Imagine has gone careering into the arcades and emerged clutching the rights to Taito's Slap Fight, a game that'll be a slap in the face to all those Commodore owners who say the Speccy can't produce the really smooth-scrolling shoot-'em ups that their own favourite machine has got coming out of its portholes.
You are the pilot of the Slapfighter, which sounds a bit limp-wristed to me, but there's nothing limp-wristed about the action as you try to "destroy the evil alien swarms which confront you, wave after deadly wave on the ever hostile planet of Orac." Well that's what it says here, and for once it happens to be true.
You'll need a Kempston, Sinclair or Cursor joystick, because although you can use the keyboard and redefine it to suit yourself, anyone who wants to try controlling eight way movement plus two other keys is welcome to have a go, but when your fingers drop off please don't send them to us.
The surface of the planet Orac scrolls down the screen at you, and you can move in all directions but at first you can only fire a few blasts forward. The Orac nasties have the advantage of you there, as they can fire in all directions when they appear on the screen - and believe me, they will. Some of the missiles they send out are of the homing variety, so you've got to keep moving and try and out-dodge them. When you zap your first Orac heavy, those of you with your eyes open will notice that it turns into a star. This brings us to the eight headings that go down the side of the screen.
The eight headings cover extra add-ons that you can earn for your Slapflghter, and once you've flown over a star then a marker appears against the first word, SPEED. Choose this by pressing the space bar and you increase your speed by five times. If you don't choose it then the next time you fly over a star the marker moves down a notch to SHOT, and so on through SIDE, WING, BOMB, LAZER, HOMING MISSILES and SHIELD. Once you've chosen your extra thingy, the marker disappears and then starts over again going round and round for ever more.
Thats the basics, and you can work out what most of the add-ons are, so how about the game? Well, fast isn't the word. Furious, maybe that's the word. Frantic and fantastic, they're also pretty good words. One word I can't use in a respectable magazine like YS is the one I'd use to describe the aliens. They appear slowly at first, then in larger numbers, and they can spit missiles back at you even as they're about to disappear off the foot of the screen, and these missiles can be homing ones - oooh, I got really cross.
The game really becomes a fast-zap once you've got your homing missiles, as they even up the odds a little bit, and as you get further into the Orac defences the variety of aliens change, and you even get some ginormous ones which seem to ignore conventional shots and I haven't yet worked out whether they need to be seen off with lasers or bombs. But when you get this far, and you get parted from one of your five lives, you resume playing on the same screen but lose all your add-ons. Boo-hoo, I thought, as my precious homing-missiles bit the dust, leaving me surrounded by mobs of very heavy nasties.
There are a few complaints, which I suppose is natural otherwise no-one would believe you when you said how great the game was. One you can't really blame Imagine for, is that the Spectrum desperately needs a space bar you can whack when you've got the option you want all ready to be chosen, as my own old rubbery space key didn't exactly give the instant response that you need. I even tried putting the machine on the floor and operating SPACE with my big toe (stop sniggering!) but that wasn't a total success.
The other problem is that it's often hard to pick out the enemy missiles against the very detailed background, and you suddenly find yourself disintegrating for no apparent reason. But I suppose it all adds to the fun and the amount of cursing that goes on - and one or two players can swear at Slap Fight. All I can swear is that if you buy it you won't regret it.
It's amazing the difference a couple of years can make. When Slapfight first came out it was hailed as an enormous advance - a shoot-'em-up that was both fast and nice to look at, one that finally ditched the longstanding notion that no-one could produce a really smooth scrolling blaster on the Beloved Beermat. Of course, since then, every software company worth the name has produced about half a dozen of the things, most of them identical, and in 1990 Slapfight hasn't quite the same novelty. But that doesn't stop it being a cracking little game.
It's the usual old Uridium-style thing - you're skimming the surface of a planet (this time called Orac), blasting everything you can. When you zap some of the little blighters stars appear which you collect to give your ship extra capabilities (where would we be without those extra capabilities?). These include Speed (essential if you're planning to stay alive). Wing (makes your ship three times the size and three tines as zapful), Lazer (projects an invisible beam in front of your craft) and H Miss (missiles which home in on all targets). Hardly original, yes, but extremely effective. It's starts hard and gets harder, and it's been so beautifully thought-out that anyone who knows their shoot-'em ups will find it hard to stay away. Taito designed the original coin-op, Imagine converted it for the Spectrum - a useful little bargain at £2.99.
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