• Graphics
  • Sound
  • Playability
  • Lastability
FormatAtari 8-bit
DeveloperKarolj Nadj
ReviewJason and Andy

Main review

Out in the less charted backwaters of the galactic rim, somewhere along the frontier between human and Zzyaxian space lies OP/37, a small outpost that is positioned in such a quiet area that the operators have nicknamed it the base at the edge of time. But now that entire sector has suddenly become very strategic in the war between humanity and the combined might of the Zzyaxians and Iratans, so OP/37, “manned” (for want of a more accurate word) by three genetically enhanced llamas, is now in the front line. But even though all that prevents the outpost from being overrun by cybernetic spiders and the mechanical weevils they mutate into are those three ungulates, they haven’t exactly been left defenceless…

The player controls a llama which is positioned at the bottom of the screen and spiders descend into the play area from on high using threads, breaking them and dropping to the ground before mutating and mounting a crawling attack. The llama’s primary weapon is it’s own spittle (presumably the augmentation of the beast applies to bodily fluids as well) which is fired up at a 45 degree angle from horizontal in the direction the beast is facing, before ricocheting off one side of the play area, the otherwise useless planar shield high above the llama’s head and then the other side of the play area before slamming into the ground and stopping. Since that shield can also be positioned vertically with the joystick, the player can use it and the llama’s horizontal position to change how the spit moves around the screen and in turn aim at attackers or their threads pretty much anywhere.


And that’s it really. The spiders creep insidiously into the play area, the player has to bounce sputum off the walls in order to give them a good kicking and, apart from the attacks becoming more vigorous over time, there aren’t any further elements to bring into play. It’s very simple indeed but at the same time Metagalactic Llamas Battle at the Edge of Time is hardcore early 1980s blasting at its most involved and very difficult to master. Once a player has got used to the controls operating two different on-screen objects and how the two working in tandem allow a large area of coverage, they’ll be able to defend themselves reasonably well… but a seasoned player will know not only how to blast the invading hordes but when to do it for the best score.

Fans of the original unexpanded VIC 20 game will probably know just how enjoyable the original Metagalactic Llamas is, certainly it’s one of Jeff Minter’s finest creations for that machine and hails from a point in computer gaming history where experimentation with control systems and game mechanics were the norm. This port brings that excellent game to a whole new audience without feeling the need for “enhancements” – whilst some pre-game presentation has been included in the form of an intro that has a good piece of music and a very well-handled picture that was converted from a PC remake of the game and touched up, the game itself retains the reasonable if simple looks and a good approximation of the sound effects (although they aren’t quite as “meaty”) of the original. But of course the important part, how the thing feels during play, is absolutely spot on and that alone makes it well worth downloading and putting some time into. Or more likely, a lot of time.

Second opinion

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!