The war between the humans and the spacefaring enemy Dracons isn't going
well, and you've enlisted to join the fight. In the cockpit of your space
fighter, you toggle between your flight computer (where you can find and
set a course for Dracon attack groups on the map, or helpful starbases
where you can replenish and repair your ship) and the direct view ahead
when you engage in combat. The Dracons throw a lot of firepower at you,
but your own torpedoes have a longer "reach" than their ammo. Your ship
can take a pounding in a firefight, gradually eliminating your shields,
your targeting ability, and even your weapons. The game is over when you
can't withdraw for repairs and are destroyed by the Dracons.
(Arcadia, 1982, for Atari 2600 with Supercharger)
In 1982, an assemblage of former Atari programmers, along with a few
hand-picked rookie programmers, started their own third-party video game
venture. To be in that market at that time, however, one had to make games
for the Atari 2600, and the Arcadia programmers' game concepts outstripped
that machine's software. Not to be slowed down by that minor problem,
Arcadia introduced a new piece of hardware along with its first game. The
Supercharger more than doubled the 2600's RAM, and had the
beneficial side effect of allowing Arcadia to avoid the costly practice of
having cartridge casings made; instead of cartridges, the Supercharger
loaded its enhanced games from cassette tape, usually in under 30 seconds.
Arcadia's first challenge, aside from getting the cartridge-buying public
to spring for their cassette-based games, was an identity crisis. At
around the same time as the Supercharger hit the stores, so did Emerson's
Arcadia 2001 console. To avoid potential legal clashes and consumer
confusion, Arcadia - the company - quickly changed its name to Starpath.
For a year, a good chunk of the cover artwork for Supercharger games was
covered up by the Starpath logo, followed by "formerly Arcadia". Starpath
stuck it out through the crash, but like so many software vendors leaning
on the Atari 2600 for a living, they were in the wrong place at the wrong
time, and the company was eventually sold to Epyx.
Packed in with the Supercharger was Phaser Patrol, a game which
was essentially the same as Star Raiders, though in game mechanics
only. Audiovisually, Phaser Patrol was the clear winner, and
arguably it also won the day by simplifying Star Raiders'
convoluted control scheme to bare essentials. (Star Raiders
required, and was included with, a 12-key keypad controller, which very few
later releases ever used.) In Phaser Patrol, one still had to use
an unusual extra control - using the left difficulty switch to toggle back
and forth between the cockpit view and the flight computer - but nothing on
the level of the Star Raiders keypad.
Both games were equally tough and had a fairly steep learning curve if your
space combat duty only went as far as Space Invaders experience,
but Phaser Patrol was completely engrossing. It was a great
choice to introduce gamers to the Supercharger, though Arcadia's (or
Starpath's) new add-on box would eventually suffer from too many games
along these lines: great looking, but clearly just variations on familiar
themes. But on its own, Phaser Patrol was quite impressive.
A whole dollar - trade it in for more quarters, you'll be playing this
game a lot.
Reviewed by Earl Green