Moon Patrol (Commodore 64) review
"In an age where the appeal of a game is largely determined by how long it takes to play it through, going back to a title where you're happy to live through the first five minutes can be very refreshing. Arcade classic Moon Patrol spawned a Commodore 64 port in 1983, and it's one of those deliciously simple and yet brutally difficult games that the Commodore saw a lot of that year. As the name implies, you are patrolling the moon in a weird blue vehicle with square wheels. As the screen relentle..."
In an age where the appeal of a game is largely determined by how long it takes to play it through, going back to a title where you're happy to live through the first five minutes can be very refreshing. Arcade classic Moon Patrol spawned a Commodore 64 port in 1983, and it's one of those deliciously simple and yet brutally difficult games that the Commodore saw a lot of that year. As the name implies, you are patrolling the moon in a weird blue vehicle with square wheels. As the screen relentlessly scrolls, you maneuver your vehicle left and right, jumping over holes and other obstacles, shooting at rocks and flying aliens, and hoping to survive for longer than a minute. Which you won't on your first game, or your fifth for that matter.
The concept is simple enough. Controls are limited to moving forward and backward, which affects your speed but can never make you stand still, jumping over obstacles as they come, and rapidly punching the fire button to shoot ahead and right above you. Getting the hang of this is easy enough, but mastering it - knowing exactly how fast to drive to make certain jumps, and how to time your shots - is a different story indeed. Right from the start of the game, Moon Patrol challenges you by placing holes in the road, rocks that suddenly pop up in front of you, and aliens hovering above and relentlessly bombarding you. All this at a hectic pace and accompanied by an irritatingly calm, relaxed background tune. One wrong move, and a spectacular explosion follows, and your square wheels fly in all directions while the music hastily shuts up.
Moon Patrol has two difficulty modes, Beginner and Champion, both consisting of 26 levels. Beginner mode is kind enough to build up the threats slowly, starting you off with levels which you'll eventually get through easily, but you'll need to be more than a beginner to see it through. Champion mode is just that; darn hard. For players without patience, it is possible to continue where you were after you lose all your lives, essentially allowing you to play on and on even if you die hundreds of times along the way. The real challenge, of course, is in getting through without having to use this continue option.
The game's apparent simplicity is deceiving. There aren't a ton of different obstacles and enemies, but they are very well placed, every set of pits, obstacles and enemies designed exactly to make each level harder than the one before. In the first levels you may merely be jumping over some pits and shooting a few rocks, or fighting it out with some aliens, but the heat quickly builds up. Soon you are doing short jumps over pits with split second timing so you can immediately jump over the pit that follows directly after, fighting enemies while maneuvering through treacherous terrain, and constantly altering your speed to get through a level which can only be survived by memorizing its exact layout. Long before you reach the end of the game, or even the end of Beginner mode, you'll be sweating. And every time you do run into a pit or fail to dodge that one measly bomb that was dropped on you, you'll be swearing at your TV, but you will try again. And again.
That's exactly where the strength of Moon Patrol lies; it's seriously addicting. You know a game is doing something right when, no matter how quickly and how often you die, you punch that fire button to restart anyway. The background tune wraps around every 15 seconds or so, you face the same darn aliens every level, they make extremely annoying shrieking sounds when you blow them up, and most of all, you die constantly. But for all the frustration, you will not give up. Moon Patrol manages to capture that elusive core of gaming, replayability. It'll take many an hour of practice before you are good enough to have a shot at finishing the game, but you want to be. And when a game manages that, nothing else matters so much. The background on every level may look the same, the ground may be the same boring, one colour affair all the time, every darn rock you have to blow up between the start and the finish line may look exactly the same, and it just doesn't matter because you'll be completely caught up in playing and staying alive.
Technology has changed a lot in twenty years of gaming, but some things have always remained the same. If a game is darn hard, but keeps making you come back for more, it remains good regardless of its age. Moon Patrol is one of the Commodore 64's best examples of this, and I heartily recommend it to anybody who does not mind losing badly time after time.
Community review by sashanan (December 09, 2004)
Sashanan doesn't drink coffee; he takes tea, my dear. And sometimes writes reviews. His roots lie with the Commodore 64 he grew up with, and his gaming remains fragmented among the very old, the somewhat old, and rarely the new.
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