Saturn, Arcade

Saturn is an early arcade game created by Ashby Computers and Graphics (A.C.G.) for Jaleco. A.C.G. – if you didn’t know – was the trading name of the developers of the famous Ultimate Play the Game series of video games.

The game itself doesn’t credit A.C.G. for its creation although it does bear some of the hallmarks of an A.C.G. game, with simple, well-drawn graphics and catchy tunes.

Considering that Saturn was released in 1983 it’s quite a varied shooter. The first stage has dive-bombing alien craft swooping down on you; bonus ships trundling along the top; asteroids dropping down and splitting when shot, and explosive mines that split into diagonally-moving shrapnel when hit. The second stage is a flight through an asteroid field. The third stage changes to an eight-way shooter in the style of something like Sinistar or Time Pilot, but without the scrolling play area. Subsequent stages seem to be variations of the first three.

During the vertical shooting sections the player ship uses two different fire buttons, one for the top (fast-moving) single laser and a second for the dual (slow-moving) wing blaster. You can move the ship up the screen too. During the eight-way shooter sections the ship just uses one fire button. I’m not entirely sure why the ship was given two fire buttons as it doesn’t really have much of an effect on gameplay. Same with moving the ship up the screen – it’s a moot feature in reality because it’s not a very useful ability. The higher you move up the screen the more chance you have of getting killed, and it doesn’t seem to have any real positive effect on the gameplay. Most players will stay as low as possible to increase their chance of survival.

The eight-way shooter sections have a wrap-around screen and they seem to end when a certain number of enemies have been destroyed. Otherwise they seem pretty aimless in terms of objective. Surviving through them, and not colliding with an enemy ship, is more down to luck than judgement. Flying around in circles, trying not to crash, while occasionally picking off an enemy ship is not very interesting, to be honest.

Saturn feels like an amalgamation of all the successful shoot ’em ups that came before it (Space Invaders, Galaxian, Phoenix, Moon Cresta, Galaga, Time Pilot) and also some of its contemporaries (Gyruss and Sinistar, both of which also came out in 1983). That said: the sum of its parts don’t really equal a great deal, to be honest. While Saturn sounds interesting on paper it isn’t much fun in practise. Mostly because luck, rather than judgement, seems to be the overriding factor in progressing. It’s nothing special graphics-wise either. The planet in the middle of the playfield is distracting and doesn’t really add much to the game.

Saturn is an interesting curiosity in terms of A.C.G./Ultimate Play the Game history, but it’s not a classic video game by any means. It’s just an okay one.

More: Jaleco on Wikipedia
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