• Graphics
  • Sound
  • Playability
  • Lastability
FormatAmstrad CPC
DeveloperPaul Kooistra
ReviewJason and Shaun C.

Main review

Aliens have invaded the inner worlds and caught the security forces unprepared; during the first attack the invaders struck a crippling blow, leaving no ship capable of standing in their way in any state to fly. Only one pilot and one ship out on a previously boring routine patrol near the edge of the galaxy remains, and now it’s time for payback. Well okay, so that probably isn’t the actual storyline but this is a horizontal scrolling shoot ’em up so if we’re honest it’s not all that important! What is far more important is that this particular kind of action game is something the CPC has been rather short of over the years; there are a few good examples such as Fres Attack, but more often than not they suffer from slow refresh rates that in turn result in inherently unwieldy control systems. Star Sabre has none of these problems and the landscapes hammer past at a respectable twenty five frames a second and the ship reacts well to the joystick whilst the aliens do their best to reshape it into interesting new shapes with their weapons.

Speaking of the aliens and ship, the graphics here are pretty well drawn overall and, barring a few “inspired” choices of colour here and there such as the rather lurid purple metalwork on the fourth level, are presentable. Backgrounds and sprites are colourful and detailed, both move smoothly and there’s certainly no lack of the latter either; the ship and a fair number of attackers get to tussle with each other whilst surrounded by industrial quantities of bullets and the occasional power-up icon. The levels have been laid out to make things interesting and, along with the spawning points for the nasties, means that the layouts need to be learnt in true horizontal blasting tradition and the weapons are powerful enough to get the job done.

Probably the weakest graphical element is the loading screen, which is a conversion of the cover artwork and is a little rough but doesn’t detract from the game itself. The rest of the presentation is more than reasonable, there are ready and game over screens and the titles page is sparse but offers joystick and keyboard control options along with two modes of play that are probably best summed up as easy and hard since one offers extra lives every 15,000 points and the other expects players to compete on the initial stock of three but is more generous with the scores. It’s interesting to note as well that the game defaults to the more difficult of these two modes.

The sound is, however, disappointing since things have been limited to a series of sound effects that are functional but primitive and, in order to make the game available for 64K CPC users, no space was available for a soundtrack of any kind. This is something of a shame really, a good soundtrack always enhances the action and even short but memorable tunes as used by the titles like R-Type or Gradius can really become part of the overall experience. It’s understandable that the sound had to make way in order to make the game possible, but is harder to ignore because what little is there, those few spot effects, are so simplistic.

But the sound issue aside, Star Sabre is a very worthwhile piece of software, it’s a well presented, playable scrolling shoot ’em up on a platform that has previously had a limited library of decent titles as well as an example of what we hope is to come for the machine technically; the decision to make it available to all CPC owners by keeping everything within 64K is a good one overall for those of us with smaller machines, but with only four levels which, despite being long and well populated, can be completed with relative ease even without extra lives awarded does limit the overall longevity just a bit.

Second opinion

Call me fussy, but the Amstrad is rarely my weapon of choice when it comes to scrolling shooters, as most of the ones I’ve tried on it tend to run at frame-rates too low for my liking. Not so with Star Sabre. Purring along at a respectable 25FPS, this is a shooter that lets me focus on the important business of battling aliens without whining about the frame-rate. And this is just as well, as the alien-battling business on offer here is rather well done.

The first stage eases you into the game with some fairly straightforward attack waves, but you’re still going to need precise shooting skills to take them down with your needle-like bullets (even after upgrading your weapons, the ‘spray and pray’ approach is rarely the best tactic.) Each stage sees more enemies come to join their mates from earlier stages, meaning that you soon find yourself going toe to toe with a decent variety of foes, but the real draw is the thought Paul has put into the placement of the attack waves and the overall level design, which do a good job of encouraging the player to roam about much of the screen, rather than simply loitering over on the left, smoking a ciggie and picking off enemies as they appear. Add to that the well-tuned and forgiving collision detection, along with the way you’re often lured into vulnerable positions, and what you have is a solid shooter that offers plenty of satisfying brush-with-death moments. And of course it doesn’t hurt that the graphics are easy on the eye, making good use of the Amstrad’s colourful palette.

Any negatives? Well, although it didn’t bother me much, there’s no music whatsoever, and the sound effects are fairly basic, though they do provide all the necessary cues. Also, because the speed of the scrolling equals that of your ship, trying to backtrack out of danger can be awkward. And then there’s the length of the game — only four stages — however the difficulty level does ramp up nicely, so it will keep most players busy for a while. To add a little variety, Paul has included two modes, giving the choice between earning an extra life every 15,000 points, or no extra lives but double points for every kill. It’s a nice touch, but a proper high-score table certainly wouldn’t have gone astray (instead the title screen displays last score and best score), and some score-related bonuses such as extra points for dispatching a complete wave of enemies could have given players a little more incentive to better their performance after beating the game.

So… short but challenging, Star Sabre is a game that should have shooter fans donning their best pair of space goggles and limbering up their trigger fingers for a quick blast. I only hope that long-time CPC users who aren’t big fans of the genre take the time to appreciate what a carefully designed little gem Paul has brought to their beloved black box.