The Game: Piloting the space shuttle, you must navigate your way from a low orbit to a high one, stopping at a refueling satellite and ferrying modules to a space station under construction. While gaining altitude, you may run through fields of space debris; allowing them to hit the shuttle costs you precious fuel. (Avalon Hill, 1983)
Memories: Ah…simpler times. Truth be told, I love space exploration games – no alien encounters, no blasting doomsday asteroids out of a collision course with Earth, none of that. Just get the job done and get home safely.
Shuttle Orbiter is one of just a handful of games released by Avalon Hill, famed for its wargames and boardgames, during the company’s brief foray into console gaming. Avalon Hill’s games were unconventional and novel amid the sea of Atari 2600 shoot-’em-ups, and also had a very brief production run and are now collectors’ items.
Shuttle Orbiter finds a nice balance between the somewhat mundane game play of Activision‘s Space Shuttle and a more conventional twitch game. The really big action sequences in the game are the debris-dodging screens (an element which takes on an even more disturbing quality in hindsight; even more alarming, though rather innocuous when taking the game’s 1983 release date into account, is the fact that the player is piloting the shuttle Challenger). Most of the game, however, is spent in navigation – and it’s nice and somewhat realistic because a delicate touch and a lot of patience are required.
Though it may be a little spooky to think about now, Avalon Hill’s Shuttle Orbiter is an excellent game which flew by unnoticed by most.