The Game: Zylon warships are on the rampage, blasting allied basestars out of the sky and wreaking havoc throughout the galaxy. Your orders are to track down the fast-moving raiders and destroy them before they can do any more damage. You have limited shields and weapons at your disposal, and a battle computer which is vital to your mission (though critical damage to your space fighter can leave you without that rather important piece of equipment). The game is simple: destroy until you are destroyed, and defend friendly installations as long as you can. (Atari, 1982)
Memories: A cult classic on the Atari 400 & 800 computers, Star Raiders was something that the VCS just couldn’t do. The demands of the control scheme were simply too complex for a machine whose controls consisted of one joystick and one action button. Enter the Video Touch Pad – not really much of an innovation, but more of a futuristic restyling of the 12-button keypad controllers that dated back to the Basic Programming cartridge. One Video Touch Pad was included with each Star Raiders cartridge in a king-sized box, along with a plastic overlay detailing the Star Raiders-specific actions that could be triggered.
And the game itself? Your mileage may vary, but I just never got that much out of Star Raiders. Imagic‘s Star Voyager and Activision‘s Starmaster, though I wasn’t the biggest fan of the latter, did a better job of putting a first-person space shooter on the VCS than Star Raiders did. The added illusion of depth of gameplay via the Video Touch Pad and the sector map it could bring up never thrilled me that much. And yet some people swear by Star Raiders, and Atari hyped it quite a bit back in the day, so I suppose that, in all likelihood, it’s just me.
Star Raiders also included a free Atari Force comic book from DC Comics, which, like Atari, was owned by Warner Bros.; surprisingly, there were some real comics legends like Gil Kane working on these freebie giveaway books. The issue included with Star Raiders in particular, issue #3, tried to tie the game play into the comic storyline; a friendly and insanely cute race known as the Hukka were wiped out by the Zylons, and after a few minutes of careful analysis of this situation, our heroes in the Atari Force set out to avenge this mass-murder of cuteness by going after the Zylons themselves, and thus the game begins. (Thank goodness the Zylons didn’t take out a warehouse full of Hello Kitty merchandise – the only thing for that would’ve been networked multiplayer fleet action, and we just didn’t have that technology at the consumer level in 1982.) The last surviving Hukka joins the crew in this issue, and I’ll admit, at the age I was when Star Raiders came out, I got bitten by the cute bug too. I was drawing little mohawked, pointy-eared, monkey-tailed Hukkas on everything.
And maybe it says something about Star Raiders‘ replay value that what I remember most fondly is the Hukka from the comic book. But your interstellar mileage may vary.