Review: Insterstellar Flames for the Sharp Zaurus Linux PDA

by Reads (3,393)

  Interstellar Flames from Eon Games and Xen Games for the Sharp Zaurus SL-5×00 linux PDAs reviewed by Ian

The Zaurus games landscape is pretty barren compared to either the PocketPC’s or Palm’s. All the sweeter, then, that a hit like Interstellar Flames should be available for the linux platform. I know that netaxim has already written a review of this title for the PocketPC, so be sure to check that out too. As far as I can tell from that review, the only functional difference is that the Zaurus version has configurable controls and the PocketPC version does not.

Installation

Installing Interstellar Flames for the Zaurus requires three packages; one adds an Eon Games config tool to your Settings Tab, the second is the SDL library and the last is the game itself. The total memory footprint on my SL-5600 was 2236K.

Technical Merit

Technically, this is a very impressive game. It cleanly renders a 3D enviromnent with space ships, explosions (albeit sprite-based) and a star field, planets, etc., in the background. The refresh rate is high and after an initial few stutters in the intro movie, the game play is very smooth. Thanks to a gamma (brightness) option in the config tool, the graphics are well defined and have good contrast. In-game options are shown on the left below, with the multi-panel “EON Config” options on the right. It should change every 4 secs to show you the different panels.

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Eon Config settings In-game Settings

Options cover most of the bases. I didn’t notice any performance difference between having the sound on or off, or by activating particle effects. I left them both on for the duration. As I said above, I think the ability to change the controls is a bonus for Zaurus users and is missing from the PocketPC version.

Although the game saves your position if you exit while still alive (a nice feature), it doesn’t let you save your overall progress. I would have really liked a feature to save your game if you get to level 4 (or whatever) so you can pick it up again with all your cool upgrades.

Artistic Impression

The story is simple enough; numerous large Battleships are approaching your home planet and must be destroyed. Your job is not to actually destroy them, but to fly a small, one-man fighter through the defenses, evading their turbo lasers, to destroy their shield generators. Then Admiral Ackbar can say “The shield is down! Commence attack on the Battleships’ main reactor!”, or words to that effect.

So, after navigating an asteroid field, you dodge incoming fire, destroy as many surface turrets as possible, shoot enemy ships (which yield occasional power-ups), and then smack the generators, which look like blue domes.

I liked the music and sound effects a lot. They’re a bit 1980’s but that’s no coincidence. This game, and the best games on other PDAs, are about the level of arcade games in the late 1980’s. I connected the Zaurus headphone socket to my PC gaming sound system (an Altec Lansing 5.1 surround system) and the sound was pretty good. A lot better than I get from my Game Boy.

Gameplay

I must admit that I expected to love the gameplay, but I didn’t like it at all initially. Two things bugged me. First, when you are getting a bead on a baddie or surface target (a large part of the game), your ship obscures the target, almost by definition. You have to fly toward a target to hit it with the forward-firing weapons, so you can’t see incoming fire. In the left hand screenshot below, I am evading a turbo laser. The pink diagonal line is not actually incoming fire but is the upgraded weapon I was carrying at that moment, which shoots rotating pink things.

The score (4090 in the first screenshot) is shown in the top left; below that is the number of spare ships (01), and in the top right is the shield status. This is all very nicely done. Bars halfway down the screen on the left and right show you your weapons and upgrade status.

 
Neowwwww! My tummy hurts!

Panic Button

On the right above is a shot showing the effect of what I call the Panic Button. By default it is the central button in your Zaurus cursor pad and has the effect of putting your ship through a 180 degree turn, using a pretty cool effect which looks a bit like a stall turn in a conventional aircraft.

The ship’s flight is essentially constrained to the “sky” above the battleship you are attacking – there’s no flying off into space for a breather – and you can’t turn far enough left or right to reverse direction. Hence the need for the Turn Button. I call it the Panic Button though, because it has the effect of making all enemy ships and projectiles disappear. This is my second gripe. If a ship flies past you and, say scratches your new paint job, it’s only fair that you should be able to turn around and kick some ass. When you do though, the ship is gone. Only ground targets survive a 180 degree turn. This is a blessing and a curse – if the action gets too hot you can just reverse direction and buy some clear skies – but it is also confusing.

When you die but have another life, you keep your upgrades. This is great. Dying in some other games resets your arsenal and leaves you stuck on a high level with nothing but a pea-shooter and harsh language. Not so here – if you had the three-way nuke-o-matic when you died, you get it back when you start the next life. It almost makes up for the lack of a proper save game feature.

Particularly Good Effects

Groan… Sorry… Anyway here are a few more Zaurus screen shots showing those cool particle effects. The game ran very smoothly on my system, except when I had my screen shot snapper running in the background. I can’t remember exactly what was going on in these scenes, but it was pretty exciting.

 
I’m gonna cut across the axis… …try to draw their fire! Uh-oh!

Now a few closing shots; on the left below, my ship in flames (well, smoking – you can see the shield is down to zero) and my best so far on the high score table. Notice the background of the left image; it’s just one example of the beautiful polish on this game.

Luke! Pull up! Hey, stop laughing

Conclusion

Although I started out annoyed by a couple of things, I’ve ended up loving this game after only a few hours play. At only $7, it’s a steal and should be on the Games Tab of every sharp-shootin’ Zaurus owner. Or should that be shootin’ Sharp Zaurus owner? Anyway, buy it, and play it until your thumbs bleed.

Cons:

  • Enemy ships vanish when you reverse direction.
  • Your ship obscures the target view.
  • No real “save game” feature.
Pros:
  • Visually outstanding.
  • Cool music and sound effects.
  • Configurable controls.
  • Saves position if you exit while alive.
  • Gamma slider helps with the dim Zaurus screen.

Review system: Retail Zaurus SL-5600, Interstellar Flames 1.0, eon-libsdl 1.0, eon-config 1.2.

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