Beamrider / Activision 1983
Screenshots: « play/stop »



Beamrider first came out on the Mattel Intellivision, and proved so much of a hit that it was quickly converted to other games consoles, the Atari computers and, thankfully, the Commodore 64.

There's an inpenetrable shield of light, split up into 99 sectors, and the only way you can get to the enemy within is to ride the beams of light that are spewing forth.

In each sector, there are fifteen saucers that are defending the perimiter, and you must shoot all fifteen to progress, but not before having a shot at the Sector Sentinel, a mothership that flies across the screen at the end of a sector. If you manage to shoot it, you will gain extra points for that sector.

As mentioned, your ship is riding on beams of light – one of five, in fact, and you can use the left and right directions to shift between the different beams.

You have an unlimited number of "lariats of light", or lasers, that you can shoot at the enemies, and they travel halfway up the screen. You also have three torpedoes that can fly all the way up the screen.

As well as the saucers, there are other enemies and objects that will hinder your progress. The saucers fire back at you, for one thing, so avoid their bullets. Normal rocks come towards you, that cannot be destroyed by your lariat; you could use a torpedo to blow it out of the way in an emergency. Green homing missiles lock onto the beam you're on, and you have to move out of the way pretty sharpish. Blue "sticky ships" come down the screen and, if you don't shoot them, they will suddenly slow down at the same height as your ship and occupy that beam for a couple of seconds – not good if you're on one of the outside beams and something is coming towards you! If you hit the blue ship, they bounce back into the distance. There are also green curly objects which bounce onto each beam, so you have to use instinct to move out the way with so much else happening on the screen.

You do have a helping hand, however. Every so often, yellow ships will come on one of the beams. If you collect one, you will get an extra life. Be careful not to shoot them though, as they will be destroyed and touching them will destroy you too. This is oh so easy to do in the later levels!

As mentioned, your lariats of light can shoot some enemies (saucers included), but you will have to avoid a lot of other objects. The torpedoes can get you out of some scrapes, but it's always good to keep at least one of them for the end of the sector – because that's the only way you can destroy the Sector Sentinel! Lots of homing missiles get in your way, too, so you have to do a lot of dodging and time your missile perfectly to get big points.

The format for Beamrider may sound like a simple shoot-'em-up, but the twist is that you only have five beams of light to ride on: this means that your ship – and any enemies – can only be in one of five positions on the screen. This really heightens the excitement, as in the later levels, you'll be "Using The Force" to change beams without thinking about it, because there is so much happening at once.

The Commodore 64 conversion is excellent, and follows the original Intellivision version, with a few tweaks to take advantage of some of the C64's features. The graphic for your ship is a bit blocky, but you really don't have time to analyse all the graphics because gameplay gets more and more frenetic on each sector. The enemy graphics are clean, well-defined and stand out against the dark background of the beams of light. Sound is quite atmospheric – there is a repeated pulsing drone whose tone gets higher on each sector, and every bit of action has a sound effect, so you quickly get immersed, especially on the later levels.

Overall, a great little game, that didn't get the attention it deserved. On the beginner levels, it's easy enough to get into but soon has you wiping the sweat off your joystick hand. A great little shoot'em-up!

Reviewed by Boz.

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