|Genre:||Shoot 'em up (multi-directional)|
Early arcade machines had some great made-up words for titles. Galaxian, Gradius, Xevious, Darius, Gyruss, Gravitar, Amidar, Varth, Gryzor, Vulgus, Bosconian, the list goes on. In fact there are so many to choose from that a few years ago I started using them for the names of my characters in RPGs. A case in point is Blizzard's sublime dungeon crawler, Diablo III, in which I called my wizard Aztarac. But what is Aztarac? You'd be forgiven for not knowing, because this month's classic is very rare and its story is tinged with tragedy.
The game itself is very similar to other multi-directional shoot 'em ups of the era, such as Time Pilot, Sinistar and the aforementioned Bosconian, but with a control scheme more in common with Robotron. The objective was not only to destroy all of the enemies, but also defend a series of star bases (represented by 4 diamonds in the centre of the play field). If all four bases get destroyed, it's game over. You (appear) to have an unlimited number of lives in which to do this, which is unusual for a game of this period. Along with your turreted star fighter, you can also do a radar sweep of the area to find the next swarm of enemies. The risk in this is that the radar scan covers the screen while ever you have button 2 held down. So when the scan reveals the next swarm is already on top of your base, it's hard not to panic. The radar must have looked brilliant on the original arcade cabinet, as the bezel had a circular, convex area in the middle, just like a radar scope.
The game's visuals are provided by simple, but elegant colour vector graphics. The control scheme is another pistol-grip joystick and dial combo, which means it does not translate well to modern controls when emulated. And if you want to play it, emulation is the only way to go. I know I normally admonish emulation as nothing but an excuse for piracy, but according to www.centuri.net only 500 Aztarac cabinets were ever made. This is no doubt part of the reason why Dennis Bartlett of Iowa, USA, has held the official high score of 142,390 since the 11th February 1984 -- less than a year after the game was launched and 30 years ago this month (hence it being our classic this month).
Sadly, the game's creator, Tim Stryker, committed suicide 18 years ago. To quote Centuri's website:
"On the night of Aug. 6, Tim Stryker, 41, pulled off a remote road in the Blue Mountains in northwest Colorado, stepped out of his car, put a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger."Apparently nobody knows why Stryker did this. Altogether, a sad tale for what is still a genuinely fun and strategic shoot 'em up to play. Let's check a video of it in action.