… just the name of this game makes me feel tingly! That catchy theme tune that’ll stick in your head all day, all those weird and interesting noises and Olly the Octopus – we’ll come back to him later.
Starquake was released in 1985 on various 8-bit computers but this review is based on the Spectrum version, as this is the one I had, and though I’ve not played any other version, I’m sure it’s the best one (ahem!)
The basic story is that you are BLOB, (which I’m sure is an acronym for something but I refuse to check Wikipedia to confirm) a cute, small, round alien/life form, who has been given the task of stabilising the core of a planet that is due to go boom at any minute if the elements of the core are not replaced. Sounds simple enough, but given the size of the game – over 500 screens, it may take a bit longer than you think. Add to this the various and many nasties that are out to get you, and it makes for quite a mission.
Scattered around the planet you will find teleport stations, each with 5-letter names (obtained when you enter them), which you will need to navigate your way around the planet. This means you will have to note down the names of the stations on a piece of paper (or inside the inlay card if you’re proper hardcore) unless of course you have a really good memory… which I don’t, or didn’t. I can’t remember. The only hint I’ll give you is that one of the areas you can teleport to ( where you may find the core *cough cough*) may be in the game’s title. Extra hint – it’s not called Star.
After finding the core, (see tip above) you will see what elements you need to complete your mission. These vary game by game so don’t expect it to be the same every time. The core elements can take the form of many things – sometimes they will look very mechanical, but don’t be surprised to see them in the form of an umbrella, fire extinguisher or other various household objects. Why this is, I don’t know in all honesty, but I think it adds to the character of StarQuake. You will find many bits and pieces around the place, some you will need, some you won’t but you can exchange unwanted items for parts of the core so don’t be downhearted if you cannot find that one piece that may elude you.
You will of course need an Access card and a Pyramid in order to exchange these items, and these can be hard to come by. The game randomly generates the location of every item each time you start, so you cannot be guaranteed to find either straight away. Access cards can also be used at electronic doors where there may or may not be something interesting on the other side. This can be slightly frustrating but you do get to hear some cracking noises that the electronic door makes. Do it, you won’t be disappointed.
Visually, StarQuake is a very vivid and lively looking game, with large sprites, bright colours and plenty of stuff going on at all times – especially given the amount of imaginative looking aliens out to get you (what was Stephen Crow smoking/drinking/inhaling when he wrote this?) You can of course fight back and shoot those pesky little mites, though fire power is not unlimited and you will have to find top ups for your firepower along with energy which gradually depletes and significantly drops when in contact with anything that moves.
You can move around either by foot, or by a flying… well, pad, I guess, which you’ll find in it’s own docking station. This does make it a lot easier to move around, as you can move anywhere on the screen as opposed to running along the floor and lifting yourself up with little steps you can make appear – though you can run out of those leaving you stuck until your energy runs out. Bad times.
This is one of those games I remember fondly, from the first time when I was very young watching my dad play not knowing much of what was going on, and then again when I was older playing with my brother. We played for hours; exploring this world that we were drawn in to, desperately looking for that new teleport station or missing piece of core. Just finding a new room was a thrill.
StarQuake is one of my all-time favourite games, not just on the ZX Spectrum, but of all games I have played (quite an accolade!) Such a large game given the 48K memory available, I’m pretty dumbfounded how it managed to squeeze itself in. Though I never actually finished the game myself, I was there to witness it when my brother did and though we did manage to get to the end, it was still one we went back to. Upon playing this game again recently via emulation I can safely say that this game still holds up after all of these years. A fast paced, bright, innovative, highly addictive game that has something special about it. Even after coming close to completing and then coming to a sticky end via an electricity pylon, it’ll have you hitting “0” to start the game again.
Oops, I forgot about Olly. If you do find you’ve had enough of the game after several hours of not quite finding those last bits and pieces you need, you can always quit the game at the start menu (which is handy if playing on a 48K given the lack of reset button!) If you elect to hit that “Q” to Quit button, and confirm yes; you are greeted by “Olly the Octopus” with the line “Say goodbye to Olly” and the system will subsequently reset. I’ve always found this very odd and could never fathom why this appeared, or indeed who Olly is.
Answers on a postcard please, this is 1985 after all.