Stargunner is one of the tragedies of the classic gaming world. Sporting sharp graphics, smooth scrolling, and fast gameplay, at first glance you might think that Stargunner is one of those hidden gems of the 2600 library. However once you start to dig a little deeper, past the pretty graphics and other eye candy, the truth is reveled. For you see, Stargunner is fatally flawed. How can this be? Read on.
For those of you have actually bothered to play this relatively rare game, you may have noticed something odd. Notice how you seem to be racking up the points and easily advancing from level to level with little difficulty? No you haven't magically become an expert game player, you've discovered Stargunner's terrible flaw, the computer AI. It's hard to believe, but for once the lack of game difficulty has killed an otherwise beautiful game.
Stargunner is really a Defender clone, but without all those annoying humanoids to worry about (not that I ever worried about them anyway). In Stargunner you simply fly around the level shooting every enemy you can see while avoiding their lasers and watching out for the deadly satellite at the top of the screen (which also attempts to shoot you down). This is where the problem arises; the enemies never become a threat! Wave after wave, hour after hour, your ship cuts through enemy vessels like a hot knife through butter with little resistance. In those rare occasions where the enemy actually decides to put up a fight, your ship is more than fast enough to avoid the few shots they manage to eek out before you blow them to smithereens. In fact the leading cause of death in the game isn't from being shot by the enemy, it's from accidentally running into them!
Rumor has it that people would actually have contests to see how long they could sit in one place and not get hit. Sadly, you can do this for quite a long time. For some reason the enemy AI is such a bad shot that it can't even hit a target that's standing still. If the computer can't hit a sitting duck, then it doesn't stand a chance when you actually start moving. So what went wrong? According to an interview with Alex, he was asked to cram in extra enemy graphics into the already full game code. Want to take a guess on where he found the extra room?
The lack of any challenge dooms Stargunner to being just another poor Defender clone. This is really a shame since the game has so much promise. However in the era of endless 'me too' clones, did the 2600 library really need another Defender clone? Still, it's nice to see that the 2600 is capable of decent graphics when the programmer puts his mind to it.