Orphaned Computers & Game Systems

Vol. II, Issue 3    April 1998

The OC&GS Review Panel

By Chris Federico and Adam Trionfo

     As you know, we usually dedicate this column to Atari 2600 games. We thought we'd make it a little different this issue and go over some ColecoVision titles that aren't very common. Why the hell not? So, here we go. Adam, you first!


      Frenzy, Coleco
      Looping, Coleco
      Zaxxon, Coleco

Frenzy -- This sequel to Berzerk is much more enjoyable than the first episode. I've never thought that Berzerk is the classic it's been made out to be, but Frenzy has made me yearn to play the 2600 version of Berzerk again, for some reason (which I've done; I still can't consider it a great classic, though).

     Frenzy sees many of the elements removed that are Berzerk trademarks, such as electrified robots and walls. This makes the sequel stronger and not as annoying to play (how many times have you convinced yourself that a wall has practically jumped out at you in Berzerk?). Berzerk is one of the few games in existence for which the sequel is far superior. Frenzy was not just a rehash released to make some quick money. Instead, it was created with special care and attention to detail.

     Some of the new additions that make the game so special are what I call "no one else to blame but yourself" features. For instance, as stated earlier, running into a wall cannot harm you. But some walls are reflective, bouncing back both your shots and the robots'. This can be a fatal mistake if you fire at a wall from a close proximity and you don't get out of the way of the bounced shot quickly enough.

     While this bounce effect may seem frustrating and useless, it can be put to great use. One strategy of the game is to bounce your shot at an angle that makes it hit a robot in a remote area of the maze. Not all of the walls bounce shots, though. In fact, most walls are destroyed by your shots, bit by bit. With enough of a wall destroyed, you can walk through it to the other side. If this happens to be an outside wall, it allows you to create your own exit from the room!

     There are so many other exciting additions to this game that I am very surprised that I have never heard mention of it in talks or publications about classic games. Most ColecoVision games were superior in most every way to those on other consoles, including most computer adaptations of the period; but Frenzy goes beyond just "good game." It is rapidly becoming one of my favorite games of the period, and is easily one of the best for the ColecoVision. Check it out. You won't be sorry. -- AT

Frenzy -- This is a terrible game. All it does is display a menu of erratic "difficulty" options, numbered 1 through 8. It's like a demented counting game or something. It's definitely not working with my 2600 joystick, and it doesn't even do anything when you press the numbers on the other...oh...wait a minute...

     Adapted from one of the most underrated arcade games is the best game that Coleco released for their home system. Frenzy makes Berzerk look positively one-dimensional, but this isn't really a fair comparison; they're two different games. If you want simple'n'sweet, play Berzerk. Frenzy is a more involved adventure, requiring a multi-faceted strategy, more complex maze-wending and wider peripheral vision.

     It really fulfills the meaning of the word "sequel," I'll tell ya that. The mazes are randomly generated, and are mostly comprised of walls you can shoot up. There are also shot-rebounding walls, and nothing's more thrilling than being at one end of a corridor made of these reflective surfaces and seeing a bunch of robots walking toward you from the other end. You can let a barrage of bullets fly at any diagonal angle toward them, and watch your shots bounce back and forth until the poor bastards walk into the line of fire. It's great how a bullet lasts through several bounces, even if it's just retracing its own path at a straight vertical or horizontal angle. It takes forever to dissipate.

     The game is executed flawlessly. The animation is smooth and varied, and the music -- versatile and mood-setting for an old home contest -- is often surprisingly intricate. The graphics, sounds and mechanics were worked-on very hard by whichever programmer 'ported this to the ColecoVision, and the elements make the game feel decidedly classic, even if you've never played the coin-op original (which I haven't). It brings back visions of dark, old-school arcades as your heart races in hopes of escaping through the gangs of mechanical fiends, or shooting the new Evil Otto three times before he gets to your hero (during which his expression gets meaner and meaner before he finally deflates).

     The other superbly crafted and incorporated extras are the special devices, one of which appears in the middle of every few screens. Shooting whichever machine appears deactivates it. There is a robot factory that churns out new enemies until you blast it, a computer that destroys all onscreen baddies if you hit it, a device that stops the villains' collective movement when zapped, and, perhaps strangest of all, a huge Evil Otto who smiles when you die and frowns when you exit the current maze. This Big Otto assumes a scary growling expression and sends out an unavoidable barrage of Ottos from the borders if you kill his smaller counterpart.

     This is a fantastic game, made even more fun by the system's fortunate ability to accept 2600 joysticks. Essential! -- CF

Looping -- While not a bad game, this does make very apparent one of the drawbacks of the ColecoVision -- the scrolling is poor. I'm not bashing the system; it is a fine game console. What I am complaining about is that Looping brings to the forefront some of the weakest points that the ColecoVision has to offer. Considering that it was one of the earlier games and relied on less experienced coding, it would initially seem to have been a bad choice as a translation from the arcade. But that isn't the whole case. The game visually makes up for the scrolling dilemma with well-drawn graphics and good use of color.

     I do not have the directions for this game; nor am I very good at it. It took me until this evening to figure out how to get past the first obstacle: the wall! I came to the wrong conclusion a long time ago about what you're supposed to do. I decided that the object was to destroy all of the buildings. It never occured to me to try shooting the ground-based rocket, because I thought it was part of the background. That was all it took; the wall vanished.

     The difficulty level of this game is set too high. I can't even get past the first level. I think that it would be much more fun if the game were just a little more simple. However, since it isn't, it isn't more fun, and thus I find it extremely frustrating. Frustrating games, as most people know, are not fun. My conclusion? Did you guess it? Looping is frustrating and not fun. Such a pity, as it misses by so little. -- AT

Looping -- Great concept, and probably a great coin-op. I like the concept of a plane that can loop 360 degrees and shoot at things; it's a pretty basic idea, but when you think about it, those two elements hold a lot of potential for obstacles, mazes, and even puzzles. The drawback with this early adaptation is that the possibilities are barely explored.

     There is an open area containing lethal balloons that float up at you and bounce around for a while, and there is a tiny maze of tubes that drip green stuff at you in harder levels. If more Super Cobra-type obstacles were laid out, or even if Zeppelin-like mazes (to cite the Synapse 8-bit game) were considered, this would be an innovative contest. But it's kinda boring.

     Also, one of Coleco's project supervisors apparently told the programmer, "Look, I need a game really quick. Make the end of the first level really hard, so that nobody can beat it, because we don't have time to let you design a second level." The end relies on frustrating cop-out bad-guy addition instead of exuding any satisfying strategy. Four huge colored balls (huge colored balls?!) bounce around, and it takes forever to shoot even one of them. There's no way to get through them, so you apparently have to shoot all four, but in my very many attempts I've always crashed into the wall first. Even if I were to beat the end, it wouldn't make me feel like I achieved anything, because it would be pure luck that I didn't loop into a wall. The area is TINY. A little more imagination applied to this segment would have been nice.

     Most of the graphics, especially the bad guys, are simple and resemble VIC-20 sprites, but their animation and movement are executed smoothly. Not one of my favorite games, but an interesting idea with a lot of possibilities. Anyone wanna make a good game with a looping plane? Now, there's an idea. -- CF

Zaxxon-- I do not like this game, yet there is nothing that I can find wrong with it. Zaxxon is one of the few games that I admire for what they are and what they did, but which I can't stand to play myself.

     As it is, the ColecoVision version has a lot going for it. The sounds are good, except for one high-pitched keening that's quite annoying. The sprites are well-defined, although the ColecoVision moves the background, as always, with starts and jerks. The effort that went into this version is high, however.

     Zaxxon was supposed to be one of the first 3-D games, but it falls far short (not that a true 3-D world would have made a difference). It's an isometric game; that concept bores me to tears. The few elements that should make the game more exciting just add frustration. For instance, aligning your position with that of an alien craft is an effort of trial and error.

     While Zaxxon isn't fun for me, I admit that it may be fun for some folks. I wouldn't question them. I've just never understood why it's so fondly remembered. -- AT

Zaxxon -- This is a great game sometimes. With a little imagination, the premise of Zaxxon can lead to some extremely creative layouts. As all versions aren't the same, some programmers have worked with the various types of walls and targets to come up with very intriguing obstacle courses.

     In the '80s, I got hooked on Synapse's Commodore 64 version. It's the best I've seen. The scrolling is smooth, the graphics are incredible, and the mechanics are free and fast. The ColecoVision version is, by contrast, the worst version I've ever played. The movement is jerky, the angle of firing is inaccurate (you have to sort of aim to the left of everything), and the narrow playfield allows for maybe five inches of side-to-side movement!

     The layout of targets never changes, even once you survive the end-of-fortress encounter with the robot Zaxxon himself. This translation is clumsy and not much fun. -- CF