ZX Spectrum version

Sitting on her head like a paraffin stove

The Good
Starglider was released at the dawn of the 16-bit era, all the way back in 1985. It was one of the launch titles from Rainbird games, a spin-off of British Telecom. The company (founded by a man called Tony Rainbird) was the posher cousin of Firebird games, and released its produced in blue cardboard boxes at a hefty price of £14.95. In its day Starglider was an extremely desirable thing.

It was an early showcase for the new wave of 16-bit machines that was emerging at the time. I believe the game was written for the Atari ST and ported for the Commodore Amiga, as was the fashion for several years. It caused a lot of people to migrate from their ZX Spectrums and Commodore C64s. There was however a very good conversion for the ZX Spectrum, particularly the 128k version, which retained the special missions of the original and had an attractive synth-pop theme tune. Using emulation I have compared the ZX Spectrum version with the Atari ST original, and they are very close. The Spectrum version is more jagged, but it has the same gameplay and isn't much slower, despite the CPU running at less than half the speed (then again, it had less to do).

The game is based on the "towers" sequence of Atari's Star Wars vector graphic arcade machine. You fly over a dotted grid, and your job is to shoot a wide variety of air and ground targets, most of which shoot back. The game was packaged in a typically sturdy Rainbird box, with a manual and novella, although it is basically a shoot-em-up. Once you scored over a certain amount of points, you went to the next level. If you destroyed the Starglider of the title - a big metal bird - you received a large points bonus.

The game was notable for its enemy vehicles. There were lots of them and they were diverse. There were standard fighter planes and tanks. But there were also two-legged walkers that evoked the AT-ATs of the Star Wars universe (at times the game resembled the obscure "Empire Strikes Back" arcade game, which had not yet been converted for home systems in 1985). The Starglider was a large animated bird that flapped its wings majestically, like a lesbian, or Liza Minnelli in "Cabaret".

The refuelling sequence, in which you had to flow slowly over glowing subterranean power lines, sticks in the mind.

The Bad
There wasn't really much to it. Once you reached the second level you had seen most of what the game had to offer. It had none of the depth of "Elite" or "Mercenary" and it was actually less fun than the Star Wars towers sequence because it kept on going long after the novelty wore off. There were very few ground obstacles and you could come to a dead halt, so there was no "3D Deathchase" sense of barrelling through a packed forest of instant death.

Today it is a period piece.

The Bottom Line
Starglider has dated badly. It was the only major 3D game for the 16-bit machines that did not use filled polygon graphics. Even on the ST and Amiga it wasn't really fast enough to be exciting, and there was no depth at all. It was attractive and received some television coverage, but nowadays it is nothing. The ZX Spectrum conversion was by a company called Realtime Software, who had previously written a game called Starstrike, which was a note-perfect copy of the Star Wars arcade machine. Starstrike is the better game.

I believe that Starglider is one of the first action games to support mouse control.

by Ashley Pomeroy (225) on June 2nd, 2006

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