Review by Retro
"Great, overlooked title that could've been bigger than Space Invaders"
In 1979, Americans' fascination with space was at its peak. The year marked the 10-year anniversary since man first stepped foot on the moon, and the country couldn't have been more into aliens and UFOs. Whether you were watching movies about them or playing the classics such as Space Invaders, interest in aliens was blooming faster than the speed of light.
The last year of a great decade (or so I've heard; I was actually born a year later) also marked the release of a very engaging game called Lunar Rescue. NASA has sent so many astronauts to the moon that six of them are now stuck on it! When you walk up to this prehistoric arcade machine and watch the screen for a few seconds, you'll see a few of the familiar aliens from Space Invaders say ''Please Insert Coin'' and then turn sideways in an overly cute fashion. Upon dropping a quarter into the game to start it up, you'll see that that was just a hoax. It was Taito's way of garnering more silver change from curious players, because the enemies in this game are anything but cutesy or nice.
It is your duty to pilot a sort of vehicle that is equipped with lasers and the ability to land on the moon at will. But it's not all an easy landing. You start out inside a capsule that is moving left and right at the top of the screen. Below you are several layers of horizontally scrolling asteroids and three different sized platforms, or landing sites, made of rock. You take a few seconds to catch your breath and then press the fire button to let your lunar lander out of its guardian capsule. The bright glows of these terrestrial, airborne rocks are almost blinding and they come so close to colliding with one another that it's almost too claustrophobic for comfort. This goes without mentioning that a few flashing sparks must also be avoided at all costs. Somehow, you must guide your vehicle through this pack of flying debris and multicolored layers of the screen as you make your way down to the stranded astronauts in distress.
As you descend, all you can do is move left and right and use the limited thrust to decrease your fixed speed in case you think you're about to fall right on top of a deadly asteroid. Once you land on one of the platforms, one of the six astronauts will stiffly, yet quickly run (Who knew man could actually run in space?! That's several small steps for man, ten giant leaps for mankind) to your ship and climb inside.
You've just finished half of your rescue mission. Having traveled thousands of miles through the dense atmosphere and then risking your own ass by playing dodgeball with space rocks just to rescue these helpless 'heroes', you would expect to at least be able to sit back and smoke a victory cigar for a break, but no! What were once several gliding asteroids a few seconds ago has now morphed into several flying saucers that drop arrow-looking missiles at you as they invade your personal space by flying horizontally from both sides of the screen, much like the asteroids did. Instead of allowing the weak force of gravity to pull you toward the center of the moon, you are now defying the law by flying up, up, and away.
A fleet of big, small, and medium-sized spaceships is all that's left between you and your mothership that you're trying to get back to. It's clear that these aliens prefer going to war with human beings rather than doing the usual nude experiments on them like you constantly hear foolish real life survivors tell. Coming in contact with one of these monsters or their firepower will shatter you and your lander into bits. You'll still feel like a trespassing insect in an ant bed as you maneuver through this dense belt of angry spaceships and their plummeting firepower, but you can now shoot them back! Just one blast and any alien will be gone forever, but don't treat them like a shooting gallery. If you clear out too many enemies in one area, a darting comet that resembles an ugly ball of flame will come flying diagonally across the screen.
When you make it back to your base and drop off the lucky astronaut who's probably dancing to the disco hit ''I Will Survive'' (hey, disco was actually in back in the late 70's) now that he knows he's safe, you must do it all over again. Once all six space travelers are finally back in safe hands or are dead (get hit on your way back or fail to go up inside the part of your mothership that opens up for easy passage and the rescued astronaut will rest in peace instead of living in glory), you will proceed to the next level. The levels never change, but the positions of the asteroids and spaceships always change, and they get much faster as you get closer and closer to your goal of making a new high score.
Lunar Rescue has shown me that the moon wasn't a bad looking place in 1979. From the small spaceships that resemble airships with a helicopter blade on top, to the rocky terrains of the moon's surface, a good amount of detail was put into making the game look nice. I have a bone to pick, though. For some reason, the game is composed of more colors than any rainbow or kaleidoscope that mankind has ever laid eyes on. It has several layers of different colors. For instance, the capsule that you start out in is always purple; this is because that horizontal section of the screen is purple. When you're close to the capsule, you'll also be purple, as would an enemy should it decide to venture that high. As you go down, your lander will change colors faster than a chameleon as it cruises through the different shades of the electromagnetic spectrum. The game being overly colorful hasn't ever really detracted from my experience of playing the game, but I can see where it would for some players.
As mentioned before, Lunar Rescue seems to have looked up to Space Invaders in certain aspects, and the sounds are no exception. If you've played Space Invaders, you'll recognize the same sound effects for when you shoot and when you destroy an enemy. Many of the others, such as the sound of making it back inside your base, aren't exactly like those heard in Space Invaders, but you'll notice a kin resemblance. All comparing aside, the futuristic, space-sounding noises you'll hear coming from the speakers are easy to hear and you won't find yourself searching for a volume knob or mute button on the machine as you play. In typical late 70's fashion, there's no music to be heard whatsoever. Fortunately, Lunar Rescue controls very smoothly; whether you're attempting to creep by an asteroid with only a few inches separating you from disaster, or shooting like a marksman, it'll be a cinch. The joystick is used to move left and right, and the fire button is utilized for turning on the thrust and for shooting.
Lunar Rescue is a fairly unique shooter/action game that seems to have been passed up by nearly everybody who's ever been lucky enough to track it down in an arcade, pizza parlor, or other environment. It doesn't take 20/20 vision to see that this one had what it takes to be just as big, if not bigger, than the dime a dozen space shooters such as Galaxian and yes, Space Invaders. I like it a good deal better than both of those. When you finish a game of Lunar Rescue, you won't feel a heart full of pride from rescuing stranded astronauts; you're more likely to say to yourself, ''Man, that was fun.'' I played it for the first time a couple of weeks ago in a local gas station and enjoyed it a lot from the start. Since then, I've hopped into the car and journeyed back to that same old run-down filling station a few times just to play this great, overlooked title. If you ever see it lying around somewhere, I suggest you give it a try too. It'll be money well spent.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/08/03, Updated 07/08/04
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