Game Review: Starforce Nova (Commodore 64, Mastertronic)

Starforce Nova, Commodore 64, Mastertronic - IC0194
  • 3/10
    Score - 3/10
3/10

Summary

Starforce Nova was reasonable on the Commodore 16 and Plus/4,  but porting it exactly as is to the Commodore 64, and making the gameplay worse by having constantly reducing energy, letters which are harder to shoot for the passwords, and the same flaws in the original not being addressed proved what Chris Harvey himself admitted – it was a quick rush job, and no wonder he hid his name under an alias. Even the good Mark Cooksey music cannot save it from being a game that you will soon forget about playing.

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Starforce Nova (or Star Force Nova as on the title screen) – just like the Commodore 16 and Plus/4 version, 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.  It also has one notable difference on the cassette inlay – the catalogue number is in the Commodore 16 and Plus/4’s pink colour, and the remainder is the Commodore 64 red – and all copies I have seen seem to have that exact same anomaly.

How Wins the Pools

Chris Harvey, who programmed the Commodore 64 version, revealed that Mastertronic would only take on the Commodore 16 and Plus/4 version if a Commodore 64 version was forthcoming.  He also converted the game in two weeks, and used the alias F Dineage (aka Fred Dineage, presenter of television programmes such as How), and part of TPCC, The Poolswinner Coding company.  The title screen does have a nice piece of Mark Cooksey music playing, and you do have the option for sound effects or music during gameplay, which is at least something. It is only when you start the game that you soon realise just how much of a rushed job the conversion is, and with some gameplay elements tweaked to be even less appealing.

I Feel (No) Love

If you have selected music to play during the game, then Mark Cooksey’s version of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love plays here, which although it is a good version, does feel a little out of place with the game.  Chris Harvey explained he was a DJ as one of his moonlighting jobs, and would play that specific version that Mark covered, hence the appearance in the game.  That does at least give the game some impetus, but sadly even with the smooth scrolling and better-defined enemies, all the flaws of the original are here.

This includes the fact that being trapped behind a wall will result in the loss of all your energy and death, and playing the game more, you notice that your energy constantly reduces, even if you are just flying along and not actually being shot by any enemy whatsoever.  This is not helpful, despite the question mark bonuses giving you some energy back, as you are constantly trying to risk for those bonuses instead of heading through the level to get to the bonus section.  The colours also appear more washed out for some reason and feels less appealing graphically and just feels even more a poor Uridium lookalike.

Jack Names the Planets

At the end of each level, there is a bonus section. Again, the question mark bonuses appear more often and with some careful shooting you can top up that all important energy.  A series of letters will appear, and you need to shoot these, in the right order, to complete a password to exit the level.  These letters in this version can also shoot at you on occasion making the game even more difficult.  One other difference here is that you realise that the end of level passwords are all related to the solar system, the first level being Mars, with Earth, Venus, Saturn, Uranus, and The Sun following onwards.  One thing which should have been fixed in this version, but was not, 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, the same number as the Commodore 16 and Plus/4 version.  Considering the levels are the same length and layout, and there was no extra effort to add more levels of even change the layouts, that really does smack of being a very quick and dirty port all round to be honest.  For some reason, your firepower seems even more weedy, even if you pick up the bonus that gives you the A in the status bar for more firepower, and that does not help the game flow and the gameplay either.

The sound effects are basic and not quite fitting somehow, and does make the game feel rather empty compared to having the music on.  It would have been nice as an option to have music and effects, or even a difficulty level tweak so that you could have more energy when shooting the question mark bonuses or even turn off collisions with the walls to make the game fairer.  As it stands, it can be a frustrating experience and you end up waiting at the bottom of the screen scrolling through to the bonus section.

Final Thoughts

Starforce Nova on the Commodore 64 is a very quick, dirty and lazy port of the Commodore 16 and Plus/4 original.  Although that original had flaws, there was a reasonable challenge to be had and was playable enough.  The fact your energy constantly reduces here on this version, coupled with the fact that there are no other discernible gameplay elements leads you to think just how much better the game could have been had more care and attention been put into it – say if the game was polished at the same level as the music.  Even though that music does not fit so well, at least it does give you an incentive to load up and listen, but that is all the entertainment long term.

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