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Communist Mutants from Space - The Atari Times

Communist Mutants from Space

Saving the galaxy from... Communist Mutants?
by Darryl Brundage

June 13, 2005
Oh yeah, that would've been MY guess, as far as video game themes go... (?)

Without doubt, the Supercharger was THE coolest accessory for the 2600 (aside from those wonderful "adult" video games *cough hack note: MAJOR SARCASM...choke*). All of it's games were created on an Apple II computer. Whereas new 2600 games back then cost $20-30 or more, Starpath's (the creators of the games and the Supercharger) cost about $15 each. They loaded up quickly from a cassette tape (note: some cassette-load games for computers back then took several minutes to load--while Supercharger games [initially, not counting their multi-load games] only take about 30 seconds--and while most video game critics from the 80s hailed the Supercharger's library, I saw one cassette-loaded game for the TI994-A computer that looked so horrendous I didn't even PLAY it after a friend loaded up the piece of garbage!). Once you decide to take a break from a game, if there was room left on the cassette, you could watch one to three previews of upcoming Starpath games. And the cassettes could be easily copied for free (if you had one of those fancy new double-cassette stereo decks) and given to fellow friends that had the Supercharger, but not the games (heh heh).

One thing I find amusing is that, in the old Starpath catalogs, they boasted about the great graphics of the Starpath games, since the Supercharger increased the 2600's RAM memory big time. However, I found a lot of the games' graphics to be either hit or miss: Fireball's graphics were so-so (some kind of patterns in the Breakout-type blocks would've been good, not to mention *possible*, probably), the majority of the graphics of Starpath's answer to Defender of Killer Satellites pretty much involved a bunch of triangles, and Phaser Patrol's graphics weren't much better than the similar-themed games of Star Raiders and StarMaster (except for when you raise or lower shields, which is fantastic looking for the 2600!). However, on the flip side, the graphics of the Starpath version of Frogger were almost arcade-perfect, and the 3-D passages of Escape From the MindMaster were damn near mind-blowing for the 2600.

As we take a trip down a personal memory lane for me (as if you care), we go back to 1985 or so to a Toys 'r Us in Houston, which the Supercharger's suggested list price was $60-70 upon it's initial release, but most of the time it went for about $45...but thanks to the video game crash, I was able to snag it for $10 or even less than that (something tells me it was only $5, but I don't think it could've possibly been THAT low). However, I never was able to get any other games for my Supercharger, other than Phaser Patrol, which came with it.

Flash forward now (yay, enough with my past already, yes?) to 2002, when I brought my 7800 out of mothballs and started playing it along with 2600 as well as 7800 games again for the first time in 10 years (which I had abandoned Atari when I got my Sega Genesis in 1992). My Supercharger quit working after an ex-friend borrowed it (loooong lost after moving to Germany, and damn the Army for sending him there), which he didn't even know anything about that wonderful item...or DID it really quit working, because I had started using my 7800 once my old 2600 croaked? Some online people said that the Supercharger didn't work with the original 7800 model (which I have), which I couldn't confirm...meanwhile, after only having the one game for the Supercharger, I acquired Commie Mutants in 2003, making the amount of total Supercharger games total that I owned from one twelfth to one sixth...and then a few months later, I got TWO MORE...so I now suddenly own one third of the entire Starpath catalog! Yay!

And then I not only confirmed that the Supercharger doesn't work with the original 7800, but I also found a way to modify it so it WILL work...so I tried it out...and, for the first time in nearly FIFTEEN YEARS (please pardon the caps, but I'm still very ecstatic over this)...the wonderful words of "rewind tape, press play" appeared the next time I plugged in the Supercharger and turned my 7800 on! (Another note: you can check out the original 7800 model modification here at www.schells.com/7800mod.shtml, but TRY IT AT YOUR OWN RISK!)

So I plopped in Commie Mutants--my first "new" (to ME, anyway) Starpath game--in almost 20 years.

The Review!

Aside from the title--which, if you're not familiar with this and/or the Supercharger, you probably thought I made this game title up!--this is just a variation of Galaxian. It's funny, back in the day, Atari sued companies left and right in regards to companies (allegedly) stomping on Atari's home-exclusive licensed arcade games: they sued Imagic for their Intellivision version of Demon Attack, which had a likeness of the Phoenix mothership wave, and Magnavox was also slapped with an Atari lawsuit, alleging that the Odyssey2's K.C. Munchkin infringed on Atari's "home version" (cough, choke) of Pac-Man (which most gamers will disagree with anyway), etc., yet Starpath dodged lawsuits by changing around Meteoroid into Suicide Mission, since it somewhat copied the vector graphics of Atari's coin-op version of Asteroids (which was still almost exactly like Asteroids when it was released; go figure!), Phaser Patrol was a lot like Atari's Star Raiders (but better, although I don't think Atari threatened litigation like they did with Meteoroid), and they put out their own version of Frogger, since Parker Brothers didn't own the magnetic rights to their own 2600 version of it (i. e. again, the Supercharger games came on cassette, which the Parker Brothers version came on a cartridge/chip!)

A Mother Creature gives birth to communist mutants (um, eeyew), who hatch from eggs (that are square...riiiiight) and immediately attack. I guess they're like those bugs in real life that have only 24 hours to live, although, in this case, they might only have a few seconds until you mow them down, so that's probably why they attack so furiously. Sorry, commie mutants, but I'm the man with a gun...

A few things sets this apart from the Atari version of Galaxian, though: first off, you will NEVER complete a screen unless you nail the mothership. The reason? It keeps on creating more and more mutants (just like a #@$! rabbit), and you won't advance through any waves unless you destroy her. This is rather difficult, since she stays safely above several rows of commie mutant eggs, which they can be hard to blast through...plus they'll eventually hatch and dive-bomb you...and then more mutants will replace the ones that you killed. Nuts...

However, this is where the rest of the differences come through: when you first bring the game up, you'll get an on-screen menu of features to choose from, like shots that will pass through every row of mutants, including the mother Marxist (yay!), once per round/per ship shields, a once per round/ship warp that slows all the action down for several seconds, and guided missiles that you can control, specifically aiming it towards whichever commie mutants you would like to see bite the democratic dust (nyeh!).

Unfortunately, in a way, these features can actually *hamper* the gameplay: it's very difficult to nail that cursed Mother Creature without any features, but with shields and/or warp (and/or penetrating missiles), the game's too easy...after all, if you die and there's only a few mutant eggs left, after a couple of seconds, they'll hatch and dive towards you -- you free-to-vote scumbag -- so you can just activate your shields and/or warp and finish off the last few mutants...and then you'll get the shields and/or warp back once when the next wave of commie mutants appears a few seconds later, since the warp and shields work once PER ROUND (plus you get an extra ship with every odd-numbered screen too). So choosing these wonderful features can become a bit of a crutch...however, you can crank up the starting level higher and increase the challenge that way.

So, what's *MY* opinion on the graphics to Communist Mutants then? Mixed: the square eggs (chuckle...it STILL cracks me up) and your ship are simple enough looking (i. e. pretty typical 2600 graphics), although the malicious mother mutant does look pretty good, and although the mutants themselves don't look that great (except for the octopus-looking one), they wave their arms (tentacles?/appendages?/other things I don't want to guess at?) around as they ascend and dive. So that's pretty cool, just like when Demon Attack was very amazing when it came out, with it's great graphics and the demons moving independently AND flapping their wings was a bit of a triumph for the 2600. You can also have up to four players on this game, so Starpath really made up for the lack of originality by giving it features to the max, plus with previews of two of their other games on the tape.

I'm going to do something really unusual here, which I probably won't do with any of the other 50 or so game reviews that I eventually plan on doing sometime in the future (Greg and TAT regulars [if I haven't scared 'em off by now] shudder in fear... :)  ): I'm actually going to give the gameplay 100%. Normally, for a game this easy (which, even starting the game on skill level 4, I can still make it past 30 screens [which are marked by flags after each round, which is a nice touch], although the game had a strange charm on me for a while), I would only give it about 75-80% or so, but due to the amount of customizing and all, I feel it really adds to the game, so that's why I'm giving it the highest marks possible (but not so high with the graphics, especially considering the extra amount of memory you get with the Supercharger and all). And your ship responds VERY fast to the controls!! Use with caution! Plus the sounds are pretty good, especially when you activate the warp function, rewarding you with "slow motion sound effects", I guess you could call them...c-o-o-l!

Just your average day at the (space) office, keeping the galaxy free from communism, and the lawyers at Atari (ok, so that part I DID make up)...

Communist Mutants from Space

(c) Starpath

Marxism has spread into outer space!
Shoot the mother creature.
Square eggs?
Communist Mutants from Space
System: 2600
Publisher: Starpath
Genre: Shooter
Graphics Score: 78%
Sound & Music Score: 90%
Gameplay Score: 100%
Control Score: 100%

Final Score: 88%

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