Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom (Sega)
Before Sega was the darling of the 16-bit era it was the darling of arcades worldwide. With games like Zaxxon, Turbo, SubRoc 3D, and the classic Carnival, Sega was a force to be reckoned with in the arcades, but the console market was different for Sega. Many of Sega’s IP’s were already on the popular systems of the time but being released by other companies, so what do you do when all of your most popular games are being distributed by other companies? In Sega’s case, distribute non-Sega titles. This lead to games like Spy Hunter, Tapper, and Up ‘n Down, (all licensed from Bally Midway) to be released on the 2600 by Sega. So we have an arcade publisher selling another arcade publisher’s games on a console released by another arcade publisher, I know this was pretty normal back then but I still find it funny. Sega released a smattering of original games not found in the arcades, one was Thunderground an interesting game to be sure, but not the one we’re looking at today.
Another Was Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator, (oops, it actually is an arcade game) again not the game we’re looking at today, in fact the game we’re looking at today is one of Sega’s more overlooked titles: Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom. I have absolutely zero knowledge of Buck Rogers, but since this is an Atari game I don’t need to, also if I may rand for a brief second on how awful those grip cases are, they are impossible to stack nicely with other 2600 cartridges, they’re almost like reverse M-Network cartridges. Enough about the cartridges and onto the game, this is Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom on Atari 2600.
Moonsweeper, this game looks sooooo much like Imagic’s Moonsweeper that it’s almost funny. This is a behind-the-back shooter much in the same vein as (again) Moonsweeper, and Solaris (I really gotta give that game a look sometime), but sadly it doesn’t look quite as good as its competitor, the 3D scrolling is fairly well done and the sprite scaling, while a bit jumpy, is adequate enough, my biggest problems are the color schemes. Every level is a basic palette swap of the previous level except the colors they chose are agonizing, level one is a tolerable blue on black, that’s fine, level two is a deep blue on a green-ish brown that reminds me of unmentionable things, level three is a royal purple coupled with a slightly darker shade of that same unmentionable brown, it all just ugly, if they’d chosen more complimentary colors (like Moonsweeper) I wouldn’t be complaining so much but c’mon purple and poo brown? That’s just a joke. All the sprites are weird monochrome blobs; the only things I can discern as being objects are the gates that you fly through. It doesn’t really matter about the quality of the sprites though since you’re moving so fast you won’t be seeing them for long, I’ll get to that later, suffice to say the game looks very complex for a 2600 game but is mediocre at best indescribably ugly at worst, we’re off to a good start if I do say so myself.
I originally thought this was a bug with my copy but when you start the game up and don’t do anything the game starts to yell at you with one of the worst noises I’ve heard from a 2600, I would call it a wail if anything. Something I just found out is that if you press the action button as soon as you power on the game the game farts at you! There are a whole host of sounds buried in this cartridge; the sounds you’ll hear most though are the sounds of the engine and the insufferable beeping of the timer, which never stops and only increases in pitch to add to your stress. Apart from those two sounds you’ll hear a bunch of crunches and whooshes and booms and you swerve between gates and shoot enemies, also the sound you make when you go boom has made me jump more than once. Sounds aren’t too bad, let them pass.
It seems that the two things most people criticize most about this game are the graphics, which I agree with, and the gameplay, which I’m a bit on the fence about. The word of the day seems to be Moonsweeper and that’s because Buck Rogers is basically a poor man’s Moonsweeper. You fly through gates, like in Moonsweeper, but instead of taking off after collecting stranded astronauts, you are then taken to a shooting gallery where you must blast away s bunch of blue pancakes and then destroy the two halves of a pink TIE Fighter (of course) and repeat. This game has very little variation to it, and the only thing that keeps you moving is that timer, and to add to the boredom we add frustration, mainly because the collision detection is extremely fidgety, sometimes you can have half your plane touch a gate and just breeze through it and other times if the tip of your wing even overlaps with a gate you will explode. There is even a bit of frustration in the shooting gallery sections, since the enemies emerge from behind you they can also hit you and take a life without you being able to react. Even the shooting can lead to frustration, much like in GORF you can shoot once then you can shoot again cancelling out the previous shot, but Buck Rogers shoots so fast it gets difficult to aim mainly because it has turbo mode on permanently, instead of having to press the action button again to shoot you can just hold down the button and you just keep shooting cancelling out the shot you wanted to take (I hope I explained that properly.
Overall this is a mediocre game at best frustrating chore of a bore at worst; it just doesn’t hold up to its competition. Sadly this isn’t the cheapest game either; you’re looking at a 10 dollar minimum with the odd deal here and there. I’m gonna have to say Collector’s Zone for this game, it just isn’t worth the cost, and no way am I gonna pay 70$ for this game in the box, what are you? Insane?