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Desert Falcon (Atari 7800) artwork

Desert Falcon (Atari 7800) review


"After playing this game for a few hours, I discovered that my favorite power-up was the one that warped me straight to the boss, so I could kill it and move to the next level in the hopes of finding the proper three glyphs to do it again. You get FAR more points for wasting them than for doing anything else and Desert Falcon is a rather repetitive game, where one level blends into the next with no real difference besides the density of enemy waves and the background color."



The joys of being young and dumb. Until I got a Nintendo and eventually bought Life Force, I really didn't know anything about the genre often referred to as "shmups". Proof of this can be found in the large number of hours I spent playing Desert Falcon on the Atari 7800.

Basically, this game is Zaxxon set in ancient Egypt, where your falcon of the desert is apparently planning to steal untold riches from the ancient Pharaohs -- regardless of what hazards stand in your way. You play from an isometric point of view, which does cause problems from time to time when it comes to not running into pyramids and obelisks. It's one of the issues I tend to have with isometric shooters. In theory, it's a good idea, as your character does cast a shadow, so you can see where it actually is in comparison to the various structures. In reality, things are different. As you might expect, the action can get fierce with all sorts of critters swarming onto the screen to prevent you from casually swiping jewels. So, you'll be jittering back-and-forth dodging them and occasionally ramming into something because you're paying attention to your character, the monsters and the buildings...but not your shadow. At least it's kind of neat to watch your bird flip onto its back in mid-air and slowly plummet to the ground as it dies; although, as you might guess, the novelty of that does fade into frustration after a certain amount of time.

That's not to say there aren't good aspects to Desert Falcon. You can adjust the height of your bird's flight to go from hopping on the ground to pick up gems and power-ups to flying high in the sky. The enemy assortment reflects this. While many foes fly through the air in various patterns, some are ground-bound to ensure you'll never be truly safe. One of those foes is the boss of each level -- a gigantic sphinx which fires bullets at you while a never-ending (at least until it's destroyed) stream of lesser foes flood the screen.

The way power-ups are handed to your bird is also pretty neat. Scattered on the ground are a number of hieroglyphs to be collected. They do nothing by themselves, but a combination of three can be of benefit. The order which you collect the glyphs is of importance, as three in one order might give you one power, but if you collect them in a different pattern, something else will happen. With these hieroglyphs, you can destroy all enemies on the screen, prevent the boss sphinx from attacking or warp straight to it while avoiding everything in between. While most combinations that don't give you a power-up simply bestow extra points, if you're unfortunate, you'll discover "power-downs" that prevent you from hopping on the ground or swimming through the many small ponds that dot the landscape. And since being on the ground is a good way to catch a quick breath (as well as pick up gems and glyphs), this is very bad for your bird's life expectancy.

After playing this game for a few hours, I discovered that my favorite power-up was the one that warped me straight to the boss, so I could kill it and move to the next level in the hopes of finding the proper three glyphs to do it again. You get FAR more points for wasting them than for doing anything else and Desert Falcon is a rather repetitive game, where one level blends into the next with no real difference besides the density of enemy waves and the background color. Just by playing a couple of levels, I saw every enemy, collected a bunch of treasure and experimented with a few glyph combos. After that, there's little left to do besides play on until eventually getting overwhelmed by the progressively larger onslaughts of monsters while occasionally ramming into an obelisk by accident. This is a shallow game.

A lot of times when I'm tearing into some game that's been around for 20 or so years (this one was released in 1987), I wonder if I'm doing the right thing. Am I criticizing it because it's actually a bad game, or am I doing so because it simply is outdated by today's standards? With Desert Falcon, I have no such qualms. When I was playing this game as a youth, I was ONLY looking for the glyph combination that would warp me to a level's boss. If the one I needed wasn't popping onto the screen, I'd grit my teeth and soldier through the level in the hopes that I'd find what I needed immediately after starting the next one. The fact there are four difficulty levels didn't help, as the more advanced ones just seemed to start you out with the sort of intensity that you'd eventually find after a number of levels on an easier mode. There are some good ideas here, but their promise is nulled by a repetitive game with an awkward point of view.

Rating: 3/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (June 24, 2011)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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JoeTheDestroyer posted June 26, 2011:

Great review, Rob! I never played the 7800 version, but the 2600 version was one of the first games I ever owned (that and 2600 Ms. Pac-Man, both of which came with my 2600). I used to really like it as a kid, but nowadays I don't think I'd score it quite so highly.

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