If you were unaware that Solar Fox was actually an arcade game, then you're not alone. Most people play this amazingly addictive little action game without ever knowing of its arcade roots. Solar Fox was planned for a wide variety of platforms, but ultimately only came out on the Atari 2600 and C-64.
According to the manual the storyline has something to do with Earth trying to gather energy cells from the farthest corners of the galaxy to prevent a global war. The energy cells grow on matrixes, and are guarded by fireball shooting sentinels. You must run your ship over all the energy cells (those little squares) on the screen while avoiding the shots from the sentinels that roam the perimeter. Your ship isn't equipped with weapons to shoot the sentinels (no, that would be too easy), but you can change your speed to help you try and maneuver past shots by pressing the fire button. Speed control is nice, but lasers would have been better….
As each level takes place on a matrix, you can only move your ship in the four cardinal directions (no diagonals for you!). You an also only charge directions at specific points on the screen (at the edges of each square, not in the middle). If you think of the screen as being setup like an invisible grid, it helps to give you an idea on where and where you cannot go. This is important because if you don't know where you can move, you will be running head first into fireballs before you know it.
As you play the game, you'll undoubtedly notice the SKIP-A-RACK timer at the bottom of the screen. If you finish the screen before the SKIP-A-RACK timer counts down, you will skip the next level. This can be handy when trying to avoid difficult levels (racks). There are 20 racks in all, with some patterns being harder than others. As the game progresses the sentinels will launch more and more fireballs, and energy cells will take more passes to collect.
Every five racks you'll be presented with a Challenge Rack. The Challenge Rack is similar to a regular level, except there are no sentinels shooting at you and the SKIP-A-RACK timer is replaced by a CHALLENGE! timer. If you finish the level before the timer counts down, you will be presented with a letter. If you are good enough to beat all six Challenge Racks you can spell out the secret word HELIOS who was the Greek god of the sun. This was part of a special contest that CBS was running, but as CBS is long gone, these letters are no more than mere curiosities these days.
Solar Fox is one of those simple, but amazingly addictive games. Although the arcade game wasn't particularly popular, Solar Fox found a new audience on the 2600 and is consistently rated as one of its best games. Perhaps if more little known arcade games of this quality were ported to the 2600 the crash could have been staved off for a little while longer. I guess sometimes being obscure isn't such a bad thing after all.