I consider myself to have had quite a lucky childhood back in the 1980's. Not only did I own one of the best 8-bit computers, the Commodore 64, but I was lucky enough to have a circle of friends who also owned computers. We didn't all own the same computers however; there were Spectrums, BBCs, VIC 20s and CPCs, amongst others. When we invaded each others houses, this range of machines gave us a chance to sample the best games across different formats. From this experience, I learnt very early on that it doesn't matter how powerful or not individual machines are. It doesn't matter about graphics or sound, it's the gameplay and fun within that is important.
Wait a minute... that last statement perfectly describes this new Atari 8-bit release, the ludicrously named Metagalactic Llamas Battle at the Edge of Time. As a matter of fact, this is a direct port, by Karolj Nadj, of an old VIC 20 game by coding legend Jeff Minter. Sure, a simple intro with a "title" screen, a passable tune and some instructions have been added, but the actual game itself has survived the translation to a different format completely intact. And this is good.
I get ahead of myself - I must describe that intro screen more! It's not the best pixelling I've ever seen and could do with more realistic shading, but the look on the face of the llama is priceless! I can't help but chuckle every time I see it with a stare, aimed at the spider, that Rocky Balboa himself would be proud of! The in game graphics and sound in this ported version take no advantage of the more powerful Atari hardware on offer to update the look and feel (or from what I gather by reading the progress reports about the game on the Atari Age forum, there is a lot of Atari hardware bashing going on to achieve the original's look); thus, the character graphics of the VIC 20 original arrive on the Atari 8-bit in their trademarked blocky and, on occasion, psychedelic state, as do the beeps and blasts.
But this game is just so damn playable. It has a straightforward premise - move your llama left and right while shooting (at a forty five degree angle) at the descending spiders before they reach the ground and mutate and become more tricky to kill. The lower the spiders get before they're dispatched, the bigger score that is awarded. Contact with the mutants on the ground results in death; die a few times and it's game over. Complete a few levels and a greater number of spiders begin to drop from the top of the screen at a quicker pace. That's fundamentally it, so what you end up with is a simple game that is perfect for killing any spare time that you have - Metagalactic Llamas was obviously never intended to be a multifaceted extravaganza, but if you fancy a quick blast to try and achieve a new high score in an increasingly hectic, maddeningly addictive game, look no further. Supreme, straightforward fun!