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Killer Satellites (Starpath)

DoctorSpuds

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Let us cast ourselves back to that dark room where the brains behind Starpath worked their magic. They have already taken on several popular genres of games and come out the victor, but it seems it was time for something a bit for traditional, a sidescrolling space shooter in the same vein as Defender perhaps, but since it’s Starpath it’s gotta have a twist. It was this line of thinking that has led us to what I think is one of Starpath’s weakest efforts ‘Killer Satellites’, a Defender clone. I must admit to not being the biggest fan of Defender, I know I’ve done a review of the two versions that were released on the 2600, but I find that the game gets rather boring after a while, either due to it being too easy, or being too hard, which is an unfortunate crux that many arcade games and arcade game ports fell into, and needless to say Killer Satellites falls into this crux as well. I shall explain in further detail why I feel this way later on, but if I bought this game back in the 80’s for full price… well I’d likely return it the same day, there are very few games I’d say this about and it’s all the more unfortunate that it’s a game from Starpath.

 

This game looks very much like Defender; you have the HUD taking up the top fifth of the screen while the bottom fifth is taken up by the landscape you are tasked to protect. You’re not protecting little stranded space dudes in this game; instead you’re protecting trees, farms, houses, and random office buildings which were inexplicably built in the middle of nowhere, having this rather random, and inconsequential, set of protectables somewhat breaks the cohesion of the game. The HUD is made up of the essentials, life counter, radar, score, and the fuel/weapon overheat meter, and it looks fine, but is a bit bulky and takes up a decent chunk of the screen. The only things that I find interesting to look at are the various types of enemies that will be encountered. All of them are detailed and multicolored, with the exception of the fireballs (ugh). From what I can gather from looking at the game, you control a space ship, that looks suspiciously like the one from Defender, flying around the space above Earth, hence why the background is black, preventing the attacking aliens from passing the grey line, which is the atmosphere. Despite how cool the aliens look this game just ends up looking rather bland, it’s so bland that I was awed by the cool font they use on the scoreboard, the 2 looks really cool. I have very little to say for this one, so let’s quickly discuss the sounds.

 

This game barely has any sounds; you get a basic marching jingle when you start a new round, you have the basic rocket engine noise, a beep to indicate an enemy on the radar, you shoot, they explode, you explode/ they get past you and blow up a tree or something. I’ve never heard the 1-up sound mainly because I lose patience with this game before round five, also, yes I do know that I can advance five rounds with the game select switch. I know Starpath games have never had the most advanced of sounds but this just seems like the bare minimum, nothing new and nothing special, most unfortunate.

 

This game is a blatant copy of defender, with a twist of course, you fly a ship around and blast aliens, who are trying to destroy the planet beneath, out of the sky. The aliens emerge from the top of the screen and work their way down, they don’t fire back but as we’ll soon see, they won’t need to. The first four rounds are painfully easy, but you’ll still lose plenty of ships for one annoying reason, the radar doesn’t show the altitude of the enemies, only their location in proximity to your ship, so you’ll lose plenty of lives simply by running into the aliens since your ship moves extremely quickly and stopping takes a while, even if you fiddle with the difficulty switches. The main problem with this game is that it’s too easy until it gets too hard, much like in Defender, but unlike Defender which has a difficulty curve, once the fireballs start a-coming in Killer Satellites that’s it, game over man, game over. You cannot destroy the fireballs; you cannot avoid the fireballs, and guess where the fireballs like to appear… You guessed it, right around the enemies. That is why the enemies don’t fire back, because they don’t need to fire back, the fireballs do the job for them. Just for fun I put the game difficulty up to level 85, I died immediately, even with the ship on ‘slow’ mode, you are too slippery to do any fancy flying, I just can’t get any enjoyment out of this game whatsoever.

 

It saddens me to put this game in the Collector’s Zone, but I feel I must, since the game simply put is just not good enough to recommend. Unless you could find one really cheap, like 15 dollars on Ebay is the most I’d pay for one in the box, but it seems people are asking for 30 bucks just for the cassette with the plastic case, and the only listing there is for one in the box currently is 70 bucks starting bid, it makes me shudder. This may be the only Supercharger game I put in the Collector’s Zone because it’s not a good game, not because it’s too rare/expensive for anybody to buy.

 



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I did buy this one back-in-the-day. I was a huge fan of the arcade version of Defender, but Atari's own version of that game was so awful I was desperately hoping Killer Satellites was going to be great. Or good. Or just not crap. But it was terrible. I think this was the last Supercharger game that I bought. I was done with being disappointed by them.

 

A few years after the crash I received an offer in the mail to buy the rest of the Supercharger games - but I didn't have the money at the time, and never got around to it. I regretted it for awhile until I eventually got to play them all on the Stella Gets a New Brain CD. It turned out I wasn't missing anything, although Frogger was very good. But since I'm not a collector for the sake of collecting, I'm glad now I didn't waste my money or the shelf space filling out the rest of the set.

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I LOVED all the Supercharger games I owned. I wasn't a huge Defender fan, but I thought this was a decent game.

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I own:

  • Phaser Patrol (excellent take on the whole Star Raiders genre)
  • Communist Mutants from Space (yawn... you're shooting bricks)
  • Fireball (more bricks... do we really need another Breakout? The answer is "no")
  • Suicide Mission (a kind-of cool clone of Asteroids)
  • Escape from the Mindmaster (the one game where the Supercharger hit its full potential: first-person mazes, engrossing gameplay, mini-games, amazing graphics)
  • Killer Satellites (instant disappointment, and it never got any better)

I never bought Frogger, because I was never a huge fan of Frogger in the arcades. I do acknowledge the Supercharger version is far superior to Parker Bros.', but it kind-of sums up one of Starpath's big problems: they didn't license anything. They were only able to license Frogger due to a technicality (Parker Bros. had the cartridge rights - but not cassette rights), and gamers who wanted Frogger probably already owned the Parker Bros. version. Starpath didn't have any other established titles to really draw people to them. Of course, neither did Activision, but Activision games didn't require a cassette player. I think that really made the Supercharger a hard sell both to customers and to retail stores in the first place. "I have to hook up a what to our display Atari?"

 

Once I had played through Phaser Patrol and Mindmaster (Hero - Level A, and 471 "Impressive", respectively), my Supercharger sat in its box, collecting dust. The games weren't worth the hassle of setting up a cassette player and waiting for a tape to load anymore. Other companies' games kept improving, making the Supercharger effectively pointless. I know there are people who really like the Supercharger and its games, but to me it just never lived up to its potential. And I was one of the first ones to eagerly go out and buy it as soon as it hit the market.

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