The Game: An evil force near the planet Jupiter has commandeered the asteroid belt between that giant planet and Mars as its personal defense shield. Your mission is simple: man a mobile weapons platform on the inner solar system’s side of the asteroid belt, exchange fire with the enemy (who can be the computer or another player), and try to knock out their defenses and destroy them. The battle will last only a brief time, and whoever has the best score – with a bonus given at the end for losing the least ships – wins. (Milton Bradley, 1983)
Memories: Milton Bradley is one of the few board game makers who didn’t at least try to make major in-roads into the video game arena. If anything, they tried to buy their way in, investing in and distributing the early models of the Vectrex stand-alone console, and later getting into Atari 2600 games with one-off specialty controllers that added to the games’ price without doing that much for game play. Milton Bradley’s earliest in-house video game efforts were done as developers for the TI 99/4a (including very early cartridges for that system such as Blasto) – and so it makes sense that their biggest in-house enhancement, the MBX expansion system, was made for that computer. But in addition to games that required the MBX expansion, Milton Bradley also made stand-alone games – including Meteor Belt.
Meteor Belt is a nifty variation on the old slide-and-shoot style of game with some interesting twists. Interplanetary flotsam and jetsam fills the center of the screen, offering plenty of targets for players to hit before they can draw a bead on the computer (or, in the case of a two-player game, the other player). Sometimes these targets do more than just get in the way: satellites, for instance, can be made to crash into the enemy’s shields (or, if their shields are already toast, their ship – ouch!). Players can “push” their shields up and divert the flow of space junk to favor their own next shot (or to give themselves a “cloud” of cover to foul the enemy’s next shot). There are lots of ways to play this game: it isn’t just a riff on the two-player version of Space Invaders Deluxe.
Add to that colorful graphics and musical fanfares that really push the boundaries of the TI’s sound capabilities (including delay and echo effects), and Meteor Belt really is a neat little classic game – meatier than quite a few other variations on the same theme.