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Laser Blast (Atari 2600) artwork

Laser Blast (Atari 2600) review

"For years, I remembered Laser Blast (LB) as the game that I should've won, but I had to go to the bathroom. LB has an appealing, amusing concept. You are a UFO, elliptical and with windows spinning around the center. You must fire down at three ground cannons. You are also, apparently, the bad guys: your lasers are red, theirs blue. If you win, a new round appears. This goes on until you get a million points. You can get 270 points per round, which can take two to five seconds. Doing the ..."

For years, I remembered Laser Blast (LB) as the game that I should've won, but I had to go to the bathroom. LB has an appealing, amusing concept. You are a UFO, elliptical and with windows spinning around the center. You must fire down at three ground cannons. You are also, apparently, the bad guys: your lasers are red, theirs blue. If you win, a new round appears. This goes on until you get a million points. You can get 270 points per round, which can take two to five seconds. Doing the math, you can see winning takes a while, though Activision also gave you a patch for just scoring 100000. They were the only real enticements to play LB.

Because the game itself is a bit hopeless. Instead of something practical like a way to pause the game if you get too many extra lives or 100000 points, LB gives you useless, ephemeral abilities. Your UFO can move in a small box, which decreases in size for the first nine waves until you can't move vertically--you're stuck at the top. You can also fire on a diagonal, about thirty degrees, though the gunners always know where you are and can shoot at any angle. The time gunners take to fire is critical for avoiding them, and it turns out the best strategy makes diagonal shots useless as well. Because the gunners are pretty dumb, with one always trying to move straight under you. With a little practice, you can fire, move, fire, move, fire and retreat to where you started. Even if you get hit, your UFO falls with a mournful siren, and unless you're terribly bored or impaired, you can land on one of the guns to kill it.

The trick is doing this for 3700 rounds. There's a trade-off between boredom and bathroom breaks versus the guns being too quick for you, depending on the challenge level you choose. Fortunately, perfection is not necessary, as you get an extra gun every thousand points, or approximately four rounds, up to a maximum of six backups. And the random generator for when the guns fire is somewhat timed, so there will be points where you get on a roll. So sadly, LB, which could be a sophisticated game about ducking and avoiding enemy fire, becomes one where you fire at the ground, wait for a gunner to walk into it, and repeat. Oh, and don't get on a losing streak. And don't take any breaks. Especially not bathroom breaks, despite the nozzle from the ufo looking like, well, urination. The game kills off your extra lives in about thirty seconds then.

Yet losing lives is really about the only way to break the monotony. Having your saucer fall to the ground turning all crazy colors gives you some needed breaks, and eventually you'll get killed anyway. Staring at the all black background and grey guns gets tedious. And between the low coughs for hitting an enemy and the high coughs of shooting, you can plow through levels with your eyes closed. The sense of accomplishment from finding clever ways like this to make the game less tedious work well. Finding one every ten minutes may tide you over the full two hours of playing this game.

Looking back, I'm amazed I found the repetition of LB more interesting than school. It was one of the canonically infuriating Atari games of my youth, because it was potentially so easy to win. But I always dithered between the slow, easy route and the fast, hard one. This carried over into adult life, where I'd put LB off with RPG's and, sadly, Sudoku or other more subtly repetitive rubbish. Then one day, with the help of an emulator and a webpage refreshing baseball scores every half-minute, I paused at my convenience, took save states and, yes, even went to the bathroom a few times more than I needed to. It was not bad on the fastest level. For winning, I got six exclamation points in the score. My mental reaction was one of several different shift-number keys. I felt like a sucker. But not as much as those poor saps who'd played the original game back in the 80s, sitting on a toilet chair to ensure victory.

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (May 28, 2009)

Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.

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zippdementia posted May 29, 2009:

You really are one of my favourite writers on this site, Aschultz. Your command of writing ensures your reviews are always descriptive and interesting and well paced up to great conclusions. The two things I think you need to work on are (a) flow and (b) flair.

Flow comes into play because you tend to use a lot of the same length of sentences reading with the same intonation. This gets olds after a while. You need to break your phrasing up, skip a beat here and there, insert a pause once in a while, mix things up.

Flair comes in because it feels like you have a lot of funny things to say about the games you review, but the humour never really hits. It's always floating somewhere off to the side, and there's a ton of places where you could just RIP on these old games. But you never do, and I think that's too bad, because you'd be really good at it.
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aschultz posted May 29, 2009:

Zippdementia--thanks very much for the criticism! I appreciate it, positive and negative. I am still finding a lot to correct in my Deathlord fanfic, btw.

I can be disorganized in real life and that carries over to my writing if I am not careful. I need some work with this, and while I think I improved the flow over my original GameFAQs review, I still have the bad habit of submitting something too quickly instead of waiting for two hours. Sometimes I still get into corners where I just want to put all my ideas out on the page, and I forget they have to be, uh, linked up.

As for flair, that's another thing where I may let my personality and conversational style impact things. I tend to prefer the puns that make people groan five seconds later. But I do look at some other people's efforts, like overdrive's Castlequest review I'd just read, and say "I'd like some of that, please." It hit some of the big points I'd taken for granted in my original review and could have addressed if I were paying attention.

Maybe I'm a bit too leery of the worn out ways of bashing a game which seemed classic when people were first reviewing. But of course, part of writing is giving new meaning to words and strophes. I'll look into my bag of old reviews and see if there are any games that deserve it, games I didn't quite bash as well as I should have.
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bloomer posted May 29, 2009:

This review is a good length for the understated or droll approach to humour. For instance I got a huge laugh at the paragraph opening 'The trick is doing this for 3700 rounds.' I found the whole thing very funny, the rest of the time in a way where I'm smiling and suppressing making actual noise. I think there are perhaps a couple of sentences in there that are mildly confusing.

I remember you brought up the 'let rip' issue before Zipp. I've noticed I don't like to do it anymore either, it can feel too forced. I got to this feeling from writing and reading the hundreds of reviews on gamefaqs when we were all a bunch younger, newer at this and striving for effect and to entertain each other. I have a lot of reviews like that on HG which I moved over from gamefaqs, and I'm kind of embarrassed to read some of them now. Some can still be very funny, and some are warranted, but I think on a percentage basis, too many aren't warranted. Deep down I would say I actually feel guilty for treating some games like that, even if that sounds a bit overkill. Still, it's all been a part of the unending process of working on my writing.

Broadly, I think humour has to come out of some natural meeting place of what's in the material and what's in you. You can squeeze the game harder sometimes, but I don't think you can squeeze yourself much harder without it veering towards arch, or just not funny.

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