Retro Resolution Retro Review
System: Sinclair ZX81
Developer: Abacus Programs
Oft-heard phrases amongst retro gamers include ‘modern games are visually stunning but utterly shallow’ and ‘in classic titles it’s the game-play that counts’ (or words to that effect). Text adventures aside, Abacus Programs’ ZX81 masterpiece Protector is a title which can certainly lend credence to the latter opinion.
At first glance Protector appears as a traditional side-scrolling shmup, most resembling a clone of Scramble, albeit one rendered in inimitable ZX81 style from capital letters, mathematical symbols and chunky solid character blocks. Although graphically reminiscent of the aforementioned arcade classic, Protector neatly inverts the coin-op’s gameplay, charging the player with defending the Zarqon home-world from the might of an alien invasion fleet with nought but the space ship Sentinel.
As is to be expected points are racked up with the demise of each alien fighter, bomber or missile, however a number of novel game mechanics introduce a level of strategy perhaps unique in a game of this vintage. As independent scores are tallied both for the player and for the alien invasion fleet, besides avoiding being shot down or colliding with the enemy it is necessary to prevent the hoard from destroying vital Zarqon installations (and thus piling up the points in the process).
Minimising the enemy score is only half the battle, however, as your craft carries only limited firepower, necessitating the recharging of your craft’s laser weaponry by momentarily lighting upon a launch pad – never easy in the heat of battle, especially as the enemy’s bombs have an unerring habit of destroying them at the most inopportune moments.
An unfortunately less welcome novelty comes in the form of an alien smart-bomb; as the pre-game instructions bluntly state “The alien commander may trigger the Damacles missile at any time destroying the ‘sentinel'”. This is implemented as a splendidly animated, incredibly frustrating, utterly indefensible nuclear explosion to the face. Ouch.
Despite the challenging difficulty level it’s certainly worth persevering with, if only to be rewarded with the unintentionally amusing message “you have beaten the aliens off” – that’ll teach them…
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