OYSTRON screen
  • Graphics
  • Sound
  • Playability
  • Lastability
FormatAtari 2600
DeveloperPiero Cavina
ReviewAndy and Paul

Main review

“In the Irata solar system lies the planet Stella. It is surrounded by an energy belt. In this belt there live space oysters. They make good food, so there are other outer space creatures living among them that eat the oysters”…

…so starts the documentation for this game by Piero Cavina. Apparently, Oystron was started as an exercise in Atari 2600 programming after investigating how to reuse a sprite to put more objects on the screen. “I don’t care,” you may shout, “tell me about the game!” Very well then…

Starting on the left hand side of the play area (you can move around the whole area) you manoeuvre your ship to a position where you can destroy the enemy, who approaches from the right. Shooting the Space Oysters with your missiles reveals a pearl. This should be collected and dropped in the Pearl Zone, defined by a line of white dots. Placing eight pearls in a row rewards you with a bomb for your ship. Failure to collect, results in some stray pearls morphing into more enemies. Some enemies who are not destroyed and who reach the left hand side of the play area seize your collected pearls – the pearls can be retrieved by shooting the enemy again.

Towards the end of the level, a signal is heard and the screen flashes: The Oystron (end of level “boss”) is approaching! You no longer have the ability to fire missiles; you must use the bombs that you have collected to destroy him or you can avoid him and do nothing, waiting until he mutates into a standard Space Oyster but losing many bonus points in the process. At this stage you are transported to the Warp Phase where you must destroy enemies and Space Oysters at high speed in an attempt to boost your score. A new level then begins.

The title screen is an uncomplicated affair, just like the original arcade machines, with an endlessly running attract mode. Although blocky, the graphics in Oystron are very colourful and well defined and these solid visuals are backed by some satisfying and appropriate sound effects. But this game isn’t about the title screen, graphics or sound; it’s about furious shooting action and strategy.

Starting on one of three level settings (beginner, intermediate or expert) the control of your main ship is excellent; it moves very smoothly, the feeling of inertia being faultless. Pressing the button rapidly fires your missiles, but holding down the button produces a steady stream of them, incredibly welcome in a battle game! Furthermore, the fire button both drops pearls when in the Pearl Zone (your ship indicates when it is ready to do this by flashing) and drops bombs when the Oystron is approaching. Overall, good use has been made of the simple controller.

The enemies are intelligent and the many variations display different character and tactics that you must learn. For example, guard your pearls carefully. If you allow them to be stolen an enemy appears that cannot be destroyed, only driven from the play area with your missiles. Especially annoying when the action becomes intense!

For the first few plays you will become frustrated, even with four lives at the start. Trust me, persevere because you will be rewarded by an immensely playable and addictive game. Blasting everything is important (and fun), but soon it becomes apparent that formulating strategies to destroy individual enemies, collect pearls or even stay alive, is the order of the day. This gives Oystron immense depth and lastability.

Much like early arcade games, limited hardware and memory can be compensated for by intricacies in gameplay. It is obvious that the programmer has spent a great deal of time and effort in perfecting the game mechanics and playability and squashing it all into a measly four kilobytes. With aspects of both Space Invaders and Defender, as well as some new concepts of its own, Oystron is an initially hard but engrossing game. If you want a quick blast then this is not for you; if you want thoughtful blasting action then Oystron comes recommended.

Second opinion

What a game – well that is what I first though when I started to play it, admittedly my thoughts changed slightly, but only for one reason. I went to the bottom of the screen and stayed there and it made the game a hell of a lot easier; I just shot, got the pearls and grabbed the bombs. Then I had to change my mind again, because I began to wonder why I wasn’t advancing to the next levels! The instructions had failed to tell me how I could tell I was going to advance levels, it was down to me noticing a white line increasing, and when it reached full, I went to what appeared to be the warp mode and the screen went bananas just like it said it would in the instructions.

Now I had one problem, the controls, they seemed to have some form of inertia to them which was ok left and right since there is more space, but up and down – wow that is too hard! I was getting killed left right and centre, well more the centre since, as I said, left and right were ok. I didn’t manage to get to main baddie part (Oystron phase) but maybe I would with a bit of practice. If I was to come across a game like this on demo (i.e. before I was going to buy it) that would actually put me off the purchase, I like to play a game on easy to get to grips with it and then use the normal setting to play (and hopefully complete) it before switching to hard mode for a bit of a challenge.

Overall though, the game was enjoyable taking into account the machine is was intended for; I did think the sound effects were very similar to a Commodore 16 game I used to own (I hunted it down for my C16 emulator and, sure enough, the sounds weren’t the same but hey it triggered me back to some more nostalgia – the game was Gwnn by Patrick Strassen, by the way). I do think with some more practise I could get it licked, but for now it would be back on my shelf…