"Ever since I first got this game for my eighth birthday, I have hated it in a curious kind of way, always walking away from it on a sour note, but always coming back for more punishment. On the actual game, I can go no further than Level 6. With only 99 levels total I thought I could finish it with a bit more practice. After all, it was designed to be a challenging game. The back of the box even makes a dare for players to make it as far as Level 10. That and the fact that there was a special little visual treat promised in the manual drove me to make it a little further each time. Surprisingly, Mark Urbaniec's only comment on the Intellivision Lives! CD-ROM about this game is that it is abstract. I agree with that fact -- that may be the reason why I always took a strange interest in this game all along -- but he made no mention of the difficulty level to my surprise.
"The concept of an Aracde Network was also an ingenious idea for Mattel. While it was and still is popular for arcade games to be ported to home consoles, here the reverse would take place. Mattel would write arcade-style games for the Intellivision, promote them, then have them ported to arcade machines. Personally, I would like to see such a reverse-trend take place in the industry today, just to add a breath of fresh air. This game in particular is inspired by Tempest, a color vector-based game. The graphics are indeed colorful but don't give the impression of vectors on raster-based television sets. I didn't even know the graphics were supposed to be pseudo-vector until I read about it on the CD-ROM. The box art gives a polygon look to the game, with a two-dimensional playfield, and an energy blast and G-Sphere seen in the third dimension. Come to think of it, this game might actually make a good modernization.
"Gameplay is complicated but intriguing. The player controls an Energy Block (commonly abbreviated 'EB'), a large green pulsing square, by moving it back and forth along a linear path. There is also a stationary V-gun in the top center of the screen which the player uses to fire energy blasts. On a side note, I wonder what the controls would be in the arcade port. There would probably be a paddle and a joystick with a trigger in my opinion. The paddle would move a pair of crosshairs at the bottom of the screen, the trigger would fire an energy blast from the V-gun in the direction of the crosshairs, and the joystick, which would move only left and right, would control the Energy Block. There would also be a dipswitch to toggle Freestyle Mode (Freestyle Mode, which is disabled by default in the Intellivision game and can be toggled at any time, allows the player to move the Energy Block at will. While not in Freestyle Mode, the V-gun must shoot the Energy Block before it can move a step.).
"When the V-gun shoots the Energy Block, it produces four 'bricks' in the four background cards occupied by the Energy Block. The level is finished when these bricks fill out the entire path. At this point, the 'base,' which you are trying to construct, is completed and all the bricks begin to glow, making that sector immune to the nasties. While the object of each level is simply to build a base, doing so is not that easy. On each level there are nasties who tear down the base by vaporizing the bricks, one by one, on contact. Since each and every brick must be in place, it is not uncommon to make the final shot just a split second after having a brick vaporized by a nasty. What's worse and equally aggravating is that the nasties have a number of undesirable effects on the Energy Block on contact, some even destroying the Energy Block instantly. The player has a limited reserve of Energy Blocks, so in this game they represent the player's 'lives.'
"The player also has a limited energy level, represented by a bar across the top of the screen. Energy is consumed by the Energy Block's existence, with each energy blast fired from the V-gun, and from contact between the Energy Block and certain nasties who drain energy. If the energy level is fully depleted, the Energy Block dissolves. The energy level is replenished by E-Paks that occasionally float across the screen. Shooting an E-Pak with an energy blast causes it to explode and release the energy contained within. Catching the energy with the Energy Block will either fully replenish the energy level and temporarily 'reinforce' the Energy Block, only partially replenish the energy level and not temporarily reinforce the Energy Block, or do nothing at all, depending on its color. E-Paks are orange at the onset and are 'polluted' by the nasties on contact and become tan, then brown.
"Nasties when destroyed are replaced by more nasties. If the player takes too long to complete a level, however, the game will switch into what I personally call 'Sudden Death Mode' where nasties no longer reappear, and neither do E-Paks. The player must complete the base unhindered before the energy level runs out. On most levels, I find myself simply holding out until Sudden Death Mode begins. An extra Energy Block is awarded after Levels 4, 9, and 14, and after two of the levels, scoring doubles, then triples.
"There are six different types of nasties. Each type appears for three levels, giving a total of 18 unique levels. After Level 18, the nasties and base shapes cycle back to the first, but the bricks are a different color on each cycle and of course the nasties get faster each time. The first type of nasties are the Hungrees and G-Sphere. The G-Sphere just floats around aimlessly and does not attack the base or Energy Block, but its color reflects the color of the Hungrees. Red hungrees are simply shattered by the Energy Block whether or not it is reinforced, and yellow hungrees are shattered only by a reinforced Energy Block but automatically destroy an unreinforced Energy Block on contact. If the G-Sphere turns yellow, it can be changed to red again with a few shots from the V-gun. Red and yellow hungrees alike are destroyed by energy blasts.
"The next type of enemy to appear is the Splitters. Splitters behave similarly to Hungrees, but they are yellow when they first appear, making them deadly to the touch if the Energy Block is unreinforced. An energy blast causes them to split into two red nasties who, like red Hungrees, are destroyed by both reinforced and unreinforced Energy Blocks and therefore try to demolish as much of the base as possible. Next are the Diamondbacks. These nasties drain energy upon contact with an unreinforced Energy Block and are destroyed by a reinforced Energy Block or an energy blast. After that come the Blue Enemies, who destroy the Energy Block if two touch it at the same time while it is unreinforced. Sweeps come next, and they behave like Diamondbacks except that they move back and forth in a sweeping fashion, taking much of the base with them. Last of all come the Prisms, by far the worst nasties of all. Prisms, large shimmering orange entities which appear one at a time, require three energy blasts to demolish, destroy an unreinforced Energy Block on contact, are immune to reinforced Energy Blocks, and unlike the other nasties never stop reappearing!
"Because a Prism cannot be destroyed in time before beginning to wreck the base, Level 16 is impossible to beat without using the emulator and disabling STIC sprite/background collision detection. By Level 40, I was already intermittently disabling STIC sprite/sprite collision detection because the nasties move too fast to shoot in time before hitting the Energy Block. In my opinion the Intellivision port should have ended after Level 18. Nobody would have reached it anyhow but at least a few people would have tried. Playing to Level 99 is simply an unrealistic goal.
"Besides the fact that most people don't play this game because it's so complicated, I think it is interesting to play nonetheless. I always thought the game was deliberately designed to be difficult just to infuriate even the most casual and laid-back game player, but after using the emulator to finally 'get even' with this game I realized that it simply wasn't fine-tuned enough to be playable. For those of you who easily get angry at video games, stay away from this game! Those of you who were raised on arcade games and love a good challenge laced with plenty of eye candy should give this a try. The graphics and sound effects are pretty good to be honest. I also like the futuristic-looking font as well. All things considered, it's not a bad game. With the Development Kit, someone might even tweak it a bit and make it reasonably challenging without being impossible." Rating: 3/5 -- Mike Hayes