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Gorf (Colecovision) artwork

Gorf (Colecovision) review

"The Galactic Orbiting Robot Force, better known as Gorf, has its sights set on our humble Earth for its next conquest, its alien fleet traveling through a space warp and descending on the planet in a uniform march. Something must be done. Confronted with such threats before, the Earth people have learned. Before they would commission one pilot to watchguard the planet, roving the lower atmosphere as descenders continued to fall. But ceaseless Space Invaders would never stop com..."

The Galactic Orbiting Robot Force, better known as Gorf, has its sights set on our humble Earth for its next conquest, its alien fleet traveling through a space warp and descending on the planet in a uniform march. Something must be done. Confronted with such threats before, the Earth people have learned. Before they would commission one pilot to watchguard the planet, roving the lower atmosphere as descenders continued to fall. But ceaseless Space Invaders would never stop coming, and from this they deduced they must eliminate the source. Taking to the skies in Gorf means not just exterminating in the SI style but traveling through space to the root of the problem, where the Gorfian flag ship awaits vanquishing. In this way Gorf is the Donkey Kong of early space shooters, composed of four separate screens of similar theme but different context.

The first is eerily familiar, a straight forward Space Invaders style defense of your territory dubbed Astro Battle. The arcade version is unique for its blue sky, but the Colecovision port uses starry settings from the start to evoke further comparison. Eliminating the touring waves of enemies is easy, made simpler by the advances in gun technology since achieved. An errant shot in Space Invaders would have to clear the screen before a second could be fired. Gorf erases the waiting period, however, as a subsequent shot negates the previous mid-flight, nixing previous helplessness and creating more decisive moments. The result is an improved system, delivering rhythmic play where shots are fired to the sound of perishing enemies.

Where Gorf fails is where it expands, as its original stage premises simply cannot continue its progressive trend. In the second screen, Laser Attack, sparse squadrons of five aliens attack in tandem, with each formation consisting of three green dive bombers, a blue laser cannon and their red alien captain. It's an uninspired Galaxian-light quickly disposed of. This level falls way to Space Warp, a nifty transitional stage that delights with a clever graphical trick. Red beams shoot forth from the screen's centerpoint to create a vortex effect, the eye of which attackers manifest from and, by moving in spiraling patterns and growing increasingly larger, create the illusion the player is traveling through a space rift. Approaching single file and lofting sporadic fire, however, is not an especially creative tactic to counter. Space Warp works well as a necessary set piece for adventure but is wanting in action.

It culminates in a duel with the Gorfian mothership, shielded and pacing at the top of the Flag Ship stage. In another bit of inspiration only the core of the mothership must be destroyed, protected by its hull and wings, which erode when struck by fire. Yet again this creative graphical effort seems misplaced amidst a dreary, non-threatening exchange of bullets. A game focused on conveying adventure should build to this moment, yet Gorf's climax is told in its least compelling screens.

You'll immediately proceed to do it all over again, gaining rank from your preliminary Space Cadet status to hopefully become a Space Avenger, having completed the stage set six times. It's the reason Gorf works to some degree. No stage takes more than a minute or two to complete and the lulling latter half is immediately followed by the ramped up challenge of a new rank, giving little pause to consider the overall unevenness and allowing it to ride its unique quirks longer than most games could.

Quirky is an appropriate word. The arcade version of Gorf was notable for its usage of synthesized voice, expanding upon speech pioneer Stratovox to include monotonically taunting lines such as "I devour coins" and "You will meet a Gorfian doom" using Votrax Speech Synthesis chips. The low robotic cackle can't be reproduced on Colecovision hardware, yet it's a quirky part of the Gorf legacy.

As is the third stage of five featured in the arcade version, an example of the blatant copyright infringement commonplace in the early days of gaming. Titled Galaxians, and a copy of Galaxian, every console version of the game omits the outing due to legalities and licensing. It's a shame, as Gorf's abridged ports would benefit from a healthier helping of dueling in the middle.

Quirkiest of all is developer and engineer Jay Fenton, who went on to produce a sequel titled Ms. Gorf that went unreleased, stifled by the video game crash and lost to defunct development hardware. It's a curious name for his follow-up, fitting yet unrelated to the fact Jay Fenton went on to become Jamie Fenton, and not just by placing a bow on his head.

I digress. Gorf is an innovative arcade classic, but sans Galaxians its console ports are a poor representation of its original success to segue several space encounters into one game. Like many Colecovision ports it's been adapted well for the hardware -- you can only move left and right in the bottom quadrant now, but at no point is this confining -- yet the game is too fleeting and sparse here. It feels like there should be more to Gorf than there is; a good idea executed with solid mechanics and clever techniques to simulate adventure can't err in not providing enough filler. But without its middle level and lacking its robotic jeers, Gorf feels incomplete, a nice deviation but not a lasting game.


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Featured community review by LowerStreetBlues (November 09, 2009)

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zippdementia posted November 10, 2009:

I'm not sure what compelled you to write a review for Gorf. I somewhat remember this game. Mostly I remember it telling me it would "devour my quarters" so I suppose I shall give you points for accuracy.

There's really nothing wrong here. It's a neat little review. The Jamie Fenton bit seems out of place. You haven't really called the game quirky but you try to make some kind of quirky connection to the whole transexual thing. Not sure it worked as well as you thought it might have.
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LowerStreetBlues posted November 10, 2009:

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zippdementia posted November 10, 2009:

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zigfried posted November 10, 2009:

Thanks for submitting this -- it's great to see some sweet Coleco reviews. As an Atari 2600 owner, I was always jealous (well, until the 5200 came along, but that unfortunately ended up flopping).

I liked the early Donkey Kong reference both because of the explicit point made (regarding the multi-screen format), but because it also reminded me that Donkey Kong was one of those Coleco crown jewels that I always lusted after. That damn 2600 port only had two screens!

The bit about the developer was amusing. "Ms. Gorf" just sounds conceptually ridiculous.

If you're open to requests, I'd like to know more about Stratovox. I never heard of it before, but I'd be curious to know what was SO CRITICALLY IMPORTANT that they had to implement speech into the game. I'm guessing it's something that would seem silly in retrospect, but I still think it'd be cool to read about.

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LowerStreetBlues posted November 10, 2009:

Coleco Donkey was... well, better than 2600 Donkey for sure, but I never understood why they went 1-4-3-4 instead of 1-3-4, and 3 without the springs always seemed wrong anyway. There's an awesome Coleco homebrew of the game next to complete that looks impressive.

Stratovox was Space Invaders/Galaxian style, where you shot at aliens abducting tiny men on Earth on the right side of the screen. The voice chip was used for the men, who yelled phrases like "Help Me." Really poor quality, even compared to Gorf. I can probably answer the request.

Also, you're a staffer, right? I read the rules -- can I submit screenshots?
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zigfried posted November 10, 2009:

Your account should now be able to submit screenshots.

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LowerStreetBlues posted November 10, 2009:

Baller. Thanks man.
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sashanan posted November 10, 2009:

If Space Warp was anything less than harrowing on the Colecovision version, try the Commodore 64 interpretation someday. My opinion has been that everything else - including the mothership battle which really should have been the ultimate challenge - is nothing but a warmup for that run. It *starts* easy, mind, as everything does on the first cycle...

Funny to learn some 20-odd years after first playing it what Gorf actually means though.

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