Moon Buggy (Commodore 64) review
"One of the golden rules of game development is that if a game is successful, rip-offs inevitably follow. Sometimes it's just a few good elements that are taken to be incorporated in a different game, and sometimes an attempt is made to reinvent the same game completely; and it's this latter category that usually goes wrong. Moon Buggy is a prime example of a game that tries to emulate a successful predecessor - Moon Patrol, in this case - and falls short by a mile. "
One of the golden rules of game development is that if a game is successful, rip-offs inevitably follow. Sometimes it's just a few good elements that are taken to be incorporated in a different game, and sometimes an attempt is made to reinvent the same game completely; and it's this latter category that usually goes wrong. Moon Buggy is a prime example of a game that tries to emulate a successful predecessor - Moon Patrol, in this case - and falls short by a mile.
Like the game it is so obviously based on, Moon Buggy is a side scrolling action title in which you patrol the surface of the moon in a little blue vehicle, attempting to jump over holes, clear away obstacles and attacking aliens, and basically try to stay alive as long as possible. The game's formula is almost identical, but not nearly as deep. The 52 levels of preset obstacles in a predetermined order that Moon Patrol had have been replaced by a randomized, endless level which the same limited selection of obstacles constantly repeating itself: a hole, a rock, one alien bomber which looks a lot like a white owl, and occasionally, a rocket firing bicycle (seriously).
Graphically the game has the edge on Moon Patrol. The backgrounds, both the ground and the sky, are made up of more colours than the rather bland background of Moon Patrol is. The sprite of the buggy is also a bit more detailed. In other areas the graphics actually lag behind a bit: no cool explosion if your buggy runs into an obstacle, and if you shoot down the alien he is immediately replaced by a new one, without even so much as a flash. The old one just disappears. The sound effects are a bit more bearable than the generally irritating beeps and boops of Moon Patrol, but still not very varied.
Moon Buggy really takes the plunge in the gameplay department, however, for a number of reasons. First off, the randomized level is far inferior to the well thought out stages of Moon Patrol. Rather than advancing through painstakingly designed levels, you just roll on and on shooting at rocks, jumping over pits and hoping the randomized layout does not throw up an impossible set of obstacles as it frequently does. Moon Patrol was sadistic, but fair. Moon Buggy on the other hand is fluky, and your score will as readily depend on how lucky you get with the obstacle layout as on your skill.
Also, while you could get a lot better at Moon Patrol by memorizing the level layouts, in Moon Buggy you have no choice but to wait and see what happens, which means reactions are the only thing you need and memory and strategy become a lot less important. The depth of the gameplay takes a serious hit here; while on the surface it would appear the games are equal, Moon Buggy is content with just copying the shooting and the jumping and seemingly unconcerned that the best parts of the game it ripped off were left untouched. This'd be forgivable if swift reactions were all you needed to get through Moon Buggy (for instance, Aztec Challenge is a game that reaches greatness purely by requiring pinpoint reflexes all around), but combined with the frequent unfair deaths, little depth remains. You just don't get much fun out of losing all your lives to suddenly inbound rockets that cannot be jumped over just because there's a pit in the wrong place.
Thirdly, and this is a much more immediate concern, without any kind of level advancement there really is no incentive to play Moon Buggy over and over again. All you're working at is improving your score, whereas in Moon Patrol you actually had a challenging and addictive goal in beating levels, reaching checkpoints and feeling like you are actually advancing. This was a big part of Moon Patrol's addictiveness, which in turn was its greatest strength, and it is non-existent here.
These three problems combine to bring Moon Buggy down. This game attempted to draw inspiration from a master of addictiveness, but while it looks very similar on the surface, the designers apparently didn't notice what made Moon Patrol so great; they certainly failed to replicate any of it. What's left is a cheap rip-off that is barely worth more than a glance. There's a lesson in this: if you're going to blatantly copy a game, at least copy the aspects that made it so successful.
Community review by sashanan (December 16, 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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