Monday, 28 February 2011

Night Stalker

The trend of reviewing games for terrible old systems continues!

We're beyond scraping the bottom of the barrel now. In fact, when dealing with the Mattel Intellivision, we're scraping the bottom of a big, brightly coloured square, squeaking and flickering as it hopes to one day be as famous as the Atari kegs. This is Night Stalker, circa 1982, and there's a reason that I picked it for review today. Let's take a peek.

Night Stalker's primitive graphics have become somewhat of a cultural gaming icon.. or at least they have for me. I remember its existence from my childhood - the yellow man wandering around a black maze on a blue background, yet I can't recall the reasons as to why it crossed my path. In fact, it's taken me up until very recently to discover any more details about the game, and this raises new questions such as why anyone felt the need to bring out an Intellivision fifteen years after it expired (and why anyone felt the need to buy one in this country in the first place).

But stupidity aside Night Stalker must have been doing something right. I fear there's few games on the market these days which could casually remain at the back of one's head for a decade and a half. Even the most outlandish of today's first person shooters could easily be confused with the likes of Call of Duty because the unwritten rules of this land forbid bright yellow guns and solid blue caves. Back in the 1980s

Having said that, the game isn't anything remarkable. It's a bare bones top-down maze-shooter thing similar to the likes of the arcade game Tank or Battle City on the NES... except not as good. You play as a delightfully orange man trapped in a maze along with a couple of bats, a spider and a giant killer robot. The basic aim of the game is to acquire the randomly spawned gun and shoot things before they shoot you.

Though this may sound interesting... it isn't, mostly because the robot is the only character in the game with the potential to deal damage. Everything else just acts to slow you down, and the AI is so basic you can easily avoid obstacles if you need to. Most of the challenge comes from the robots inability to play by the rules - if it spots you it will fire, and your character's stupidly slow speed means death is common.

To spice things up a bit your gun only has a limited amount of ammo, preventing you from hanging around spawn locations for easy points. But to me, this makes the game even more tedious - as if it's preventing you from having too much fun. Big chunks of the map are never used because the robot always spawns in the bottom left and you always spawn in the centre of the screen, and as nothing ever changes, it's very easy to get bored with whatever Night Stalker has to offer.

The other major issue is that the 1980 arcade game Berzerk is far more entertaining, even if its maps are only made up of lines. Though perhaps the sideways running animation is nice for 1982, Night Stalker strikes me as inferior and incomplete, and it's good to know I wasn't missing much in my fifteen years of wondering.

Of course, this may just be an issue with the Intellivision port. Night Stalker (aka Dark Caverns) also saw a release on the Atari 2600, Apple II, Mattel Aquarius (good god) and IBM PC. Chances are there's at least one better version out there, but as far as I'm concerned none of them are really worth hunting down.

It's difficult to really know whether Night Stalker was ever considered a good game. It's certainly not a good game by modern standards, but it may have been perfectly acceptable in the deprived households of 1982. I went hunting for it for nostalgia purposes but I honestly wouldn't recommend you do the same - it really is a case of not being as good as I remember (though to be fair... I didn't remember much).

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