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Cosmic Swarm (Commavid)

DoctorSpuds

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Commavid was one of those companies that tried to make it on the 2600, unfortunately, just as soon as they'd found their stride the entire market collapsed. Many companies were swallowed up in the crash, some deservedly like Mythicon, Mystique, and Data Age. Others were killed before they could truly shine, Commavid was one of those companies. They released only six games, and two pieces of software during it's short life, but unlike many game companies which were copying each other, or themselves, to death, Commavid was trying something new with almost all of their games. Perhaps it was because the company was founded physicists, that all the games were so... different, especially with Cosmic Swarm, their first game, I cant really equate it with any other game, but I like it. Unfortunately all the games from Commavid are anywhere between very rare to unobtainable, Magicard had 50 to 100 carts produced and Video life had only 20, that's incredible! Needless to say they are a 10 out of 10 on the AtariAge rarity meter, but other games like Cakewalk and Stronghold come a close second at a 9 on the AA rarity meter. Cosmic Swarm, as well as Room of Doom and Mines of Minos come in at a measly 6 out of 10. Needless to say Commavid sits atop the throne of rare games, since it is one of only two publishers with two games sitting at a 10, the other being Atari themselves, almost all the others were one and done companies, but enough about who's the rarest, lets play some Cosmic Swarm!

 

This game looks extremely basic, and it seems these guys took a page from Nintendo's book before it was even written, since the picture on the label is almost exactly what you get in the game. The game looks SO basic I can describe it almost entirely by equating the in-game graphics to graphics used in different games, lets begin. You fly around in the ship from Asteroids, shooting the bugs from Bugs as they drop the blocks from Centipede, it's really that simple. I can't really knock the graphics though, despite their simplicity, everything is sharp and clean, with no flicker to be found, and despite everything being quite chunky it all moves very smoothly, with no juddering or jumping. Seriously these guys knew what they were doing, I'll put the link to where I found this below, but these guys reverse engineered the 2600, they knew everything there was to know about it, so it simply goes to show that it takes more than a good idea or money to make a good game, you have to know what your working with, and I don't think anybody knew it better than the guys at Commavid.

 

This game has the bare basics of sound. You shoot, they die, you die, shoot block, start sound, and refuel ship. Some of these sounds are self explanatory, some are not, but they will be explained further in the gameplay section. None of the sounds in this game I would classify as 'bad', I really like the shoot sound, and hitting an enemy is made 10 times better with that sort of hissing explosion, it's what I would imagine shooting a giant space termite would sound like. The refueling ship sound effect is the one sound I think could fray on the nerves a little bit, It's a somewhat high pitched trilling sound, it's not too high pitched to be ear bleeding, and not too deep, it falls into what I think the middle area would be. Let's get onto the main event shall we... the gameplay!

 

This game plays like no other, it may actually be completely unique. In this game you fly around a square playfield whilst shooting giant bugs who are dropping large blocks that will impede your movement by destroying you upon contact. You need to keep the bugs from covering the screen, or losing all of your lives, though it'll likely be the latter that happens most. There is also a refueling ship that will emerge from the top of either the far right or far left of the screen, you MUST touch it, or it's an immediate game over regardless of how many live you have, also don't shoot it. There is a method of removing the blocks the bugs place on the screen which I discovered quite on accident, you must the block a bug is carrying straight on from the bottom, this will make all the blocks turn red and then you can destroy them. This game is quite stingy when it comes to points, If you hit a bug not carrying a block that's 1 point, hitting a bug carrying a block is 2 points and hitting a bug carrying a block straight on the bottom of the block is 3 points, and every red block is 1 point. Getting 100 points will net you an extra ship, and believe me until you master the weird controls you're gonna burn through ships at an alarming rate. This game has some strange controls, you can move in the standard 8 directions but you cant change the orientation of your ship, you can only spin your ship around when you're holding down the fire button. This can lead to some awkwardness when it comes to actually shooting the enemies since you may suddenly find yourself facing the wrong direction since muscle memory has you thinking that holding down the fire button will make you shoot faster or multiple times. It also makes changing firing direction on the fly rather difficult since you are unable to move around when you are spinning, this will lead to many deaths. The controls CAN be learned however and when you get used to them the game really becomes quite fun, I would recommend against using a keyboard for this game, a standard 2600 or Genesis controller is recommended.

 

This is quite a fun game when you acclimate to the controls, and if you can find a copy on Ebay or anywhere else for cheap enough, 20$ is the max I'd pay for a decent cart, I would advise you to buy it, I doubt that you'll regret it. Unfortunately this is one of those commonly scalped companies, just like Panda, where people will try to charge you two to three times the worth of the game just for a slightly sub-par copy. But I have to admit, the box arts for these games (with the exception of Cosmic Swarm) are easily the best I've ever seen, period, no exaggerating. No Collector"s Zone today, I think the game justifies the price, for once.

 

Here's a cool article that details some of Commavid's unique history http://www.digitpress.com/archives/cc_commavid.htm

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I agree, Cosmic Swarm is a pretty unique game! Fun, too, even though this is one of those games that gives me this weird sort of anxiety about being inevitably overwhelmed and annihilated. :P (Missile Command is another one.) The controls are a little odd at first but are quickly adapted to, and I think were well-designed given the single-button joystick controller the game had to work with.

 

I like my retro games blocky and bleepy-bloopy, so the graphics and sounds work just fine for me. Some of the angled ship sprites look like birds or folded napkins or something, but that would be my only quibble (which couldn't really be helped anyway, given the resolution, so I really can't even fault the game for that; Space War and Asteroids had the same thing going on).

 

I like the elongated cartridge shell and the label; it adds a bit of exotic flair to any stack of VCS games. :D

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