Day 79 - get up in the morning shooting them dead, sir...

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , , , ,

... so that our race can beeee saved.



Yes, today's post is about one of the finest Commodore shoot 'em ups ever.  It's another game I bought the first chance I got... no waiting for the second-hand shop this time.  There was always a special kind of excitement when you bought a new full-price game.  You'd spend the bus journey home poring over the instructions, maybe letting your mate have a look at the inlay while you familiarised yourself with the game before you'd even played it.  It's not the same now, with demos and YouTube videos available well before the games are released.  I think we've lost a little bit of the air of anticipation.

Just once, I'd love to see one of those walkers fall off the ceiling.
Now, if you followed my other blog, A Gamer Forever Voyaging, then you might feel a bit cheated here, as a lot of this post is lifted from the piece I wrote about this game over there, back in February 2011.  So if you've read it before, you might feel a little nostalgic.  Hey, I've used brand new screen shots, what more do you want?

If you haven' t read it before, then you still might feel nostalgic as you think back to the time when you loaded up this ZZAP! 64 Gold Medal winner and had your mind blown.  Armalyte was grander in scope and ambition than probably any 8-bit computer shmup had previously shown, and was lapped up by any fans of arcade blasters with half a brain.

I'm blue, bah-dn-bee, bah-dn-bouw.
The plot of Armalyte is... oh, who cares? Something or other that loosely ties it in with Delta... apparently, it seemed like a good idea to market this as a sequel to that game, as if this wasn't good enough to stand on its own.  As it happens, it's more than good enough, and certainly doesn't need the Delta II subtitle it was lumbered with.

Armalyte is a game that takes every other shoot 'em up on the Commodore 64, and ramps up all their best bits by a few notches. It starts in classic Nemesis/Gradius fashion, with your ship flying from left to right as waves of enemies barrel toward you, intent on your destruction. The power-up system is different, though... rather than collecting pods left behind by the destruction of enemy formations, as in Konami's classic, weapons pods are found floating in space, and you activate them by blasting them.

For some reason I fancy a trip to Red Lobster now.
Shooting the floating pods repeatedly switches them through a cycle that includes increased forward fire, rear fire and vertical fire, among others. And if that's not enough for you, there are three huge laser weapons you can switch between that are very satisfying to unleash. Oh, and you start the game with a drone ship which replicates your firepower, which is just as well, given everything you have to attempt to cope with...

There are a few things that elevate Armalyte beyond the bog-standard shooter. The first thing you're likely to notice is the number of opposing ships that you have to deal with. The attack waves come thick and fast, with each containing a good number of enemies. They're relentless, and they're difficult to deal with as they whip about at an often alarming rate. It's overwhelming at first, and you'll find yourself crushed into space dust far more often than you'd like.

What's that? The last one wasn't a boss? This is the boss? Ohhh, damn...
Then there are the levels themselves. Every one is huge and you'll often be praying for the relative safety of empty space, as you'll frequently find yourself with just a small gap to squeeze through, which mightn't be so bad if it wasn't for the alien attack ships waiting on the other side...

There's quite a bit of variety to the levels, which is highly commendable. OK, so the game loads each level separately, but I can think of plenty of multiload games that didn't try so hard. The levels change in colour as you move through them, and each has its own style, giving the game a massive sense of scale.

Ha! Eat laser death, you giant, flying pincer thing.
Should you negotiate the countless minions and treacherous landscapes, you'll find that each level has its own gigantic boss to overcome. These are actually probably the weakest points of Armalyte. They're not bad, don't get me wrong... they're just a teensy bit too similar to each other. It's always been pretty difficult to come up with good enemy boss ships, it seems, and for all they look impressive, especially when they take it upon themselves to fly across the screen at you, I can't help but feel they could have been better somehow. But that's as much a constraint of the horizontally-scrolling shoot 'em up as anything else.  And I'm not a game designer, so it's all very well for me to say that when I almost certainly couldn't dream up anything to even match them.  I'll just shut up now.

This lot almost make The Red Arrows look dull!
Armalyte is a wonder of the 8-bit era. It came at a time when people thought they could no longer be surprised or impressed by a Commodore 64 game, and were proven wrong in slack-jawed amazement. It was easily Thalamus' most impressive release to date from a technical standpoint, and fully deserving of its Gold Medal, and any other honours that may have been thrown its way. It's good enough to make me want to play again now that I've finished writing about it... the sign of a top-notch game if ever there was one.

You can bet it'll have a place in the book, probably with nice big screenshots too.  Hopefully there'll be some accompanying words from the lads behind it as well.  It's no accident that it's consistently in "Best of C64" lists... it's one of the crowning glories of its time.