We’re back again with Tigervision and what might just be the best box art on the 2600; yes there can be no other its Espial. An obscure console game published by an obscure company (at the time) based on an obscure arcade machine it is positively slated for success. I dunno, it seems Tigervision had a deal with both Orca Group and Sierra On-Line to publish their games for them on the 2600, it all seems rather strange and since we don’t know who actually programmed the game it is entirely possible that it was programmed in-house. I don’t really have anything more to say so let’s just get right on with the graphics.
The graphics for Espial… Well I’m a bit torn between them being alright, and them being ‘unique’. Here let me explain, in screen one you are flying your ship over what appears to be a city or a giant industrial complex. The detail is excellent and it even works in some forced perspective to make it feel like you’re flying high up. Screen two has you flying over rainbow chickens and butterflies, which is a bit of a tonal shift from screen one. And screen three had you flying over Q*bert land and it looks terrible. The enemy designs are very simplistic with a variety of square objects, generic ship designs like the ones from Space Chase, planes from Strategy X and Air Raid, and just a bunch of primary shapes. The enemies are all individually colored but you really won’t be noticing that due to the flicker. Enemies will flicker between the stationary and moving targets which causes all the enemies to look grey and transparent, it would be a unique effect if it worked in context with the game but all it does is make it look like you’re fighting ghost space ships and ethereal planes. I’ll admit though that very few shooter on the 2600 had such large and detailed backgrounds, it almost seems like they took inspiration from Xevious or something, hmmm.
The sounds aren’t anything too special, actually they’re rather sparse. It just a classic case of you shoot, you explode, and the start and end of level jingle. Yeah actually this is a little stupid since you don’t even get the satisfaction of hearing the enemies you shoot explode; they just vanish silently into nothing. I’ve reviewed a lot of space shooters, good and bad, and they all at least game me the satisfaction of hearing my enemies be destroyed in some way or another. I take it back the sounds are bad and lack any sort of meaningful impact.
So I mentioned Xevious a little earlier on, well I think I was onto something. This is a vertically scrolling shooter with detailed backgrounds where you have the ability to both shoot moving airborne enemies and stationary ground enemies by dropping bombs on them, just like in Xevious. It actually makes sense since Xevious came out a year before Espial in arcades so there was plenty of time to copy the formula. Unfortunately Espial is a slightly flawed but very generic shooter, in that all you do is fly around and shoot at things but shooting them is harder than you’d think. I don’t know if it’s due to the flicker but sometimes your shots will pass right through the enemies and in a game where you shoot things, that is not good. Enemy movement is also very unusual as they tend to move more horizontal than vertical, perhaps due to the screen size, but it makes hitting anything fairly difficult unless you get lucky and line them up just right. As for the bomb mechanic it is implemented rather well to accommodate for the single button controller. You don’t actually fire different projectiles, the bomb and your regular shot are one and the same, all that differentiates them is if you have a stationary enemy lined up with the crosshairs, if the crosshairs are on the enemy when the shot passes over it then it will be destroyed, simple and effective.
The game is a little fun at first but that is quickly quashed with BS enemy behavior in screen three, they appear from behind you and follow your movements, and hyperactive enemies in screen four where they will strafe across the entire screen not allowing you to even avoid them since they move faster than you ever could. The game is crap, and crap that comes with a considerable price tag. For the honor of owning Espial you will have to shell out a whopping 383.65-612.95 dollars for just a loose copy while boxed copies are listed for up to 995.95-1295.95 dollars, and for what is generally considered an R6 (rare but not THAT rare) this is comical. Espial gets sent to the Collector’s Zone for being a plain ol’ mediocre game with a price to match even the rarest of Atari games.