The Many Faces of  . . . Beamrider

By Alan Hewston

 Beamrider reminds me of the movie TRON.  Yes, there are a few classic Tron video games, but not enough to make the MFof reviews . . . but let’s still put you on an electronic game grid and let you  defend it. {BTW, makes sure to see the new 20th anniversary DVD version of TRON and catch all the behind the scenes interviews and extras – great stuff.  Look for the one guy’s TRON hat where it spells tron (lower case) even if flipped 180 degrees.  And let’s hear a cheer for a TRON sequel and in the words of the mother of one of the actors, Re-res RAM! Re-res RAM! 

OK, for a change here’s a non-arcade classic, so in case it is not as familiar to you as the arcade games I’ve added more background information. Activision’s Beamrider made it to more systems than any of their other classic games. In fact, it is tied for third on the list of non-arcade games ported to the most classic systems - behind Miner 2049er and Demon Attack.  See also RT issue #13 for Doug’s MFof Beamrider, but he didn’t review two of our medal winners here today.  This game was designed by David Rolfe first(?) for the Intellivision under contract of Cheshire Engineering, and the 3 manuals that I have say that all other versions were made by Action Graphics.  There is a lot more gameplay and strategy packed into this game than first meets the eye.  If you’ve only tried the somewhat limited 2600 version,  then please consider giving the other versions a try. 

The Beamrider story has you defending the 5 lanes of each of 99 sectors of your space station’s Restrictor Shield (a defense grid).  You remain on the bottom beam of the screen while the sector scrolls downwards at you.  Most of the obstacles and enemies come from above you, on the horizon, and advance downward at you.  You cannot move up/down, but just left and right on the 5 lanes and fire your laser lariat in an effort to clear each sector’s 15 enemy saucers.  There are many other obstacles in your way and contact with anything but a Yellow Rejuvenator will result in the loss of one of you three ships.  Collect a bonus ship every time you catch a Yellow Rejuvenator.  You have an unlimited supply of laser lariats but they are not effective against all of the enemies and obstacles, instead, you have 3, and only 3 torpedoes per each sector (regardless if you lose a ship).  These torpedoes will eliminate the first obstacle they come in contact with, so use those topedoes wisely, as they can really save the day.  After clearing the sector, earn bonus points if you can hit the Sector Sentinel with a torpedo.  Your best defense is to continuously dodge most of the obstacles. 

In sector one you only face the White Enemy Saucers and their missiles.  Up to 3 Saucers can attack and move all about the screen, even kamikaze.  Their missiles only go straight down.   As you eliminate the saucers, the on-screen counter decrements by one and a new saucer will replace it.  When the counter hits 0, the sector is clear for the Sector Sentinel’s slow, one-time pass across the horizon.  Although the sentinel does not attack, they are not defenseless as swarms of Green Blockers will join in, which can kill you or at least prevent you from hitting the Sentinel. 

With a few exceptions, most of your foes will move to the bottom of the screen or edge of the screen and exit.  Some will be invulnerable (I) to your lariat, and must be avoided, or if you must, obliterated with a torpedo.  Starting in sector 2, and every other sector through 16 (12 on the 2600), a new foe is introduced as follows:  2) are Brown Space Debris (I) that comes straight down, 4) are Yellow Chirper Ships that move down and across the sector, but never at you, 6) are Green Blocker Ships (I) select the lane you are in at the time they arrive, and move into that lane and then straight down, 8) are Green Bounce Craft (I) that bounce across the bottom of the screen making one pass in each lane, 10) Blue Chargers that come straight down, and if left alone then slow to nearly a halt and take several seconds to clear off the bottom.  They’re a real hazard, so make sure your laser lariat finds them and sends ‘em back to the horizon ASAP, 12) Orange Trackers (I) that can only change lanes once early on, and then come straight down, 14) Red Zig Bombs that must be hit, whereupon they turn green, or they can move L/R at the last second and crash your party, and finally, 16) Magnetic Mines (I) that come straight down, but then pull you towards them, so you must move away from them or be destroyed. 

When points are scored (White Saucers, Chirper Ships, the Sector Sentinel), they are temporarily shown on the screen in place of your running total.  Bonus points for the Sentinel are awarded for the number of spare ships you have remaining.  All point values increase as you progress through sectors.  Everything else is worth zero points, and is just in your way to block your way or destroy you.

Between each sector/players’s turn, the game stops for you to see the player number, score, ships remaining, and the sector number.  This break is almost as good as having a pause added to each version – certainly a nice feature. During this break back at your Space Station (not shown on the 2600),  a player can elect to drop out of the game at this time. This is indeed a unique feature I’ve never seen elsewhere.  Moving forward launches you into the next sector.  Most versions do have a pause feature for use any time during play - which leads to a blank screen - and pushing the pause button again or in some cases any movement of the controller resumes play.  The choice in starting levels at sector 1, 5, and 10 is available for all but the INTY and 2600.  This is a nice option to practice and see the enemies not seen at the beginning of the game.

Classic Home releases (all by Activision): Intellivision (’83 David Rolfe), Atari 2600 (Cheshire Engineering, David Rolfe & Larry Zwick),  Commodore 64 (’84 Jamie Faye Fenton), Atari 8 bit (Action Graphics for Activision) Atari 5200 (Action Graphics), and Colecovision (Action Graphics)

Categories:  Gameplay, Addictiveness, Graphics, Sound & Controls


 Make it to sector 14 plus a score of 40K (60 K on 2600) would earn you an Activision patch  “Beamriders”.

Doesn’t this artwork make you think of the world inside TRON?

Have Nots: Intellivision (36)
The Gameplay is very good (7) and has everything save a starting level option.  The Graphics are Crisp (8) and the Sound is Effective (7) with nothing missing.  The Controls are good enough (6) to play, but I cannot enjoy this game due to the controllers, the lack of real (ie large, easy to push) fire buttons, and needing 2 precise fire buttons.  If this was programmed like the 2600 where L/R on the stick is L/R and Up gives you a torpedo and the fire button sends out lariats, (or even down for the lariats) then it would be so much easier to play.  The CV and 5200 also cause me significant problems but they get saved - see later.  So, has anyone ever make a real Intellivision joystick – at a reasonable price – let me know.  The Addictiveness is Enjoyable (8), and although there is no pause “button”, Greg Thompson told me about 6 months ago, that pressing the 1 and 9 or the 3 and 7 simultaneously will pause nearly all Inty games.  This sounds a bit harder than a single pause button, but it does work fine.  Unless you like or can work around the standard Inty controllers, then just save yourself the agony and pass this version over.  Otherwise it’s a fine version.

Have Nots: Atari 2600 (37)
Typical of the 2600, the Gameplay is good enough (6), but limited and the worst of the lot.  This version is missing the final 2 enemies, only allows 1 player, and has no start level variations.  OK, so the A difficulty will make it harder, but ‘cmon, unless you master this game, or wanted to play a two player game with one handicapped (but you cannot) then what is value added here?  The Graphics and Sound are both Effective (7).  The Controls are perfect (10), where the torpedoes are fired most easily by pushing forward.  The Addictiveness is also pretty good (7), but a true pause button and having all the enemies would help.

  Have Nots: Atari 5200 (38)
As usual, the identical sister code on the Atari 8-bit will score higher just because of the Controls.  I may have been generous in scoring the Controls as Impressive (8), but this assumes use of a better joystick like the Wico. The 2 distinct fire buttons must be easy to use with no chance of wasting a torpedo by accident.   The Addictiveness is very nice (8), but may have been higher if not for the extra time needed to master the Control.  All other scores match the Atari 8-bit below.

Bronze Medal: Atari 8 bit (40)
Unfortunately, the Graphics appear a bit shabbier than the leaders, but are still Cool (7).  The Gameplay is Enjoyable (8), with all that the others offer. The Controls are perfect (10), using the 2600 scheme.  The Sounds is Effective (7) and nothing is missing per se, but the CV and C64 both sound a step better.  The Addictiveness is Nice (8), but should have been better, but there are a few minor problems. Once selected, the number of players cannot be change, and I could not delete any players either.  One time, the game went on the fritz and would not reset itself - the graphics were everywhere, the game was not playable.  A reboot was necessary for these if you have the disk version, but it is also available, but somewhat rare on cart.

Silver Medal Colecovision (41)
Let me start with Controls, which are Superb (9), but not without a hitch.  As always seems to be my problem with CV, I need to start from scratch to see which of the 5+ possible controllers works best for each cartridge.  Instead of getting a 6 or 7, the Super Action Controller came through and does the job - a bit rugged for moving - but dead-on in firing.  I would not doubt that long time CV players would score Controls a 10.  The Gameplay is Enjoyable (8), and no elements are missing. The Sound is Impressive (8) and the Graphics are Crisp (8), both matching the C64.  The Addictiveness is also Enjoyable (8), but would have been higher without a glitch which got me twice.  Somehow the final Saucer can leave the screen and never, ever return. I played for several minutes losing my torpedoes and all to no avail. You get no points scored, other than maybe a Chirper Ship and the only way out is to lose a ship.  So this makes me want to play the next better version below.

Gold Medal:  Commodore 64 (43)
Winning all the ordinals (Olympics term), ie the best score in all 5 categories, it is easy to see why this version is the best.  The Gameplay is all there and Impressive (8).  The Graphics are Sharp (8) and the Sound is Crisp (8), not missing any beats.  The Controls are Perfect (10) using the 2600 scheme and the Addictiveness is Outstanding (9).  The pause button [Run/Stop] is not quite as good as using the [space bar] on the Atari, but certainly better than a button on the control pad.  If you miss the pause button here, nothing happens.  But on the other systems if you miss the small button, and hit another, you could kill the game completely.  This version is available on disk, cassette (in Europe) and is common (but for some reason elusive to me) on cart.

 Come back next month when I review the Many Faces of Zaxxon on the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 8-bit, Colecovision, Intellivision, Commodore 64, Apple II and CoCo.

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