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Fireball (Starpath)

DoctorSpuds

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There are many Paddle games for the 2600; some of them are excellent, like Kaboom! And Warlords, others are not so good, like the drek from Mystique, or the laughable crap from Data Age. If you were to ask me what the best Paddle game was I’d likely reply with the classic Kaboom! But today I’m not so sure. After playing Fireball by Starpath, I think the bar has been raised again, because I believe that Fireball may just be the best Paddle game ever made for the 2600. I understand that that is a rather bold statement, but I’ll stand by it, just because I think that Fireball is the ‘Best’ doesn’t mean I think any less of the other Paddle games for the Atari, many of them are still quite excellent, Bumper Bash and Night Driver are particular favorites of mine. On a technical level however nothing can truly compare to Starpath’s Fireball and I intend to tell you all why right now.

 

This game looks incredibly simple, at a glance this looks like breakout, that’s because it basically is, but it has a twist, and incredible twist. Instead of there being a single ball on the screen like in breakout, in Fireball you can have up to six balls in play at once; I don’t think Breakout could ever manage that. There are also several different variations which are as smooth and flicker-free as the first, first you have Firetrap, which is two, circles trapping two balls, then there is Marching Blocks where rows of blocks descend upon you, some of these rows contain extra balls, then there is the classic Knock-A-Block which is classic breakout, there is Migrating Blocks which is bullshit, and Cascade which I won’t spoil for you because it’s the best variation in the game. The little juggler you move about is well defined; he’s made up of three colors which is rather impressive, and when you drop a ball a Sheppard’s Crook comes from the left side of the screen to yank your little juggler off-screen. Despite not appearing very graphically complex, Fireball is a technical marvel with the amount of stuff it can handle whilst remaining smooth and completely flicker-free.

 

Just like in Communist Mutants From Space, Fireball is dominated by one sound, the scoring sound. It may sound rather silly but when you have six balls in play constantly breaking bricks, the score sound speeds up to match the speed of the ball’s scoring, which leads to an almost constant trilling noise playing, it gets quite awful after a while. Once you’re down to the final few bricks though you’ll have to contend with a different noise, the hollow thunk of balls not hitting the blocks, and when you’ve got six of ‘em, it can also get rather ear grating. But as we’ve learned, the sounds in these games aren’t necessarily their strongest aspect, which usually falls to the gameplay.

 

This game is Breakout, but with multiple balls, and several different brick layouts. The main reason why I don’t care for the 2600 versions of Breakout is because they’re too slow, I don’t get that instant gratification by immature brain so feverishly desires. Fireball however manages to keep me constantly engaged by having the multiple balls to keep track of and keep from touching the ground. Another slight improvement is the ability to carry two balls at a time, while not being particularly useful when you have more than four, when you have three balls its very handy when you need to hit that last block, but you can’t hold the balls indefinitely, they are made of fire, so you’ll automatically throw them after a short period of time. There is one final touch that I find incredibly charming, you can try to run from the Sheppard’s Crook, it will always get you but the simple fact that you can try makes me smile every time.

 

If you have a Supercharger you owe it to yourself to get this game, this is a must –have game for the console. This is the sort of game that keeps you so engaged you won’t have time to look away or even blink, your eyes will water and your nose will itch, but you can’t look away. Get this game even if you don’t have a supercharger, copies aren’t too expensive, people are selling them opened on Ebay for 30$, so what are you waiting for? Go on! Go buy one!

 

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