The Many Faces of  . . . Gorf

By Alan Hewston

“Prepare for Annihilation”.  As one of the earliest multi-stage arcade games, Bally/Midway found a way to combine two of their Japanese imports and make yet another hit in Gorf.  If any game should be called “Death from above”, THIS IS IT!  Gorf of course is Frog spelled backwards - so . . . how many ways can you kill a Frog?  OK, stage 1 is the Space Invaders invasion called “Astro Battles”.  Stage 2, Laser Attack” had elements of Galaga and Galaxians, but the Gorfians have laser beam ships that shoot down at you.  Stage 3 was a faithful recreation of “Galaxians”, which is strangely missing on all classic home versions.  Stage 4, “Space Warp” is similar to Gyruss, but the Gorfian ships spiral out 1 at a time, each very quickly and only once.  Stage 5, “Flag Ship” was similar to the mothership in Phoenix and took you right to the heart of the Gorfian invasion fleet - destroy the mother ship and be promoted.  But, before you got to retire from the Interstellar Space Force, (as either a Space Cadet, Captain, Colonel, General, Warrior, Avenger and beyond.), you’d be sent off on another mission to save someone else’s planet from invasion - and fight the entire sequence over again.

Similar to Wizard of Wor you only get one shot.  But now you can fire again, where the previous shot is replaced by the new shot – fortunately, the home versions all got this correct.  Also like WOW, the arcade machine would taunt you with its synthesized speech using phrases such as: “Survival is impossible!”; “My Gorfian robots are unbeatable!”; “I devour coins.”; and “Some galactic defender you are… ha-ha-ha!”    Others aspects of the gameplay include:  start with 5 lives (save the 2 from Commodore, where you have 6); a bonus life after every Flag Ship mission; a demo mode that shows each mission; the Bouncing Gorf unloads the invaders in Astro Battles; the Space Warp mission ends after all (12?) invaders have attacked.  The CV and 2600 have several differences from the others that they share - so maybe they had the same programmer.  These differences are: bonus life only once on the CV, after the first flag ship, and at 10K for the 2600; no demo mode; no unloading of the invaders by the Bouncing Gorf; and only 5 hits were needed to end the Space Warp mission.  All versions but the 2600 have: 2 laser ships on the Laser Attack mission; command ships and bouncing Gorf; and shields.

For more information on Gorf see:

Arcade Game Designed in 1980 Bally Midway (Jamie Faye Fenton)

Classic Home releases (in ’82 and ’83):  Atari 2600 (CBS, Alex Leavens) & 5200 (CBS), Commodore 64 (CBM, Eric Cotton and MJB ?) & Vic 20 (CBM, Eric Cotton & Andy Finkel) and Atari 8-bit (Roklan), Colecovision (CBS).

Sequels:  Ms. Gorf (’82), and Gorfian Pinball, both by Fenton

Categories:  Gameplay, Addictiveness, Graphics, Sound & Controls

Many of the Faces of Gorf and also the arcade game.

 Have Nots: Vic 20 (32)
Typical of the Vic, this version does a decent job in all categories but Graphics. The Graphics are weak (4), due to the inability to make smaller sprites with sufficient detail.  Unfortunately, the explosion of the flag ship is also poor.    The score and number of lives are the only (text) information shown during play.  All the enemy ships are present, but then everything is just too big and choppy making for little room to maneuver.  This really hurts both the gameplay and the addictiveness.  The Gameplay is cool (7), with nearly all the elements there.  Between levels, a brief delay allows you to see your current mission number, rank and mission title.

 The Controls are perfect (10), but then the smaller relative playfield (oversized ships) makes your skill in controlling your actions a lot harder to acquire.  The Sound is fine (6), and although all effects appear to be present - from time to time, too much is going on and an explosion or other sound can get clipped or omitted.  There is no inspiring music, and the effects do not sound as good as on the other versions.  The Addictiveness is fair (5), losing out due to no pause button, and the awful graphics - which BTW cause sprite detection/collision problems.  Warning:  If you move into the exploding debris you WILL die.

Have Nots: Atari 2600 (35)
The manual says that there are only 9 sets of missions.  I’m not sure if the game ends, or the difficulty stops increasing at that point, but this is still a very nice game on the 2600.  CBS offered a medal by mail if you scored high enough, and sent in a photo as proof.  The Gameplay is decent (6), but lacking, and/or somewhat unique – due to 2600 limitations.  In addition to the shortfalls listed at the top of the article, the programmers could not easily display so many ships - so there are fewer of the Astro Battles invaders.  For some reason they did not allow you to move up or down anytime, and in some cases not far enough left and right. There’s only one laser ship – but they partially made up for this by bringing it back in 4 seconds later, if the other ships were not destroyed.  The flag ship missiles came straight down (and not randomly) and there is not much of any explosions.  There are no added options or difficulties or level selections.  The sound is pretty good (7), including all the bells and whistles needed, but nothing special, and no music.  The Graphics are good enough (6) and do not detract from the game.  The limitations are: missing or no detail for ships, scenery, explosions, space warp tunnel, and never any display of level, rank or name of the mission.  You’re just provided the score and number of lives.  The Controls are perfect (10), so you can’t complain there.  The Addictiveness is good (6), but could easily be improved mostly with a pause and more ships to fight off and in general more randomness.  Only 1 player.

Have Nots: Atari 5200 (37)
OK, now I know what I missed last month from Wizard of Wor.  Both of these Atari 8-bit games were made by Roklan and then distributed by CBS on the 5200.  This transfer may have caused the lack of programming to make the 5200 sticks (analog) useable in a game that needs digital control only.  This problem did not occur for Wizard of Wor.  I generously scored the Controls as (7) very good. Hopefully you will agree that with prolonged play you can overcome some of the problems – such as when you move left, you go all the way left, and when you go right, you go all the way right - in the blink of any eye.  Some games are just not meant to be analog – and it makes Gorf unrealistic to boot.  Thus drops the Addictiveness score to very good (7), on this otherwise excellent version.  A pause is included, but does not really help when your game is significantly shortened due to the problems of control.  The rest of the 5200 review matches the 8-bit review.

Gorf and Wizard of Wor both had overlays, but they are not needed.

 Silver Medal: Colecovision (40) & Commodore 64 (40)
I kept tweaking the medal winners since there was almost a 3-way tie for the Gold.  The CV has the best overall game but drops down (maybe not far enough) due to 3 shortcomings (below) that probably could have been fixed.  The C64 and Atari 8-bit also have the same apparent (*) shortfall, in that multi-deaths can occur on the Laser Attack and Space Warp missions.  The play does not reset, but unfairly keeps playing and your next ship can arrive right on top of the enemy – spelling instant death.  Maybe that’s the way it should be (*).

Colecovision:  Let’s add a wee bit of music and extra sound effects and then between levels tell us that we were promoted?  It’s not quite the interlude between levels on C64 Space Taxi, but the CV provides a nice break in the action.   The Sound is crisp (8), with nothing missing, and the music makes it the best.  The Gameplay is very nice (8), and includes nearly all the desirable options.  But there is a change from the arcade game, most noticeably is that the Flagship fireballs can be shot for points, thus allowing one to play forever.  [Well almost - see the bug reported in Addictiveness.]  The addition of 4 skill levels does not add much value since level one is already very hard indeed.  Another difference showing up in Gameplay/story is that there is a space “tunnel” for the Space Warp mission.  The arcade story tells of a space “web” coming out from the flag ship.  So then the arcade mission should be called a space “web”, not space warp.  A space warp, as done correctly by the CV, would be like a space tunnel or wormhole where the ships come from afar, from all parts of the galaxy.  The CV ships are not sitting there in a circle, but rather they DO “appear” from out of nowhere.  In two-player mode, play alternates only after a player has completed a mission.  This also is true of the Atari versions.  The Graphics are enjoyable (8), and include all the ships from the arcade, and is the only version to have background stars.  The only true graphical drawbacks are the Flag Ship explosion is terrible, and the ships are not as sharp as the C64.  But the  extras make up for these minor drawbacks.

The Controls are perfect (10), well, only if you use both an Atari and CV controller.  Coleco knew that you could still earn a perfect score in my column :-) if you programmed the game to allow use of the CV controller in port 2 to set up and start the game, and then use the Atari controller in port 1 to play.  No reason to penalize CV when this workaround does the job.  The Addictiveness is good enough to keep you playing (6), but suffers from at least 3 significant shortfalls.  First, there is no pause, which could have been added.  Then the Sprite overlaps aren’t consistent.  Sometimes they are clearly overlapping but not considered to be.  Other times they are not overlapping and considered to be and you die.  This is really FRUSTRATING.  Finally, a bug, or feature of the code – possibly caused by the Flag ship infinite point scoring SNAFU - causes the game to lock up after 20+ minutes of play.  I tried playing on 2 different systems and also on 2 different carts and it always locks up -  thus ending your game.  I have not found any other reference to this bug for anyone else but me, so I have not reduced the score here.  CV Gorf has an overlay, but it is also pretty useless.

Commodore 64:  The C64 is inferior to the other winners in its Gameplay, scoring a (7) very good.  All the game elements are in place, but there are zero options – ie 1 player only and no start level or difficulty.  The Addictiveness is enjoyable (8) - the game is not so hard so fast as the CV and does include a very easy to use pause button. The C64 displays the rank, mission name and number at all times.  But then this efficiency prevents the need for a short break between missions that the others enjoy – so it’s quickly off from one level to the next – and no penalty here because you can always pause.  When you’re done, you get to see the high score Hall of Fame and temporarily put in your initials.  The Controls are perfect (10), and the Graphics are crisp (8), but a bit plain.  There’s no mess or confusion (all the ships are crystal clear), and nothing is missing.  The Sound is very good (7) and has all the effects in place, but there’s no music.  Too bad we all cannot enjoy the speech - what’s that!?!  Yes, just as in the previous month’s review, the Commodore version is reported to have speech added.  I found this mentioned in 3 different sites, so it is probably correct.  I suggest that all you emulation fans go out there and see if you can find the emulation for the Magic Voice and see if you can combine and run both at the same time.  Then report back to me if you have success.   If the speech were included without use of the Magic Voice then the C64 would have jumped up to win the Gold.  This version is common on cart, and also available on disk. 

Gold Medal:  Atari 8 bit (41)
With only one shortfall, this version somewhat backs into the Gold.  The Controls are perfect (10).  The Sound is pleasant (7), but could be better with some music, and a little better sound effects. The Graphics are sharp (8) and have nice detail, nice explosions, and no clutter.  The Gameplay is fantastic (8), including a selection of any of the 6+ starting ranks, 2 player mode, and like the C64, a high score hall of fame.  This version and the 5200 have a unique firing capability on the Astro Battles mission.  I did not penalize it - as one can get used to it easily.  That is . . . a press and quick release of the fire button causes a short burst into the shields.  You need to press and “hold” the fire button for your shot to penetrate the shields and attack the invaders.  The addictiveness is enjoyable (8), with a pause and the only shortfall being the previously mentioned multi-deaths.  This version is uncommon on cart, and also available on disk. 

OK, why wasn’t there a TI-99 version?  No doubt it would have all 5 levels and probably speech as well.

Where’s Jim Krych?  Oh that’s right he did mention Wizard of Wor and Gorf last month – touché.

Now if he can quickly find out about the TI Activision games – since I am doing Beamrider next month.

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