Thursday 16 June 2011


This can do for a title screen.

Kiloblaster for the IBM PC and its compatible buddies back in the days when SI prefixes were cool. It's a simple shooter published by Epic MegaGames and yet another Squirrel childhood classic. It's also one that appears to have something against Mega Man. What joy.

Kiloblaster is a 1992 invention. Ponder that for a moment. Truxton II, also from 1992. Xexex, which I'm supposed to care about, came from 1991? Now look back at Kiloblaster... yeah.

If you assume that 1978's Space Invaders was the first shoot-'em-up worth caring about, you would indeed expect that by 1992, fourteen years after Taito's game was released, the genre would have been "perfected". Obviously the promise of three dimensions lies ahead, but on a 2D plane with 2D graphics, the only step left is to introduce more bullets than the mind can comprehend. There's always room for innovation, but the basics should be set in stone by now.

So it makes one wonder why Kiloblaster opted for a then-ten-year-old formula. It's a frighteningly basic shooter, yet as a youngling, I found it to be brilliant. I liked it so much that I effectively had it bought for me three times, as Kiloblaster was initially divided into three almost-identical episodes, each sold separately (I'm reviewing it as one big package here). Since 2008 it's been marked as a freeware release, so yes, it wasn't a smart investment, but it was an experience.

The basic aims of the game are not too dissimilar from Galaxian or Galaga - you pilot a brightly coloured ship (which can travel anywhere on the screen) and fire upwards at enemies. Enemies can also travel almost anywhere except they fire downwards. Your "adventure of a lifetime" is to gun them all down and leave no survivors. We're living life on the edge with this one.

In some ways, Kiloblaster innovates. You start off with an extremely basic weapon, whose bullets are too afraid to share a screen with one another. With enemies floating about, several without defined patterns, it's very difficult to hit anything, so straight away you get the impression that Kiloblaster could have used a bit more thought. But thankfully it's a similar situation for the enemies... it just turns a game of skill into a game of chance.

Of course, Kiloblaster does throw a few curve balls too. Some enemies are impossible to predict and will likely destroy you before you're given a chance to return the favour. Top class game design, that.

The game arms you with five "missiles" which can be replenished by collecting purple/blue disc things. Missiles can be launched, split into three with a second button press and can be controlled while in flight. They're also stronger (which is useful because enemy ships can take more than one hit), but the chances of you hitting things are still quite slim, and the strength goes unnoticed if you're facing a bunch of tiny ships. However, there's not much point in being conservative with missiles as the game supplies you with items almost constantly, so it's all good.

Other powerups exist in the form of fruits (in space?), which when collected will do various things. Apples recover hit points and bananas add to the overall score. Rasperries arm you ship with mini "options" , each with identical firepower to yourself, but which are just as likely to be hit and destroyed. There are also floating Ts which give you wider triple-shot weaponry for a bit, and these are essential for you to get anywhere quickly. There's also a temporary shield powerup. Pretty common stuff really.

And that's all there is to Kiloblaster. The game uses static screens, so although you're treated to the magic of 256-colour pre-rendered backdrops, you never scroll upwards to see new scenery. After a few waves the background will change, and there's a hoard of different enemies to attempt to keep things fresh, but on the whole, it's a bit dull.

So to recap so far, a very basic weapons system, static backgrounds and stupid AI... in 1992. Just so we're clear.

Kiloblaster shares many concepts with Jill of the Jungle. It has similar graphics and kray-zee sound effects, but alas, not as kraz-zee as Jill's... and not as many, because Jill is a bigger game. It also has the strange feature of being able to select any of the twenty levels per chapter on the first boot-up rather than using a save system, so there's not even an incentive to play through the game from the start.

It's also really hard to justify charging money for the later episodes in Kiloblaster - other games at least made an effort to make things a bit different, but here absolutely no attempt was made to spice things up other than replacing a few screens and swapping a few sounds. And it's not doing anything revolutionary in the music department either.

Kiloblaster isn't cutting edge, or even remotely close to being cutting edge. Overkill which Epic published in the same year is a much bulkier product despite the EGA visuals, or maybe the Apogee published Major Striker will float your boat (though that was a 1993 release). Kiloblaster offers nothing of real value to the table and wastes the power of the fancy graphics card it plugs, but, in an early 90s IBM PC world there weren't really all that many shooters, so I guess anything may be better than nothing.

Obviously Kiloblaster has no worth today, which might explain the freeware release. I was a fan back when I didn't know any better, but now it's one mainly for the history books and should only be touched by those who really care about this stuff. But although it's mediocre garbage in 2010, it filled a void in 1995 and I own boxed versions so it must be doing something right.

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