|Original game by
Jun Wada and Makoto Horai. Licensed from Broderbund
A port of the classic computer game, A.E. is a most unusual
5200 prototype. It was never announced by Atari nor was it
mentioned in any internal documents. In fact A.E. just
appeared out of the blue one day when a collector found a copy
in a box of old 5200 prototypes. Why Atari was considering
porting a two year old computer game to the 5200 is unclear, but
the results were interesting.
A.E. is an arcade style shooting game in which you
have to shoot down waves of flying stingrays (yes I said
stingrays) in order to save your planet. Why the programmers
chose flying stingrays as your enemy is anybody's guess, but
according to the instructions they're supposed to be some sort of
pollution fighting robot that has gone out of control.
According to the back of the box, A.E. is supposedly the Japanese
word for 'ray' as in manta ray or stingray. However on the
title you'll notice that A.E. appears to be some sort of acronym
with periods between the letters. This is because the manual
says A.E. stands for Anti-Environmental Encounter. Why the
box and the manual are at odds is anyone's guess.
At the start of each stage, the background is
actually drawn by the computer and the filled in before the action
starts. While this effect is very interesting, it seems to
take an eternity to finish and the novelty wears off quickly.
The resulting pause between stages really distracts from the
action, and makes an ordinarily fast paced game seem very slow.
The graphics themselves are rather bland and colorless,
consisting of dithered textures rather than bright solid shapes.
On the whole it looks as if the graphics were copied
directly from the Apple version, which is sad considering the 5200
was capable of so much more. On the bright side the 3-D
effect of the backgrounds shows up nicely making for some
interesting looking battlefields.
Once the stage starts a formation of stingrays will
fly out of the background and zip around the screen. You
must completely shoot down three of these formations before you
can move on to the next stage. The shooting scheme in A.E.
is a little unique. Rather than rapidly hitting the fire
button to launch shots, you must instead press and hold the fire
button. Once the shot gets to the height you want, simply
release the fire button and the shot will explode destroying all
the aliens near it (like Missile Command). Aiming and timing
the shots takes a bit of getting used to, but adds to the charm
and challenge of the game. If you don't shoot down the
formation in time the remaining stingrays will run away and a new
formation will come after you.
There are only four different stages in the 5200
version as opposed to five in the Atari 800 disk version (and
eight in the Apple II original), but since the game had to be
reduced from 48K to 16K sacrificing some of the stages was
necessary. Reducing the amount of available memory also
increased the drawing times for the stages dramatically, but I
find it amazing that they were able to keep the drawing effect at
all. A.E. also sports some pretty cool tunes at the
beginning of each stage which makes up for the rather sparse
While A.E. may have been a decent disk based
computer game, porting it to a cartridge based "Arcade" machine
wasn't a good idea. The graphics and gameplay, while decent,
just aren't up to 5200 standards. The painful draw times
also slow down the action, putting a damper on the game.
It's interesting to note that according to internal documents,
Atari was porting A.E. themselves instead of engaging Broderbund
to do it. Atari did the same with Choplifter, which ended up
being one of the final games released for the 5200.
||Almost complete. Missing
some minor finishing touches
to 5200 Software