The Game: This may sound awfully familiar, but you’re the lone surviving pilot of a space squadron decimated by enemy attacks. The enemy’s bow-tie-shaped fighters are closing in on you from all sides, and you must keep an eye on your own fighter’s shields and weapon temperature (overheated lasers don’t like to fire anymore), all while trying to draw a bead on those pesky enemy ships. You’re also very much on your own – nobody’s going to show up and tell you you’re all clear, kid. (Xype/AtariAge.com, 2003)
Memories: A nifty after-the-fact version of an oft-imitated arcade classic, Star Fire isn’t undiscovered 80s vaporware, but was rather programmed from the ground up by Manuel Polik, paying homage to and slightly expanding on the original game. In its own right, Star Fire for the 2600 is a smooth, entertaining game with good graphics (the original wasn’t really an audiovisual dazzler, so this was an excellent choice for a 2600 port) that, thanks to “intelligent anti-flicker” programming (why couldn’t Atari have figured that out back in the day?), doesn’t seem to buckle under the strain of throwing a lot of enemy ships at you all at once. How it does that, I have no idea, but the result is a remarkably smooth game.
Though it faithfully mimics the coin-op, this Star Fire cartridge takes things a bit further, adding new enemies to the mix. In both the game itself and in the classy manual, illustrated by Dave Exton, these new enemies take the original arcade game’s “borrowing” of basic TIE Fighter and Star Destroyer shapes to heart and appear in forms similar to other ships from the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s a cute touch, and yet not too overboard – if Exidy had been able to include more types of enemies in the original Star Fire in 1979, there’s little doubt that they would’ve continued to mine the Star Wars universe; it’s done in the same spirit, though now slightly tongue-in-cheek. In the game itself, Slave I and even something bearing a suspicious resemblance to a Police Box appear as enemy targets – talk about being in the wrong universe at the wrong time…
This is one of the better homebrew games on the market today, and even though games similar to the arcade Star Fire have appeared before on the 2600 (i.e. Imagic‘s greatly simplified Star Voyager) and on other platforms (Cosmic Conflict for the Odyssey2), this is an essential addition to the modern Atari gamer’s library. Very highly recommended.