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Blue Moon (Commodore 64) artwork

Blue Moon (Commodore 64) review

"Retro gamers, me included, sometimes make it seem like every game made these days is worthless and that every game from our youth was ambrosia; the familiar '10kb was a game, and we were happy!' effect. It's far from the truth, though. They still make good games these days, occasionally. Can't think of any right now, but they do. And, believe it or not, even the Commodore 64 has its share of black sheep, and I'm the first to admit it. The black sheep I feel like elaborating on today isn't a shee..."

Retro gamers, me included, sometimes make it seem like every game made these days is worthless and that every game from our youth was ambrosia; the familiar '10kb was a game, and we were happy!' effect. It's far from the truth, though. They still make good games these days, occasionally. Can't think of any right now, but they do. And, believe it or not, even the Commodore 64 has its share of black sheep, and I'm the first to admit it. The black sheep I feel like elaborating on today isn't a sheep but a moon, and it's not black either, but blue. Oh, no need to strangle me for that horrible pun, I'll take care of that after I'm finished writing this.

But perhaps your mind won't be so set on killing me anymore after reading this, because Blue Moon is a game (term used loosely) deserving of any mockery your clever mind could come up with. In fact, I wish I had a Whelkman right now to help me tear it apart. Blue Moon is a five-phase shooter game which looks and plays like it was hastily glued together on a rainy afternoon. The kind of game you'd expect if the designer stumbled out of the pub and suddenly realized today is deadline day for the game he hasn't started on yet. I honestly hope this is how it happened, because I'd hate to think of an actual effort having gone into this game. As a programmer, I know the horror of working on something for a very long time and it not showing at all in the end result. Just this last Friday I spent six hours writing three lines of code and when the boss saw that, he said Sash, he said...but I digress.

Okay, close your eyes. Imagine a space backdrop, you know, black screen, white dots. You've got Blue Moon. Okay, now, text appears in the middle of the screen in a small white font, indicating the first phase has begun. 'Connect modules'. At the bottom of the screen, you see the bottom half of your space ship. At the top, the top half of your ship slowly begins sailing down, diagonally, occasionally responding to your joystick input. You have to steer it to exactly connect with the ship at the bottom, which isn't easy because no matter, what, the module cannot move in a straight line down. So you overcompensate to the left, to the right, to the left again, until you run out of screen and the module either connects or explodes. Interestingly, this doesn't seem to actually depend on whether you put it right on the middle of the ship. The game loves to reject perfect fits and take away a life before the action has even started, then do it again, and again. And on the fourth try it suddenly accepts a sloppy fit. No rhyme or reason to it as far as I can see, or at the very least, some very sloppy collision detection code.

On to the second phase, 'Destroy comets'. Big comets move left and right at the top of the screen, sometimes suddenly crashing down at you. You can move along the bottom of the screen and shoot at the comets, though it's anybody's guess if a hit will actually clear a comet. As often as not, it just passes right through it. The comets come down too quickly to actually avoid, so it's all you can do to just keep moving and shooting and hope you get lucky. After a set time (I think it's about 90 seconds), the comet attack stops as suddenly as it began. Doesn't matter if you actually destroyed anything, it just stops there. Next, you get attacked by the 'Blue Bouncers'. Think a copy of the last phase, but the enemies are smaller, move more quickly and even teleport across the screen, suddenly appearing somewhere else without warning. They fire rapidly moving shots and it's not so much a question of evading them, but being lucky not to get hit. Destroy a Blue Bouncer and it reappears, destroy it again and it reappears again, but after a while it will just bounce of the screen and not come back. Like the showdown with the comets, this phase suddenly ends after a while, seemingly without regard to what you actually did to defend yourself.

Phase four, then! 'Destroy the Tecom'. The Tecom, as it turns out, is a ridiculous looking blue monster hovering at the top of the screen, and whenever you fire at it part of the graphic disappears. First you shoot off the feet, then the body, finally you are only fighting against its hair. All the while, it drops eggs at you (again, too quick to actually evade), which spawn into birds which then fire the same unavoidable projectiles at you that the Blue Bouncers did. At least this time, the level ends when you destroy the Tecom, so it feels like you're actually doing something. If you don't lose all your lives before you get lucky enough destroying him without having an egg dropped on top of you, that is.

For the final phase, your ship moves to the top of the screen and a blue rock with a few landing platforms on it appears. 'Land on the Blue Moon'. In an exact copy of the 'Connect modules' phase at the start, you now have to maneuver your ship to a landing platform and hope that the game decides your landing is okay, which again feels mostly random. If you make it, the Union Jack is raised, the game says 'prepare to encounter more hostile aliens', and the first phase begins again with connecting modules. As you proceed through levels, the comets and Blue Bouncers become more numerous and quicker, making them all the more frustrating to defeat.

The question is, of course, where's the fun? Every level depends on 90% luck and 10% skill to get through, and the collision detection is horrible throughout. Shots passing through enemies, perfect landings being rejected, it's unforgivable. The feeling you get is that you're not playing the game, it is playing with you. And having a lot more fun than you, to boot. Graphics and sound perfectly match the butchered gameplay - the sound effects are annoying beeps that would be better suited for a microwave oven than a video game, the graphics all look like they were pasted together in a hurry (particularly the Tecom looks absolutely ridiculous), and as for colours, everything is blue! Your ship's blue, the Blue Moon is blue (yeah okay, that was obvious), the Blue Bouncers are blue (but well named at least), the Tecom is blue, and you'll have the blues after half an hour of playing this. Yes, that's a bad joke. The game's worse. Sue me.

Shooters are, without a doubt, the biggest genre on the Commodore, particularly in its early years. There are plenty of good shooter titles, and too many horrible ones, like this one. Unfortunately, no matter what the title suggests, these games did not come out once in a blue moon. This is just one example of a game hurriedly put together, finished, and gone gold, either without testing or without doing anything with the test results. Anybody in his right mind would have sent this back to the developer telling him to start over. Instead, Blue Moon got through, hit the stores, and proceeded to disappoint every buyer. And it was far from unique in that regard.

So anyway, to my point. Apart from the fact that you should never play this miserable excuse for a shooter, of course, but that was obvious already. What Blue Moon demonstrates (along with the other hundred Commodore shooters of its quality) is that back in the old school days, horrible games existed as well, and perhaps in larger numbers than now. So the next time somebody - be it me or one of the other five people left on this planet with a Commodore - tells you that all Commodore games rock, just remember that we don't consider Blue Moon and its like to be games. Thank you, good night. I'm off to strangle myself now.

sashanan's avatar
Community review by sashanan (March 02, 2008)

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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