Star Sabre (Amstrad CPC) Review | RGCD - Everygamegoing


Star Sabre
By Psytronik
Amstrad CPC464

Published in RGCD #4

Star Sabre

This release caused a fair amount of excitement at RGCD HQ; finally, Amstrad CPC owners have a new game for their machines that isn't either another puzzle title or slow-paced flip-screen platformer! Instead, Star Sabre is a highly polished, turbo-injected, horizontally-scrolling space shooter - which (if you ask me) is just what the Doctor ordered for Sir Alan Sugar's 8-bit underdog.

There's no plot or story to speak of here - upon loading the game you are presented with an enigmatic title screen image, some well presented but basic instructions and then its straight into selecting your controller and blasting those unidentified enemy ships out of the sky. Considering that Star Sabre is the first release from a new member of the CPCZone forums, it's technically impressive stuff. The over-scanned wide-screen looks fantastic and the action never drops below 25FPS regardless of the relentless carnage - really it's a wonder that there was any space left for the game in the tiny 64KB of memory after all the double-buffering and code-trickery involved in achieving the silky smooth scrolling, sprite movement and parallax starfield.

So what's the game like then? Essentially Star Sabre is an all-out classic old-school shooter; the enemy craft attack in regular (and some would say repetitive) attack waves - but you'll be too busy with avoiding the deadly terrain (complete with weapon installations) to kill them all. Each level features both separate mid-stage and final boss encounters, and all you've got in the way of help is a couple of basic power-ups that can be gained by destroying the small cargo ships spread throughout the game. Aside from that, it's just your reflexes and your laser cannon against the alien(?) hordes.

There are some really nice (and relatively new-school) touches worth noting too, particularly the scrolling end-of-level boss warning text (which wouldn't look out of touch in a modern Japanese shooter). The level design has been well thought out, with each stage featuring unique and well-pixelled tilesets and enemies, and later in the game the Scramble-like terrain becomes really challenging to navigate. The difficulty curve felt just about right for me (so it's probably far too easy for T.M.R) and whilst playing I was never cheated by dodgy collision detection or unfair design - something that I found really refreshing after spending hours playing through the dreadful Mr. Mole on the MSX.

Three years in development and just recently added to the 'Coming Soon' page of the Cronosoft site, Star Sabre looks set to become a modern CPC classic and it's a game that I've really enjoyed playing prior to writing this review. When you take into account that the game was created by one person alone in their spare time, Star Sabre is a surprisingly solid package with equally impressive design and presentation. Sure, with only four levels it's pretty short in length (as well as being understandably lacking in the audio department), but Paul Kooistra's shooter has got it where it counts; Star Sabre is a blast. We've all got our fingers crossed that an enhanced 128KB release will be forthcoming, complete with more levels and a decent soundtrack, but until then this 64KB version is certain to provide Amstrad enthusiasts around the world with hours of entertainment.

(Note for users unfamiliar with WinApe: Unlike other 8-bit emulators, WinApe doesn't support the usual drag-and-drop automatic loading of games, so here are some basic instructions to get you started with Star Sabre. After starting the emulator and being prompted with the Basic/Burnin' Rubber screen, press '1' on the numeric keypad. Then press both the 'Ctrl' and 'F1' keys together and select/open the Star Sabre disk image from the file explorer window. Type RUN"SABRE and press return. The game should then load. I hope this helps - being unfamiliar with the CPC it took me a while to work this out myself!)

Second Opinion

The Amstrad CPC isn't particularly well stocked when it comes to scrolling shoot 'em ups, especially horizontal scrollers; some of what it does have are reasonable, but more often than not they suffer from small play windows, low refresh rates (or in a lot of cases both) that make this genre of action game uncomfortable on the eyes after a relatively short period of time. Star Sabre then, with it's guaranteed, fixed 25 frames a second refresh and a fairly large play area, isn't quite "arcade quality" as the game inlays for 8-Bits used to occasionally boast, but it's probably one of the most technically adept games of its class for the CPC.

The action here is very simple, take your lone fighter and dive straight into battle against marauding hordes of nasties without even taking the time to power up all of the weapon systems first! Each of the four levels has a different look to it and introduces at least one specific type of enemy. All of the graphics are reasonable and certainly colourful and levels are punctuated with a boss at the end and a mini-boss around the halfway mark to spice things up. The ship can be powered up by handy bits of space debris to add vertical firing, rear fire with enhanced forward power and a three way spread that doesn't show up until a little later in the game that I personally found to be the most effective. There are enough options as the weaponry goes to keep most players happy and the ordnance itself is at full strength the moment it gets bolted into the firing system, so there's no messing around or attempting to grab everything that comes along in order to crank the firing power up.

The presentation is reasonable, with a converted loading screen that leaves a little to be desired and a simple but effective title page that offers up the control options and two modes of play; I must admit to liking the latter idea immensely, as it allows the player to either take the option of an extra life every 15,000 points or, for more confident or depending on ability foolhardy players, dive headlong into the mayhem with a stock of three ships but scoring twice as many points per kill. I can't remember having seen that before and it's a great twist on the more generic easy/hard difficulty levels found in other games.

In fact there are only two slightly weak spots to this game as far as I'm concerned, one of which is the sound since it's been boiled down to the bare necessities, a couple of average spot effects and not much else which leaves most of the presentation screens silent. The other issue is the overall size of the game, although it has four distinct and quite long levels, because it's not geared to a particularly high difficulty the entire game can be learnt and completed within a very short time. Which, whilst being understandable because programmer Paul Kooistra wanted to cram the entire thing into a 64K CPC, is a bit of a shame because I absolutely love Star Sabre and, with a good selection of backing music from another source whilst blasting away at it, that shortness is probably the only real fault I can find - after that, this is an accomplished game that is pretty simple to play and very enjoyable.

James Monkman

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