Game Review: Starforce Nova (Commodore 16 and Plus/4, Mastertronic)

Starforce Nova, Commodore 16 and Plus/4, Mastertronic - 2C0194
  • 5.5/10
    Score - 5.5/10


Starforce Nova is an average shoot ‘em up which does have some smooth scrolling and nice graphics, but is let down by some of its gameplay elements.  The ability to get trapped in the background for instant death, or the insistence to shoot the end of level letters in the correct order and must do the level all over again does detract from what is in offer, and you will switch off instead of attempting to complete the six levels.

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Starforce Nova (or Star Force Nova as on the title screen) has a thinly veiled plot about being in the year 5112, and forced to evacuate Earth.  You are ace pilot Paul Squires, ready to protect from the perils of space in the unchartered wastes of the F Dimension.  Yes, really.  Paul Squires.  You could have thought of a better name for the blurb.  However, this does basically translate into a scrolling shoot ‘em up with multiple levels to get past, all in the vein of the classic Uridium, but with a few twists, which will be revealed here.

Taking It On

One of the programmers, Chris Harvey revealed some time ago that it was only down to the promise of them making a Commodore 64 version that Mastertronic took on the Commodore 16 and Plus/4 version, and this despite sales on that format still being relatively healthy at the time, and programmed the Commodore 64 version in quick time.  More on that when we get to review that version, but this does mean the Commodore 16 and Plus/4 version is the original one.  Ray Tredoux had previously programmed the conversions of Commando and Ghosts ‘n Goblins for that format, but this game seems to be a marked improvement on those two, at first glance.

Scrolling Smoothly

When the game loads, it goes straight into the gameplay, which may catch you unaware the first time you load.  In effect, each of the levels has a bas relief background like that in the classic Uridium, with reasonably good use of the colour palette to emphasise the background walls and objects, and the enemy ships too which are at least clear.  What is noticeable is the way that the enemy ships float over the surface and give the impression of hardware sprites on a machine that does not have any – and that deserves some merit.

Effectively you head along the ship, shooting waves of enemies and the question marks on the ship for bonuses. This can be extra firepower (indicated by an A in the status panel) or extra energy, which you will need as there is one energy bar and no lives, so run out of energy and it is game over.  The enemy bullets take a drop in your energy, as does running into them, and sometimes when attempting to get the bonuses you are slammed into a wall with no escape – and that is instant death and game over.  You need to carefully plan when to go for the bonuses and when to stay safe and avoid a potential death trap.

Spell The Month

At the end of each level, there is a bonus section. Here the question mark bonuses appear more often and with some careful shooting you can top up that all important energy.  Right at the end a series of letters will appear, and you need to shoot these, in the right order, to complete a password to exit the level.  Unfortunately, they come at you so quick that you will not be able to shoot them all in one go, which means going through that whole level again.  That can be frustrating to say the least, and after a short time you realise that the end of level passwords are all months of the year, the first level (level 00) being June.  Another annoyance here is that if you do shoot one wrong letter, the whole password resets, which is not really a positive.

Levelling Up

There are six levels in all (level 00 to level 05) which with its different colours and layouts, using the colour palette well, do at least have some variety.  There is also a real sense of achievement when you do shoot the correct password in order, and can progress onwards.  After level 05, it becomes level 06 but it is effectively looping back to level 00.  Six good sized levels in the memory allowed is a decent effort though, so again from a technical perspective there seems to be some good programming on offer.

The sound is mainly limited to some weedy sound effects and there is no music, but what is there at least does offer some functionality. There is also a nice hidden cheat mode (think of Douglas Adams quotes here) which gives you unlimited energy and allows you to at least get further into the game if you avoid crashing into the walls.  This can sometimes be useful just to get an idea of where the enemy waves and the question mark bonuses are as well as the location of the letters to spell out the password.

Final Thoughts

Starforce Nova certainly looks the part and with its smart graphics and smooth scrolling really does give you that incentive to play.  It is however let down by some of the gameplay not being fully tested, and the shooting the correct letters in order at the end of the level is a real bind to most game players.  There is also some technical praise here for the way it has been programmed, but unfortunately there seems to have been a case here of style over the substance, which is a real shame.  The main positive though is that this original version is better than its Commodore 64 counterpart, and if you are looking to play this game, then this is the one to play.

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