The Many Faces of . . . Gyruss

By Alan Hewston

Gyruss is one of the most well-remembered fusion of music and video games of all time. The fantastic musical score that plays throughout - “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach, engulfs you like an ocean wave and doesn’t let you down off the surf board while it is rolling in. It’s quite a rush, and can put you deep into the gaming “zone”. Why didn’t all games have cool music like this? Soon after, most arcade hits did.

Gyruss is mostly a hybrid of Tempest and Galaga. Like Galaga, formations of ships enter each stage in attack waves, swoop about and fire at you and the settle back down into a central formation. You circle about their formation and always point and fire inwards while they rest in a space well (Tempest). Actually it is more like you and the enemy ships are moving through a circular space corridor, or worm-hole. After the fourth attack wave arrives, a set of three satellites appears outside the formation. When the middle satellite is eliminated, you are given dual shot (firing) capability. Having this dual shot capability is a must, especially to survive the later stages, and to score the maximum bonus points in the chance stages. Until all ships are destroyed, a few ships at a time break away and dive towards you, attack, and then settle back into formation. Other perils include large meteors that come hurtling outward at you, and a pair of ships that work together with a deadly force field between them. The meteors cannot be destroyed, but taking out either of the force field ships knocks out the force field as well.

When all threats are vanquished, you complete the stage and are now one warp closer to your destination, Earth. You begin the game 2 warps from Neptune and then 3 more warps to reach each planet inward in the solar system. After reaching Earth (quite a challenge at the arcade), you’d start the entire sequence all over again, beginning at 2 warps from Neptune.

One of the unique aspects of the game was the controller choice. Instead of using the same rotary paddle from Tempest, an 8 directional joystick was used to move around the circumference. Awkward at first, it becomes second nature to push the stick around the circle in the direction you want to go.

You receive a slight break in the action upon reaching each planet, and its chance stage. Shoot all 40 (4 sets of 10 formations of ) ships to earn the maximum bonus 10K. Otherwise 2000 points per ship. Your ship cannot be destroyed in the chance stages, only score points. Destroying an entire formation before it completes a maneuver (warp stage), or leaves the screen (chance stage) and you earn even more bonus points. The warps from Mars to Earth are extremely difficult due to the fierceness of their attacks and maneuvers. You earn a bonus ship at 60,000 and every 100,000 points thereafter.

Arcade Game Designed in 1983 by: Centuri for Konami, by Yoshiko Okamoto.

Classic Platforms all done by Parker Brothers: Atari 2600, 8 bit, Atari 5200, Colecovision, and Commodore 64 (Joe Hellensen 1985).

Categories: Gameplay, Addictiveness, Graphics, Sound & Controls

All 5 classic carts, and a partial C64 screen shot - (sorry about the poor quality).

Have Nots: Atari 2600 (24)
It almost appears that the 2600 team tackled their biggest programming challenges first and then stopped working on the project. Those challenges being the magnificent musical score and creating an always outward moving star-field effect. IMHO, they did a great job on both of these features - but was it worth letting most of the essential elements suffer? The Sound is downright pathetic (3). The musical score is quite impressive (for a 2600 game) but there are no other audio sounds at all - Nil! Nothing! The Graphics are marginal at best (4) being mixed bag with the dazzling moving star-field but little else. A significant portion of the game is missing, and I'm penalizing it here in Graphics. The buildup and formation of the enemy fleet is non-existent. It’s not that they are invisible, they are NOT in the program. This certainly adds to the duration of any game played, because if you don't get them before they move into formation, you have to wait for them to slowly emerge from the nothingness later. No chance to blow them away while they're sitting ducks. Despite the poor graphic quality, and limited number of ships (objects) that can be displayed, there is little confusion as to what is important on the screen. Your weapons fire is small and white, the enemy's is small and yellow. And then everything else should be avoided or destroyed. So I guess it works for me.

The Controls are nice (8), but seem sluggish. Maybe it's just the slower speed that you are allowed to circle about in the 2600 version. The Gameplay is fair (5). Not counting the lack of both sound effects and the formation of ships, additional elements missing are: the force field ships, a pause, any text indications of bonus points, and the ever popular last second Meteor - which rushes at you just when you thought the stage was cleared. Fortunately the 2600 does offer 4 levels of skill difficulty and a choice of either 3 or 5 lives to begin with.

Have Nots: Atari 5200 (36)
Two words - "Analog Sucks". That pretty much wraps it up here. Seriously, the Controls score is almost passable (5), but that is because I split the average between a zero (what it is nearly worth) and perfection, assuming that the expensive/elusive Masterplay Interface will make all things bright and cheery. I struggle or don't succeed at all in moving from the northern to southern hemisphere and vice versa. They're coming right at you and . . . nope your controller won't let you move - ugh! It is also difficult to move to an exact spot, or once there, twitching about like a spastic Atari paddle controller that needs a good cleaning. All too often the sticks may take over and move you to one of the 4 primary directions, at Midnight, 3, 6 or 9 O'clock. The Addictiveness is good (6), but it gets penalized for the sluggish/lack of Controls as well. Playing long enough one may learn to operate in a limited area of the screen and survive long enough to reach several planets but . . . All right, let's skip to the all “digital” Atari 8 bit version below.

Bronze Medal: Atari 8 bit (41)
Making a strong run for the Silver, the Atari 8 bit version is a fine game indeed. The Controls are perfect (10). The Gameplay is superb (9) and includes a pause and all other game elements except for

difficulty levels. The Sound is crisp (8), with a wonderful musical score, but some of the effects seem cheap and unpolished. Unfortunately, the Graphics are only decent (6), offering little to no sharpness to any of the objects. But the Atari 8 bit (& 5200) has no problem with animating all the objects smoothly in this motion-filled game. The Addictiveness is quite enjoyable (8) and you'll be motivated to keep trying until you make it to Earth. The game is available on cart, disk and emulation, and better to play this one over the 5200. The Graphics, Sound and Gameplay notes and scores apply to the Atari 5200 as well.

Silver Medal: Colecovision (43 or 42)
Reading the CV manual at the last minute delayed this article, almost missing my deadline. You see the manual says that there is the usual CV on-screen menu with 4 starting levels, each for 1/2 players. But then something I've never heard of before, if it is even possible, it mentions a pause feature using the right fire button. I tried 2 different systems with my only cart and got the same result. No menu, no options, no pause - just 1 or 2 players. Likewise, I had Ron Corcoran, the Twin Galaxies Atari referee try his cart and 2 emulator ROMS and he confirmed my results. OK, so I’ll write this as if the manual is correct, but subtract 1 point if not.

The CV port may have the best, superb (9 or 8) Gameplay, including a pause, difficulty options, and all other elements. There may be a glitch in the 2 player game, or my cart. I lost a ship on the first wave of a stage, only to find that when that player resumed play there were no more waves. The formation, although not complete, was done forming and what ships were there came out for attack, not allowing a chance for the satellites, or the dual shot capability. The Controls are outstanding (9), but only when I put aside the CV controllers and play it with an Atari stick. Hmmn, but then can one pause, other than using a Y-cable, or playing the 2 player version?

The Graphics are crisp (8), and smooth, but not quite as appealing as the C64. The Sound is outstanding (9) and rivals that of the C64. The Addictiveness is very nice (8), hampered only by the fact that the game is much harder to play than the other versions. For example, in later stages, the enemy can rotate around the screen faster than you. If they catch you, and they will, and you do not have dual shot capability, and are not firing just as they are overlapping you, you become space debris. All 6+ lives can go really quickly on any one of the Mars to Earth stages. Can you say Sextuple-Death (as in double-death times three)? I've been frustrated this way about 5 times now, but its still a fantastic version none-the-less.

Gold Medal: Commodore 64 (47)
What a score! The best ever. The Controls are perfect (10). The Sound is magnificent (10), quite possibly the most well deserved "10" I'll ever hand out. Not only is the musical score incredible, but all the sound effects are excellent and not lacking or skipped over in any way. The uplifting music fills every phase of the game, from the start-up warp, to the waves of attackers rushing in, to making it to each planet, and then adding up your bonus points. The Graphics are terrific (9), the best of the home versions. Everything is crisp and clear. The Gameplay is superb (9), and would be complete if there were starting difficulty options. The Addictiveness is great (9), but there are probably a handful of classic arcade games out there that you’d rather be trapped alone on a desert island with - but not too many. Finally, this version is not so difficult to play as to keep you from reaching the Earth. The game is available on cart, disk and emulation and is well worth acquiring.

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OK, why didn’t Parker Brothers make a TI version of this game? Given the same quality programming PB included in their other arcade hits, I'm sure that the TI port would have beaten the CV and maybe pushed the C64.

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