C64 Retro-Gaming: Armalyte

Game: Armalyte: Competition Edition
Made by: Thalamus Ltd
Genre: Left-to-right scrolling shooter
Did I have this? Yes

What Is It?
Armalyte is a scrolling spaceship shooter where your craft is always accompanied by a weapons pod, flying through an obstacle course filled with explodable enemies either fixed or moving towards you in formation. You're inexorably flying towards the level's big boss (a huge spaceship or piece of machinery that requires more hits to destroy). There are 8 levels in all.

As the screen scrolls by, you can move to anywhere in the frame, shooting everything in sight. The carnage you can cause depends on how well you can swing your weapons pod, which is anchored to your ship by some kind of invisible gravity tether. In 1-Player mode, it is indestructible and can act as a shield or battering ram on any side of you, and shoots when you do. In 2-Player mode, the pod is controlled by the second player and so isn't invulnerable. There's a variety of enemies with different flying (or walking) patterns. Some can shoot, some are fixed to the "pipe" you're fying through, some control electronic barriers, and so on. There are also power-ups you can pick up, and by shooting them before hand, they transform into different power-ups (do you want to shoot more powerful weapons, or in additional directions, and so on?), and by pressing the button for longer then releasing, you can expend one of your batteries and fire more devastating beams (three types, but on C64 Mini, cycling between them isn't as obvious as back when I had a keyboard). What makes Armalyte a superlative arcade game for the C64 is that it's very fluid. When you lose one of your three lives, you don't reset and you don't lose your accumulated power-ups. The game just continues, you respawn immediately and blink with invulnerability for a few seconds while you get your ship out of the way of deadly obstacles. Only when you change levels do your power-ups disappear and you have to start building power again.

What makes things harder than they need to be is the sheer amount of activity on screen. In many ways, this is a feature, not a bug, but between you and the pod, there's a lot to keep track of, and you can easily start thinking you're the pod, and let your ship get hit. Similarly, sometimes an obstacle isn't actually solid but meant to be background texture. If you don't know, and you usually don't, you confine your flight to dangerous nooks and crannies where you could hit the top or bottom of the pipe unnecessarily. While I appreciate how fast the game is, it can get fatally confusing.
Graphics and Sounds
Armalyte is fast and furious, definitely exciting, and though it has more on-screen movement than most C64 games, there's never any lag or glitching. Everything has a kind of metallic sheen that gives the environments and objects a certain depth and third dimension, and the controls are sensitive enough to give you lots of maneuverability within those environments. And there's lots of variety in terms of enemies, not just the looks, but the way they move/behave as well, with bigger and weirder enemies beyond the first level, like smooth-flying snakes and things that might as well be the spawn of Cthulhu.

As far as sound, it's all quite functional and about what you'd imagine. Some decry the lack of music in the game itself, and it's true that it might make things even more lively. I don't particularly miss it.
The World
The box art shows a ship and its buddy flying through pipes and firing at stuff. It's pretty cool, but what's it all about? The back of the box tells us we enter the forbidden zones beyond the nightmare of Delta (the name of this game's previous incarnation) with Armalyte, the name of the ship combo. We are lost in eight sections of a deadly galaxy (uhm, okay?) and fight to survive. That plot is very slim. Even if that's all you need, the weird enemies still make me wonder just what kind of world this really is. I guess one where everything wants to kill you and you don't have time to ask questions.

Bottom Line
Armalyte is a fast arcade shooter that pushes the capabilities of the C64 to a surprising point. It's smooth, it looks good, and has a high degree of difficulty that's balanced with perks so it doesn't become too frustrating. But it IS difficult, and the button mashing can give you early-onset arthritis. I need to train my hand-eye coordination to what it was back in my teenage years.



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