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Saturday, 22 January 2011

Delta (Commodore 64)

If Sanxion was seen as something of a contentious effort, Thalamus' follow-up Delta, it could be argued, could be regarded as being even moreso. ZZAP! 64, being affiliated with Thalamus' publishers, had taken some frightful stick over their review of Sanxion, being accused of bias after rating it highly. So when the magazine hit the shelves and ZZAP! had only awarded Delta 74%, eyebrows were raised. Were they deliberately over-compensating on this occasion?


Mix-E-Load. What a great idea! Just don't choose the "Nolans" setting.

On the face of it, Delta takes everything that was good in Sanxion and ramps it up a notch or five. Whereas Sanxion had a fantastic loading tune from Rob Hubbard, Delta revolutionised game loading by using something called Mix-E-Load. This game you the opportunity to play with a Rob Hubbard tune as the game loaded, using different instruments and effects to alter the tune in a good number of ways. It was a really cool idea that was appreciated by everybody I knew that played it... I'm sure it was almost universally enjoyed.


Shoot the core! Well, the one in the middle, anyway...

Once the game loaded, another fantastic Hubbard tune played, fast, upbeat and uplifting... really putting you in the mood for a good blast. And the musical piece de resistance came in the game itself... a Philip Glass-inspired piece, again by Rob Hubbard. Lasting over ten minutes, it was a moody number, without the trademark Hubbard drums... it felt very atmospheric and well-suited to the strange alien landscapes, and the levels were timed so that changes in the music seemed to fit perfectly with changes in the game.


Oh come on... they were easy to shoot. You're throwing money away!

Graphically, Delta shifted from Sanxion's planetside plains and cityscapes, instead moving into deep space. Flying through ruined cities, warped rock formations, boiling seas and bizarre jelly-like structures, the imagination on display was a joy to behold. And the alien craft and formations were similarly inspired, moving with grace, fluidity and purpose.

Pity the actual gameplay couldn't live up to any of that.


Oooh, pretty colours! Prettttyyyyy.... Kill it!

Delta came not too long after Nemesis had made weapons upgrades popular. And indeed, there's a fine array of weaponry here for the taking; from the usual speed-ups and bullet upgrades to multiple bullets, multi-directional fire and shields, you can really tool yourself up to the wazoo in readiness for the alien onslaught.

I realise I'm still not saying anything that comes as a downside. So... here goes.


Sometimes I feel like there's some kind of wall between us...

The biggest problem in Delta comes with those extra weapons. Like Nemesis, shooting whole formations of enemies will get you a credit (automatically added in this case, rather than floating around waiting to be picked up). At times, a group of icons will appear, like a corner shop in space, just waiting for you to spend your credits. Blue icons can be "bought", simply by flying over them. Grey icons will kill you if you touch them, so don't be so silly.


Let's see... I'll have a Marathon, a packet of pickled onion Tudor and a multi-directional laser cannon, please.

The alien enemies move in strict formations. So once you've learned where they appear, theoretically you'll remember and wipe them all out, every time. But what if you don't? Well, if you don't have the right set of power-ups at any given time, you're in big trouble. This is true right from the off... miss any of the first wave and you can't buy a speed-up, which means you'll miss the next waves and can't buy a power-up, which means you're effectively dead in the water. Might as well start again.


I don't want to crash here... I can't swim!

The whole game is played out on this knife edge. If you miss anything, you're going to have to be very lucky to stay alive. And if/once your weapons start running out, particularly the speedup, then you're as good as dead. It takes the emphasis away from the shoot 'em up part of the game, and almost turns the whole thing into a puzzle game. In that respect, it almost reminds me a little of Ikaruga, although it plays nothing like that.


Uh-oh... looks like you've found your Nemesis...

The final act of cruelty comes with the apparent predecessor to Burnout 3's Heartbreaker icon in the Crash Mode... eventually, you will discover that shooting certain alien formations actually removes credits. That just isn't fair... you should never be penalised for doing well, and in a game where you're so utterly reliant on collecting power-ups, it's a real kick in the teeth.


When I see you, I just turn to jelly...

Delta is not a bad game. The production values, as expected, are of the highest standard. I've seen me load the game just to listen to the two outstanding tunes. And if you happen to be into shoot 'em ups where you need to learn patterns, then you'll be in spacey nirvana with this. That's not my bag, though, and as much as I've always wanted to truly love this game, playing it again just reminded me of all the reasons why we parted less-than-amicably all those years ago. As a technical demo for the Commodore 64, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better game. But if you're looking for a great game, I happen to think that ZZAP! 64 got that review just about right. For all its aural and visual splendour, as a game, Delta falls sadly short of the mark.

4 comments:

  1. Great review, Paul! Not sure I understand the Ikaruga comparison though.

    The Mix-E-Load sounds wonderful. I think modern games could take a leaf out of this game's book; it would be great to have something to distract during long loading times. Imagine being able to play a little game while waiting for an XBox 360 game to install... good times.

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  2. The similarities between this and Ikaruga, for me, are the almost total reliance on learning patterns. They really don't play the same, but in that regard, they frustrate me equally!

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  3. For me the in-game music is one of the finest, if not the finest, C64 tunes ever. It really is quite plagiaristic though.

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  4. Delta is hands down the best shoot em up ever. Why ? Because of the beautful creativity and knife edge playing style. True, it took time to complete (after which it starts over and the tune is even better) - but well worth it.

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