While it enjoyed a fair amount of success at the arcades, most people remember Gyruss for just one thing: The Music. Never before have space shoot 'em ups and classical music gone together so well. While many people can still hum that catchy little tune to this day, most don't know that it's actually Bach's Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor. In the arcades Gyruss was able to produce an absolutely amazing rendition of this classic tune using five (count 'em) five sound chips! Needless to say nothing like this was ever tried again, but in the case of Gyruss, the results were incredible.
Gyruss can best be described as a cross between Galaga and Tempest. The player must shoot large formations of enemy ships (just like in Galaga) that come out from the middle of the screen while moving around the outer edge in a circular motion (just like Tempest). Your goal is to reach earth by warping through waves of enemy fighters (each stage is called a warp). Of course you can't just make a straight beeline for Earth (that would be too easy), to get to Earth you must start at Pluto and make your way through the planets (Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars to be exact). Successfully making it to a planet will reward you with a bonus stage that seems all too similar to Galaga.
Gyruss is one of the few games I can think of off hand that actually rewards you for not being perfect. For you see if you constantly destroy all the enemy ships in a formation as the approach then you'll never see the satellites. Satellites only appear when at least three enemy ships are in the center of the screen which only happens if you let a few sneak by. Shooting the center satellite of the group will reward you with double shots, which makes the game a whole lot easier.
While most of the elements of the arcade game made it into this version (such as the indestructible meteors), one enemy that got left out was the force field generator. In the arcade these creatures would appear in pairs generating an indestructible force field between them! If your ship ran into them you'd loose a life, and the only way to shut the force field down was to destroy one of the generator ships. These annoying little ships made the later levels much more difficult, and without them the game difficulty never gets quite high enough to be truly challenging. Why they were left out is anybody's guess, but cutting corners was nothing new to Parker Brothers.
Overall the Atari 8-bit version Gyruss isn't a bad port, but it could have been a whole lot better. After seeing what PB was able to do on the difficult to program 2600, the 8-bit version is a bit of a disappointment. The graphics are a bit blocky, and the controls can be buggy with the ship getting hung up on the sides on occasion. But at least the music remained intact, and when playing Gyruss that's the most important thing.