Budget Day 2016 - Dark Star (Commodore 64)

by Paul Morrison


What do you do when you're 14 years old, dying for a new game and with two quid burning a hole in your pocket, and you go out and buy something on a whim, come home excitedly, load it up, play it, and... it's cack?  You suck it up and play the heck out of it, determined to maximise your pocket money regardless.

That's how it was in the Eighties, and that's how it was when I bought Dark Star.  It was actually one of the first games I bought and one of my first regrets.  It was programmed by the legendary Darling Brothers, although many of their early games were missteps.  In fact, the first game I ever bought for the C64 and regretted spending money on was BMX Trials, which was also programmed by the Darlings.  If I'd have known, I'd have left Dark Star on the shelf.

I'd have put a poster of that on my wall, for sure.

I'd have put a poster of that on my wall, for sure.

In fact, the only reason I picked it up in the first place was because of the awesome Mark J. Brady artwork on the front cover.  It was a fantastic sci-fi piece and its magnificence seduced me into purchasing the game.  Oh, well... that wouldn't be the last time I would make such a mistake...

The game itself was obviously influenced by the iconic trench sequence at the end of Star Wars.  In it, you have to fly up "transport channels" to destroy the Dark Star.  Sounds great, but the switch to an overhead view destroys all the atmosphere of the movie or the Star Wars arcade game.  The juddery scrolling doesn't help matters and the gameplay is not exactly thrilling.

Look at that. Pure evil.

Look at that. Pure evil.

The main problem, for me, is that every so often the channel splits and you have to make a choice as to which fork to take.  All well and good, until you realise that if you take the wrong one, you're dead.  One of the forks is always a dead end and there's no way to escape it.  It's very annoying and basically means you play the game, remember which is the wrong tunnel when you die, play it again and do the same until you can remember every correct tunnel until the end.

That's not a lot of fun, and the all-round lack of quality in every other aspect of the game means that it's not something you'll ever spend a lot of time playing.  Not now, anyway... but back in 1985, when you've just spent two precious pounds on it...