If one were to look at the most ambitious titles in the 2600 library Moonsweeper would undoubtedly be near the top, it’s so ambitious that the only game I can really compare it to is Solaris, which as we all know is another one of, if not the, most advanced games on the system. Moonsweeper was released in 1983, Imagic’s final proper year of operation, and as we all know they went belly-up in ’84. The programmer of this game, Bob Smith, has quite an impressive track record if I do say so myself, and I do. This guy programmed the original Video Pinball, which immediately endears me, and he programmed the Star Wars Arcade Game for Parker Brothers which immediately tells me that this guy ain’t no slouch when it comes to putting the most advanced of games onto the tiniest of cartridges. Moonsweeper is by far Bob Smith’s greatest achievement though, in my opinion of course, the simple fact that such a huge game could be hidden in an 8K cartridge is astonishing even today.
The game starts with you in orbit around the sun, or as the manual calls it “the sun of Star Quadrant Jupiter²”, with photon torches, space bullets, rogue moons, and aurora flares being spit at you from all directions. All of the objects, with the exception of the aurora flares which are being spit out by the sun, all move in a realistic orbit around the sun, even though you will only see a small portion of the orbit since the objects will whizz off-screen almost as soon as they showed up. The moon portion is the real meat of the game however; the sun portion was just windowdressing. You fly along a suitably 3D moon with towers and stranded miners scaling in a rather smooth manner as you draw nearer. That’s not all however; there is a gigantic ship that will fly over the planet every so often it will spit out a smaller ship to harass you as you fly along the moon’s surface, there is also a wonderfully large satellite, that flies a similar route as the launcher ship, but it won’t fight back and is only worth bonus points. The truly astonishing thing is however, is that despite there being so much stuff happening on screen at one time, there is no discernible flicker at all, which is a stupendous accomplishment to say the least.
Sounds are sparse but acceptable, much of what you’ll be hearing is the sound of your engine but unlike with many engine noises this one is rather soft and soothing as opposed to loud and sharp. Many of the sounds are just ‘feel-good’ crunchy explosions, and trilling masses of noise that sound just oh-so satisfying. It’s all balanced very well, no sound outstays its welcome, and none make me feel the need to turn the volume down. Also when you game over the game plays an excerpt ‘Oh Sweet Chariot’ which I find to be just adorable.
Moonsweeper’s gameplay is simple and accessible yet hard to master fully. There are two portions of the game, the sun’s orbit, and the moon’s surface, both play rather differently. While in the sun’s orbit you must avoid all the obstacles whizzing around you and attempt to land on one of the moons swinging around in the melee, you are given an energy shield that I didn’t know existed until after I read the manual, hold back and press the button, it costs points but will help you avoid a game-over so it’s a fair trade. There are four colors of moon available between the different difficulties; in game one you will only encounter the green and blue moons, the two easiest. In game 2 you will encounter blue, green and yellow moons, but mostly green and blue. Game 3 has mostly green and yellow moons with a smattering of blue, while game four goes all out with blue, green, yellow, and red moons, I like to call this the suicide mode because you’re dead before you press that reset switch. The moons’ surface is dotted with towers and stranded miners; you must maneuver around the towers while collecting the miners. It’s not all smooth sailing since a ship in orbit will launch surface destroyers, little saucers that will fire on you and collect miners for itself, in the easier difficulties they are easier to hit and have a penchant for running into towers, it is possible to shoot the launcher ship out of the sky by holding back and firing to shoot up into the sky, this also works for the bonus point satellites. Once you collect six miners you will have to fly through accelerator rings that appear in place of the towers, you have to fly through a majority of them to break free of the moon’s gravity and get back to the orbit sequence to collect your points and get on with the next moon.
This is an outwardly simple game that hides its true complexities deep within, it’s easy to pick up but nearly impossible to master and is just a good time all around. If you were to ask me what my favorite Imagic game would be I’d say Moonsweeper any day of the week, apart from Monday that’s reserved for Star Voyager. Thankfully Moonsweeper isn’t a very expensive game; you can find loose copies on Ebay for less than ten dollars, and boxed copies as low as 30 dollars, I know I don’t usually advocate for buying a game CIB but I will make an exception for Moonsweeper, if you can find a boxed copy for 30-35 bucks I’d say ‘go for it’. No Collector’s Zone for today, on account of the game being well worth the price of admission.