Playing rules: Difficulty: Medium. Start: 3 lives. Continues: Not allowed
Dip Switch Bank A: 1-2 = ON; 3-4 = OFF; 5 = OFF/UNUSED; 6-7 = OFF
Dip Switch Bank B: 1-4 = ON; 5 = OFF
Current Record holders:
1st: 3,272,900 - Charles Dahling - 1985
Ok, this is an odd one. A lot of you may be familiar with Williams games; Robotron, Joust and Defender especially. All of those games have a very distinctive style so I was surprised when I saw that this game looks entirely different. A little bit of investigation yields the answer, the game is also known as Formation Z © 1984 Jaleco and was actually licenced to Williams for distribution in the West.
Righto, I feel better now that’s sorted out – for Williams to pick it up, this must be a decent game! I wonder why there is only a single record though? Perhaps the Williams distribution wasn’t as widespread as you would expect – maybe the game isn’t that good after all?
Enough of all that guesswork, let’s have a look!
Well again, I know nothing about this game – so we’re all in the mystery love boat together. First thing that grabs you – someone absolutely LOVES a bit of “cyan”, LOVES IT. This may as well be a screenshot:
All of the menus are cyan, the main backdrop is cyan, everything is cyan! Not the most popular of colours traditionally, but aside from that the graphics are actually quite good for 1984 and I suppose it makes a change from the predominantly black backgrounds in other Williams games. Also, there are no flying pigs, so I’m happy.
Ok, what’s the game about? Well you control what appears to be a transformer style ship, starting off as a robot with the ability to change into a plane and back again at will. You have two buttons, shoot and jump (hold jump to change between forms) which is simple enough. All in all this adds an interesting dimension to the game but it’s not immediately obvious why you would need to change between either. Also, it’s really quite tricky to shoot where you want as there are only a few options as to where you can aim. As both the ship and the robot, you can shoot forwards, 45 degrees up and 45 degrees down – that’s it. Not so much of a problem with the ship, but the poxy robot could do with a few more options and as it stands he’s a little bit shit.
Right, let’s jump in and play. Straight into the Cyan opening screen and we’re away! You start off running as the robot fella and already the choice of shooting at either 45 degrees or straight ahead is annoying me, especially as the game keeps throwing enemies in at knee level. Bloody useless robot, crouch a little why don’t you? Anyway, most of the action is going on in the sky where there are loads of laughably small spaceships flying about in little formations so let’s go mix it up a bit with them – TRANSFORM!
The transformation takes an absolute bloody AGE, which gives the little ships ample time to blow me up. Think you need to be more considerate when transforming. Back to cyan, and then onto the 2nd life. The game remembers that I was a ship so that’s how I start off and the controls are much nicer. It’s now that I notice the fuel counter at the bottom right ticking down – I’m sure that wasn’t moving when I was a robot (what does he use as fuel then?) so I need to be a bit careful. Turns out there are little refuelling pods occasionally along the ground to help with that – also turns out that you can crash into the ground and die. No prizes if you guessed that I found out about both of those things at the same time.
Last life then and I realise that it’s simply easier as a robot – as rubbish as the shooting is, the ol’ 45 degree shot does make quite a mess of the small planes without much danger. I spoke too soon. Clearly the game doesn’t like me doing that as it has decided to put a tank in front of me, conveniently (bearing in mind the aiming restrictions I mentioned earlier) at fucking KNEE LEVEL. Usually a tank like this would shit it’s little tank-pants at the massive armed robot striding towards it – but not this one. This tank knows he doesn’t even have to waste ammo or anything as I can’t hit him properly. No problem, I’ll just jump over the bugger then, that’ll learn him.
He didn’t like that either as it goes – as soon as you jump over him he shifts into reverse and you land on top of him. Mr Robot go BOOM BOOM!
The thing is, being a robot is that much easier as you keep a distance from the crazy mess happening in the sky, especially when the enemies turn into flying saucer things and start firing slow red circles at you – pretty tricky to avoid them in the faster moving ship. I plan a tactic of only going in the air when absolutely necessary and it works a treat. Whenever a little tank appears I just turn into a ship and then back to robot behind him, job done – record here I come. Of course things are never that easy and within no time the sea fast approaches. You cunning buggers, that’ll stop me being a robot – or will it? I’ve seen your Japanese anime films, these big robots can walk across water just as easily as ground, ha! Take that foolish game designer – watch as my super robot glides effortlessly across the water.
Ok, next life then – ship it is. Turns out this game is good fun. I could never really get on with defender as it was bit fiddly for me, but this is much simpler. I would prefer it if the ship has just horizontal firing though, as this whole 45 degree business is just messy. Soon the sea is over and I get to a desert and back to the comfort of my robot switching tactic. The enemies are getting smarter and more aggressive now though and I lose two lives quite quickly to some homing red ball things.
I did have a fantastic moment where I tried to turn back into the robot with the aim of avoiding a shot only for the game to decide I was obviously too high in the sky for all that business. Keen to warn me, a message flashed up on the screen saying “NO CHENGE”. There is a lesson in that for all of us I think you’ll agree.
Last go now and the usual tactic works well again and before I know it I’m back at the desert level within the first life. There are some really weird things in this game that I start to find quite charming. Not weird in the same way as the last crazy game (honestly no pigs this time) but weird in the way that the enemies are quite unpredictable which is actually quite a good thing. There are plenty of times where the enemy will try and get to you only to just miss and crash into the ground, or land based probes that follow you about a bit – it all leads to the game feeling less scripted and I think that’s a good thing for over 25 years ago. Also, there are things in the game that don’t actually seem to *do* anything. In the desert level you soon come across some shit-yer-pants-scary looking massive green robots at ground level, but rather than offer a decent fight, they just sit there doing nothing as you walk between their legs. You can shoot them too if you want and while there are small explosions, you get no score or any response at all. What’s that all about? It’s certainly enough to confuse me as I soon lose all of my lives in the desert, although my score is better this time
I know I’ve joked about the robot not being able to shoot anything at ground level clearly suffering from robot arthritis of the knees, but it does make the game a bit silly. The placing of tanks is quite obviously an afterthought to stop you staying on the ground too much and there really isn’t much reason to change between the two so it can’t help but feel a bit gimmicky.
That being said, it’s a good game that I expect is very hard to find these days hence the single record, which is a massive score. God knows how far into the game you would have to get to get 3 million plus and although it certainly seems like a game that isn’t *that* difficult once you get a good idea of how best to deal with the different enemies, I still don’t fancy my chances to be honest. Especially with my habit of CHENGING at the wrong time. I wish I could stop the CHENGE, I really do.