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Stratovox (Arcade) artwork

Stratovox (Arcade) review

"Historians will note that Stratovox was the first game to use synthesized voice. Long forgotten behind this trivia is the unforgiving game time forgot. My initial impression of Stratovox, you ask? "

Historians will note that Stratovox was the first game to use synthesized voice. Long forgotten behind this trivia is the unforgiving game time forgot. My initial impression of Stratovox, you ask?

Like the stone-faced spaceman on its marquee booms, "THIS IS UNREAL!!"

To some Stratovox will appear dated and next to impossible. The learning curve is brutal, as dive-bombing ships and squadrons fly fiercely toward, barrel roll to flank you in bullets, then detour right to abduct one of ten earthlings your mission it is to protect. Mere survival is difficult. Yellow bullets appear as short narrow streaks against the black background, falling fast and grouping so that dodging one will often mean being in the direct path of another. Ships assail in sets of one, three or six, and as the previous wave tries to make off with its captive, another comes zooming down. It is not a kind introduction. It is -- unreal.

Persevere and be rewarded with a challenging shooter styled after the historical Space Invaders, one where the simple demands of dodging and timing your return fire are pushed further than the mellow, methodic forerunner dreamed. Timing is crucial as a lone fleeing saucer will move faster than your ship, traveling several lengths away at the top of the screen. To succeed, there can't be a question as to whether he'll be picked off. Dodging, however, is a matter of knowing what situations to avoid. Can your shuttle slip under a spiraling unit to suppress fire or are the crafts about to rain unavoidable ammunition the second you dare cross their turrets?

Strategy is introduced via enemy disposal. As three ships soar to attack, all three must be eliminated in order to protect your people, but if any one breaks your defenses he'll abduct an earthling, stroll to the top of the screen and make a beeline toward the enemy ship reserves. Strategy comes into play when two or three ships dodge your fire; only one individual will be taken, with the remaining ships chaining behind and dragging down the lead vessel making away with its prize. Sometimes, then, it may be smarter to not attack, letting ships pass and picking them off defenseless on their return flight. The next oncoming wave, however, can make this tactic messy by shielding them from fire.

A small difference exists between Stratovox and its bootleg, Speak and Rescue, besides the title screen. Stratovox has a right scrolling star backdrop while S&R's colored lights never change, a handy trick for spotting the impostor. Both, however, use synthesized voice to no great effect. Earthlings will spout "Help me!" upon being kidnapped, and "Very good" or "Lucky" if rescued. Occasionally the aliens may counter with "We'll be back," although without a change in tone or inflection it conveys little. Sound effects are high-pitched, echoing and intermittent. Stratovox will usually be making noise, but neither its robotic speech nor its tinny whirls are easy on the ears.

A masochist may revel in Stratovox, yet there's little here of much appeal. Space Invaders caught on because skill was quickly learned to a degree where a player could last for several minutes. Stratovox is over hopelessly soon. Galaxian caught on because its dive-bombing fighters didn't spring so fast or fight so unfairly. Here, bullet barrages rain too quick to dodge. Gorf is remembered for its changing scenery. The same blue cratered moon and green Earth display here in every stage. Stratovox's legacy, then, is that it was the first game to use voice synthesis, before Gorf, but with worse results; without effect, and without much reason, perhaps it's a fact better forgotten.


LowerStreetBlues's avatar
Community review by LowerStreetBlues (November 16, 2009)

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zigfried posted November 19, 2009:

Thanks for reviewing this. The conclusion makes an interesting point that should be obvious, but is often overlooked: creative/maximized innovations are remembered, and foolish/wasted innovations are forgotten.

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randxian posted November 22, 2009:

From the word go, I enjoyed reading this review. Given this is indeed a game that virtually nobody has heard of, as you astutely pointed out in the intro, comparing and contrasting this game to other well knowns such as Space Invaders was a good call. Your descriptions and examples about how the game is unfair and what strategies work and don't work also help give the reader a clear picture of what this game is like.

Good job with this one. One thing that could perhaps be improved is it's hard to tell whether you like or dislike the game until the final paragraph. Sure, you make it obvious the game is very challenging, but there are a lot of people who go for this sort of thing, so I can't necessarily equate an insane challenge level to bad gaming. Perhaps that's being a bit nitpicky, as I think this is an excellent read with plenty of descriptions, comparisons, and contrasts to help us understand a really obscure game.

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