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DVD of the Week
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Ballblazer - October 13, '99 by Dorsola
Game:BallblazerCompany:Lucasfilm Games
Type:SportsPlayers:1/2

Greetings, Earthlings! Welcome to the Interstellar BallBlazer Tournament! In this unique 1-on-1 sports game, you are pitted against a friend or the computer (or you can even sit and watch two computer opponents duke it out with each other!) in a race to score more points than your foe before time runs out. The rules are as follows: You control a ground pod on a low-friction checkerboard surface. A single floating ball is released onto the playing field. You score points (up to a maximum of 10) by firing or pushing the ball through your goal, a set of moving posts at either end of the field.
Simple enough game. This Lucasfilm game made its debut in 1987 for one of the most advanced home consoles at the time: The Atari 7800. (Actually, as a matter of personal pride, my own father was one of the programmers behind this game. =) The graphics were pretty amazing - all of the in-game objects were scaled properly without any noticeable shredding or blockiness; the playfield appears anti-aliased (smooth lines); and the gameplay is fast and furious on a horizontal split screen! Sound isn't half bad either - still simplistic, but for such a limited system, I can understand. It has a pretty catchy tune and some fast-paced ticking and light percussion type sounds to keep the game flowing.
Play control is pretty good, too - there's some inertia and friction involved in moving your vehicle around, and the vehicle turns automatically to face the ball (or your goal if you have the ball). The flipping around can be a little disorienting at times, but for the most part, it's pretty clear which direction you need to go. BallBlazer also gets high marks for Challenge and Replay Value, since in a single-player game, you can select from 9 different intelligence levels for your "Droid" opponent. Level 1 is like playing a snail - a no-brainer. But in all the times I've played this game, I've only beaten the Level 9 Droid once! The AI is amazingly well done - albeit simple, given the simple nature of the game.
There are a variety of Atari 7800 emulators out there, and just in the last couple of days, a new version of MESS (The Multi-console/CPU emulator, based on components of the MAME system) was released that also supports the A7800. Unfortunately, BallBlazer is one of the very few ROMs that is NOT emulated well by any of these emulators: MESS's emulation is good enough to keep the game running, but a variety of graphics and sound glitches are painfully apparent. This is most likely due to the game's unusual demands on the A7800 hardware - most of the other games for this system have much simpler tasks to perform. And, as I noticed in my testing, the A7800 emulation in MESS (and consequently BallBlazer) requires a pretty hefty computer to run at full speed. So for now, I have to dock points for Performance.
BallBlazer - one of the most exciting retro sports games ever made. And perhaps its best replay value point is that the split screen lends itself very nicely to two-player simultaneous action. Get a few friends around and set up your keyboard and controllers, and be prepared to compete for hours!
Graphics
8
6
Sound
Play Control
8
7
Challenge
Replay Value
8
5
Performance

Screen Shots

Screen Shot 1
1999 EmuViews