Published by Firebird’s Silverbird label for a couple of quid, Matta Blatta is a horizontally scrolling blaster for the Atari 8-bit from developer Shahid Ahmad who previously coded Chimera on a range of platforms. It was released in 1988, which was quite late in the day for the Atari’s market here in the UK so quite a few fans of the machine or indeed shoot ’em ups may not be aware of it; I missed out personally because most of the local shops had already stopped selling Atari 8-bit games by that point and the lack of new releases meant I’d already been enticed away by the C64, copious amounts of new releases and a larger library of software overall.
Matta Blatta is also a surprisingly simple game as well, each level is populated by just one type of enemy with a fixed movement pattern and the player merely has to survive through each onslaught to progress to the next, although actually making it through a wave is tricky though, since the speed of enemy movement doesn’t leave much in the way of reaction time. The collision detection is definitely on the side of the invading forces as well with little mercy being shown to the player’s craft when it gets too close to the enemies or their bullets, something that other games in the genre tend to be far more generous about.
That stinginess means Matta Blatta can often be irritatingly tough, but at the same time it’s not ridiculously difficult in the way that something like Firefleet is. There isn’t much variety to the gameplay – not necessarily a problem to my mind, but that can sometimes be off-putting for others – but, along with existing games already doing the same sort of thing better, Zeppelin’s Zybex came out the same year and offers far more meat on the bone for just a quid extra. Matta Blatta probably won’t be anybody’s first choice when thinking of something to destroy on the Atari 8-bit, but there is still some fun to be had from the frantic manoeuvring and wanton, sometimes desperate blasting it offers.
1990 was a superb year for Mega Drive owning shoot ’em up fans and is pretty much when I personally jumped aboard that particular bandwagon with an imported Japanese unit. Games like Sagaia, Thunderforce 3 and Whip Rush were released for example, all being highly playable and demonstrating just how good Sega’s hardware was for this genre whilst hinting at what was yet to come. Sadly, X-Dazedly-Ray from UNIPACC really doesn’t fall into that camp and, when thinking back, there was for the longest time a small part of me which wondered why I handed over £24.99 for it back in the day.
The first games in the Gradius and Darius series seem to have been an inspiration for XDR‘s developers both from a gameplay standpoint and the visuals – the shield is very Darius-like with the options being more similar to Gradius except they can soak up bullets – although it’s nowhere near the standard of either Konami or Taito’s game. It does suffer badly from “Gradius syndrome” as well so, while it takes the entire first level to get some decent firepower together from the icons left behind by blasting certain enemies, everything is lost on dying and recovering from that situation with the now painfully underpowered ship ranks somewhere between frustratingly difficult and simply impossible.
XDR isn’t exactly a popular game, there’s a scathing GameFAQs user review which pretty much rips it to shreds and I’ve previously seen it described it as one of the worst Mega Drive games ever released during forum discussions. That’s being rather harsh on something that is essentially just mediocre though, and it’s not even the worst shoot ’em up for the platform either with titles like Curse, Xenon 2: Megablast or Divine Sealing being more aesthetically distinctive but, to my mind at least, less enjoyable to play.
So it’s not a great game by any stretch of the imagination, but still offers some entertainment; if the cost of cartridge publishing hadn’t meant there couldn’t be a home computer style budget range for Mega Drive games that’s where X-Dazedly-Ray would have fit in perfectly, not quite keeping up with the full-pricers for spectacle but still reasonably solid. For those wanting to give it a blast, go into the start menu to enable auto firing – because trying to constantly hammer two buttons for the main guns and missiles at a decent rate is something of an ask – and perhaps dial the difficulty down to “easy” before starting.
At the end of the 21st century the world is under attack, this time from the Zzyaxians who, rather than taking on the Earth’s plucky lone fighter with their own fleet, have instead opted for something more insidious and indeed bizarre; the alien aggressors have used genetic manipulation on otherwise friendly camels to breed them into 90 foot high, neutronium shielded, laser-spitting creatures of death. Each sector has six death camels – shown on the handy scanner at the top of the screen – stomping inexorably towards the base at the right hand edge of the play area and, if they complete that journey, the player is overrun and the game over.
Each camel takes a significant number of hits before “de-rezzing” and defends itself with the aforementioned laser-infused spittle; some of these are merely fired in a fixed direction but the nastier ones track towards the player’s jet and need some manoeuvring to avoid. Each jet gets nine shields and loses one to collisions with both bullets and camels, something that comes in handy on the later stages where it’s possible to end up accidentally pinballing back and forth between objects as the game speeds up.
When a stage has been cleared the Faster Than Light Hyperwarp drive system can be engaged in order to travel to the next; the jet starts at the right side of the screen and accelerates to the left, dodging fast-moving rockets heading in the opposite direction – smacking into one will destroy the jet so the current level needs to be played again – until the drive kicks in and it’s protected for the remainder of the journey to the next sector, where things start over but with the overall difficulty increased and new background colours.
Attack Of The Mutant Camels is early Jeff Minter at his very best, perhaps not as surreal or indeed involved as later titles like Iridis Alpha or Batalyx – which also contains a beefed up version of this game with multiple camels on the screen which can also jump – on the C64 but still fast, colourful and endlessly playable. It’s one of those games which can be picked up for a quick ten minute blast and there’s a range of difficulty settings to suit most folks – the power of the player’s bullet can be tweaked as well – although starting at the default “fer sure” setting seems to be about my speed these days even if I remember nudging it up a level or two as a teenager.