Star Fire around, the old Atari will still retain a following.
I was also impressed with the high-quality of the package in which this thing arrived. Well, I don't know if "high quality" is the correct term for the package is I got it at the Oklahoma Classic Gaming Exhibition in Tulsa and the game wasn't packaged in a box. Instead, I got a cartridge and manual jammed in an AtariAge sack (not much of a package, I'm afraid). Still, the illustration on the cartridge is outstanding, and the manual is a slick, high-quality piece of work which contains all the information one needs to be up and running in no time. Kudos to David Exton who created the label artwork and manual.
Yeah, I know I'm wandering all over the place, but I'm fixing to get to the review. Star Fire, evidently, was an Exidy arcade game from 1979 which was based loosely on the Star Wars series of movies. This Atari game is meant to be a port of the arcade game with a few twists thrown in for good measure. I'm not quite sure what those twists are because I never saw the Star Fire game back when it was in the arcades.
Star Fire reminds me a bit of Activision's Starmaster, but without the strategy. Yes, it's a space flight simulator in which you blast the crud out of anything but moves, but you don't worry about saving starbases or running out of energy. Instead, you just kind of blast away through level after level of tie-fighter looking ships. This is arcade action all the way - just the kind of game that works well on the 2600.
Now, there is a bit of strategy involved just to make things interesting. First of all, you've got shields which can take six hits before vanishing, thus leaving your ship vulnerable to attack. Ah, but there are crystals thrown about here and there which, when shot, give you back a unit of shield energy. Second, you can't just run around firing all over the place because your lasers will overheat, leaving you with nothing to do but dodge enemy shots and wait until you can start shooting again.
The game is structured in levels, with each one getting progressively more difficult. When a level is cleared, a warp gate appears - blast in and warp off to another level. I should mention the warp sequence is pretty cool, what with some "whooshy" sound effects tossed in and the shaky visuals you might expect - courtesy of Paul Slocum, by the way.
On the topic of graphics, this game was done very well. You don't get that rotten screen flicker which plagued many an Atari game, and the enemies scale nicely, thus conveying a sense of three-dimensions. What's really impressive is screen flicker doesn't become an issue, even with a lot of enemies flying around on the screen. Some nice little surprises are packed in, too, such as a "Death Star" which you really can't see until you shoot it. The goal, naturally, is to blow the heck out of it. A handy radar is built in, too, but it doesn't reveal things such as the aforementioned Death Star or Exidy Freighter (which is harmless, but takes several shots to kill). A nice touch, too, is the title screen in which the stylistic Star Fire name is drawn. This game, indeed, screams quality from start to finish.
While Atari has never been known for outstanding sound effects, this one isn't bad. You get a nice intro theme (composed by Slocum), and the shooting effects you'd expect. The warp sequence I mentioned earlier conveys a sense of motion quite well, too.
And, then there are the controls. Moving your ship around accurately isn't a problem, and that's good enough for me. You can even "reverse" the controls so that the fighter moves like an airplane (press "up" on the stick to go down and vice versa - you know the drill) with the right difficulty switch. The left switch controls the rate at which the laser heats up - select the "A" difficulty and the thing heats up much faster.
All in all, XYPE programmer Manuel Polik did a great job with this. It's hard to find fault with this program, and the fact someone took the time to put this together long after the commercial life of the 2600 should be appreciated by Atari fans everywhere. I simply can't say enough good things about this game. Sure, you can download the ROM on the Internet and play Star Fire on an emulator, but every Atari fan knows that's no way to truly enjoy a quality 2600 game.