I can’t remain in the world of the 2600 forever, I need to branch out and expand, then promptly fall right back on the 2600 when I tire of the new stuff. So, what’s new today? Well, its big box PC games, if the 2600 game boxes weren’t big enough then these monsters will scratch your itch. Standard console game boxes are absolutely dwarfed by these behemoths, but this can have some positive effects. The artwork on some of these boxes is absolutely fantastic, and there’s something so rewarding about opening this massive slab of artwork and pulling out a game. The game I’d like to talk about today is Nova 9, the sequel to Stellar 7, from Dynamix and at the time of its release (1991) I’m sure there was nothing else on the market that could even compare. This is a big game, I mean six 3 ½ in floppy disk big, and it really shows in the graphics, which I’ll get to in a moment. I really feel the need to compliment whoever did the artwork for, and the design of, the box, the art is sleek, colorful, and absolutely beautiful, I’d hang that on my wall any day. The box is designed much like the cardboard Sega Genesis/ Mega Drive boxes with the cardboard slip cover; it gives the box an overall clean look that isn’t accomplished by any other PC game in my collection. Alright then, enough gushing about the box and let’s talk about the game that came inside of it!
Right off the bat I’m looking at the 256 color VGA version of the game, it did come in 16 color EGA but I ain’t touching that. When starting the game you are treated to a little bit of backstory, but I really don’t care about any of it when the graphics are so darn nice, I constantly look in the background to see if the artists snuck anything in, there truly is a sense of depth to the whole game. Once you get past all of the story and menu screens, which are just filler to be honest (beautiful filler but filler nonetheless) the real game takes on a bit more of a minimalist approach, but what would you expect from early 90’s 3D. Yes the game is in 3D and because of that almost everything you see is a solidly colored polygon, but don’t take that to mean that the game looks bad, quite the opposite really. The designs for the enemy tanks, ships, and even animals, are still quite complex despite the graphical limitations of the time, and while they might not look like all that much from afar, up close you can really see all the care and attention that went into their designs as they punch you full of holes. A few things haven’t aged all too well, mainly the wildlife you see on other planets, these chunky polygons don’t do all that well a job at rendering organic shapes and the fact that they’re limited to solid colors doesn’t help matters. All in all, for 1991, this looks pretty darn good!
Since PC’s of this time didn’t have a dedicated sound chip/card built into the motherboard straight from the factory sounds tended to vary across devices. Nova 9 has sound options for Adlib soundcards as well as the standard IBM speaker and Roland sound/MIDI cards. I don’t think I really need to say this but you should only play this game with the Adlib selected, the IBM speaker sounds like a single channel 2600, and if you like hearing out of place guitar twangs I wouldn’t recommend the Roland either. The sounds and music are alright, I don’t really have any complaints, they fit well with the game and aren’t distracting or intrusive so I think that counts as a win.
Nova 9 is a fairly basic shooter in the same vein as Battlezone, in fact I think of this as Battlezone all grown up. You move around a flat playfield dotted with various obstacles and you kill everything that moves. You also get power-ups, which is something that a near simulation like Battlezone lacked, you have your standard movement, maneuverability, and shot speed increases but you also have some more original power-ups. Power-ups like heat seeking/ground to air missiles, spread shot, and timed detonation shots (which suck by the way) all add to spice up the gameplay. You also have the use of mines to get rid of any enemies that are following you which is really nice to have when you need to flee a pack of enemies. Okay so… This game is hard, this game is really hard. I have the difficulty setting set to the lowest they can go and I’m still dying by the third world if not the second, it’s all a delicate balance of prioritizing power-ups and targeting the most dangerous enemies first but that still won’t save you from waves of enemies ramming, shooting, and dive bombing you almost constantly and when you think it’s all over you still have to contend with the boss enemies.
Overall this is a very fun game, despite its graphical minimalism during gameplay and crushing difficulty. Despite how hard this game is it never really gets frustrating as the game is set up more like an arcade shooter with the story being secondary to the gameplay itself, you can skip all of it and just get on to shooting stuff.I got lucky and snagged my copy from my local game store CIB for 10$ but if you want to get a copy off of Ebay you’ll be paying closer to 40 for a CIB copy with the loose disks and manuals being around 30$, you’re really better off getting the game boxed if you want to pay for it at all. If you want to sample the game before buying you can easily find downloads on abandonware websites. Despite how pricey it is I will not be sending Nova 9 to the Collector’s Zone, I feel that the amount of game you get for the price you pay is absolutely worth it.