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Space Attack - The Atari Times

Space Attack

An overlooked gem from M-Network
by Ethan C. Nobles

April 5, 2006
One of the things that makes collecting for the Atari 2600 so much fun is that there were a lot of great games out there that were rather obscured by more popular titles in the console's huge game library. I've had Space Attack in my collection since it was a new game and was surprised to learn a lot of people haven't heard of this gem. Space Attack, released by M-Network in 1982, is a nice change of pace for Atari fans as it implements a couple of nifty concepts that are none to common. Actually, that can be said of a lot of games published by Mattel's M-Network -- one of many companies that contributed a lot of quality titles to the 2600's library.

In Space Attack, the player is put in charge of three squadrons of fighters, and each squad contains three units. The mission is to protect a defenseless home base from a nasty fleet of invading ships. The concept leads to a bit of depth, see, as squads must be deployed to counter attacking ships before they reach the base at the center of the radar screen.

Radar screen? Well, yes. There are two screens to worry about in Space Attack. The first one is the none-too-pretty radar screen on which the locations of both the player's ships and those of the enemy are displayed. The player dispatches his squads to counter enemy fleets on this screen. A wise thing to do is take care of the invaders that are closest to the base and work out from there, of course.

And, then, there's the battle screen. Unlike the relatively static radar screen, this one is very active. The player, essentially, has a targeting sight through which he can blast enemy ships. If the sight is hit, the player loses a ship. So, if one loses three ships, one squadron bites the dust. There are a lot of enemy ships to shoot at but (six formations of them, in fact), fortunately, they aren't too bright and it's easy to dodge their shots. And, to make things even easier, if you blast one ship, there is a lot of debris and the chances are good that it will hit and destroy other ships. The one major drawback to this game, really, is that it is pretty easy in battle mode.

There's another drawback that needs to be mentioned, too. Now, the game works like this - you'll enter battle mode when a squadron meets up with enemy ships, and then switch back to radar mode when you destroy a group of invaders or lose a squad. Each of your squadrons is assigned a different color, and you select which group is to go where by highlighting and enemy formation with the joystick and then dispatching a squadron to meet it by "calling" it's color on the controller. That gets rather confusing as you really need the manual to refer to figure out how to call the different squadrons, and it's pretty easy to make mistakes. The ships move very slowly and if you meant to call the purple squadron to meet an enemy formation and call the orange one instead, that can cost you some time and put your base at peril. It would have been nice if the joystick directions necessary to call various squadrons was on the screen, but that's not the case.

The sound is minimal (as is the case for most 2600 games) but functional. The radar screen is fairly silent except for an alarm that starts up once enemies get close to the base, but the battle screen is full of nice, metallic explosions and laser shots.

The graphics are pretty good, too. There's nothing to write home about here, but the enemies look like space ships - albeit blocky ones - on the battle screen and there's not much screen flicker. Again, this is vintage 2600 stuff - minimal but functional in terms of graphics.

The control, except for the confusing manner in which squads are dispatched, is great. Your targeting sight is easy to control and moves very quickly. That, of course, allows for the rapid blasting of enemy targets and the ability to dodge their bullets with ease. I should point out here that learning to "lead" enemy ships is important as they zip around the screen and your shots take a bit of time to arrive.

All in all, this is a fun little game that involves a bit of strategy and has more depth than most shooters for the 2600. This game can be roughly lumped in to the first-person space shooter category along with games like Activision's StarMaster and Atari's Star Raiders. It's not terribly uncommon, either, so you should be able to pick it for next to nothing. Be sure to buy a game with a manual, though, as you'll need it!

Space Attack

(c) M-Network

Will these aliens ever stop attacking?
This was the only screen I could figure out. Oh, you're supposed to do something else?
If I had read the instructions, I might have gotten to the good stuff sooner.
Take that you alien SOB!
Space Attack
System: 2600
Publisher: M-Network
Genre: Shooter
Graphics Score: 80%
Sound & Music Score: 75%
Gameplay Score: 85%
Control Score: 90%

Final Score: 85%

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