Bug Attack (Apple II) review
"Most everyone is out to get him. The few that arenít spend their time cowering in the face of insect-shaped aliens that have made the realm their own. These fearsome foes come in one of three shapes: ants, caterpillars and butterflies. Each of them are capable of dropping knives the size of their own bodies, and the screen is often filled with waves of metal weapons you must dodge while you return pathetic pellets of your own."
The game Centipede produced numerous clones. Some were good, like a walk on the beach where every hot girl in sight is wearing a string bikini. Some were the gum that gets stuck on the bottom of your shoe when youíre on your way to the bathroom in a seedy restaurant. Fortunately, Bug Attack has more in common with the first of those two extremes than it does with the second. When people tell you the Apple II featured a good number of high-quality games, this is one of the ones they have in mind.
Developed by James Nitchals for Yoho Software and Cavalier Computer, Bug Attack is the tale of a little spaceship that is caught in a gigantic garden world. Most everyone is out to get him. The few that arenít spend their time cowering in the face of insect-shaped aliens that have made the realm their own. These fearsome foes come in one of three shapes: ants, caterpillars and butterflies. Each of them are capable of dropping knives the size of their own bodies, and the screen is often filled with waves of metal weapons you must dodge while you return pathetic pellets of your own.
The first stage is simple enough. As the computer pipes out a song that sounds like ďThe ants come marching,Ē thatís exactly what happens. Only the bugs are carrying blades. Early on, the weapons and ants arenít hard to avoid at all. The pace is very slow (nowhere near as hectic as Centipede), and you have enough distance between yourself and your foes that itís a simple matter of sliding under, firing a shot, and hoping no knives hit you.
When an enemy is incapacitated by your shot, it turns into vegetation. The battlefield is already littered with scrubs when the game begins, and this plant life is a pain in the butt in that it makes it harder to fire clean shots. Meanwhile, enemy knives pass through all on-screen objects except for you. Clearly, the decks are stacked against you.
From the first area with the ants, youíll next face the caterpillar enemy. It starts on the upper left side of the screen and weaves back and forth as it moves toward the bottom, where youíre waiting. By now, thereís probably even more brush than you dealt with in the first round (though you can also clear such hindrances with a few well-placed shots from your cannon), and the caterpillar isnít about to give you a break. It has several sections to its body, each capable of dropping a knife without a momentís notice. Therefore, the smart player will do everything possible to wipe out the threat before it can reach the bottom of the screen. Otherwise, you lose a life and have to re-attempt it.
The final standard stage comes after the caterpillar, and represents yet another major change in how your opponents operate. Youíre now fighting maniacal butterflies, and they tend to circle the edge of the screenís top portion. They make a merry little procession as they go, and they drop more knives than any of your previous opponents. From time to time, some will stop where they are, quiver like hummingbird wings, and drop a steady barrage of knives thatís almost impossible to avoid if youíre trying to get in shots.
Eventually, youíll advance past the butterflies, and then the game repeats itself. You go through the same three stages (in slightly more difficult form), then itís a little scene where a flower kisses your ship and you gain an extra life. From there, itís back to the old grind.
After gaining the extra ship, you can expect only slight deviations from the norm. Every once in awhile, the game throws a variant at you. These Ďbonusí stages are anything but. You have one chance to beat them, and failure means you lose a precious life. Success means your timing is nearly perfect. In one case, a caterpillar comes racing down, but doesnít drop any weapons. As it nears the bottom of the screen, it wildly alters speed in short spurts, which makes it almost impossible to time a shot to hit him. In another, there are only four butterflies on an otherwise empty field, but they are in a cross formation and they drop streams of knives so quickly you have to do everything you can to avoid destruction.
The bonus rounds, dangerous though they may be, do help the game feel a bit more enjoyable. Itís fun to see how many such stages you can reach, and how many different sorts of plant life you encounter. Another reason to keep playing is the score. Like many older games, Bug Attack has excellent ways to score. Every scrub you demolish, every insect you squash, and every ounce of fuel you have remaining at the end of a series of stages contributes to the top score. In this manner, the game forces you to take risks so you can boost your overall performance. And the limited fuel supply means you wonít dawdle to blast away plants. Otherwise, your reserves may run dry and youíll lose a ship.
In the end, Bug Attack is a truly simple game. Itís not got a lot of visual polish (the closest youíll see is palette swaps), yet everything looks nice enough that you wonít thirst for more. The sound department is hardly existent, save the sound of skittering insects, exploding ships, and a few incidental effects here and there that youíll not even notice. Still, thereís something charming at work. Itís easy to start Ďjust one gameí and keep playing for two or three more after that. Isnít that what gaming is all about?
Staff review by Jason Venter (May 30, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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