Cinematronics' 1981 Solar Quest
At first glance this game is just another Asteroids wannabe. Black & white vector graphics projected onto a sparsely colored backdrop. A ship that rotates left, right, thrusts and shoots enemies that appear from all corners of the screen.

The things that really make Solar Quest interesting are the subtle details that don't become evident until you've invested a few "quarters" in it. Unlike the Jaws-like "thump, thump, thump" soundtrack that dictates the pace in Asteroids, Solar Quest's neon starfiled is eerily silent. Hit the thrust button in Asteroids and your wedge-shaped ship emits a low-pitched, scratchy engine blast. The sound of rushing wind that slowly trails off into the vastness of space accompanies Solar Quest's engines. Controlling your drifting spacecraft in Asteroids is like driving a garbage truck across a frozen, icy lake compared to the precision control of Solar Quest's craft. And hitting hyperspace in a crowded asteroid field only to instantly pop up in a random position is handled with considerably more style. Solar Quest's hyperspace button summons forth a swirling vortex that swallows up your ship and spits it out into safer coordinates.

What really makes Solar Quest stand out are the unique gameplay elements it adds to an old formula. A limited supply of two-stage nuke weapons enhances the strategy. The first press of the nuke button fires off a small charge that travels in a constant direction across the screen, leaving behind a wake of 70's sci-fi sound effects. A second press of the nuke button detonates the charge which engulfs anything in it's blast radius. The destruction of an enemy craft will reveal its occupant, a small vector asterisk, that floats in the silence until you can rescue it. Rescuing 25 occupants earns you a bonus ship and earning 10,000 points earns you an extra nuke weapon. The longer you play the smarter, faster, more varied and plentiful the enemies become until you can clear the stage and welcome a new batch of asterix-carrying agressors.

Missing Ingredient
Timing. In 1981 Solar Quest would have graduated alongside classmates Frogger, Gorf, Galaga, Qix and the soon-to-be ruler of the arcades, Ms. Pac-Man. Game players likely saw Solar Quest for the first time sandwiched between the state-of-the-art color vectors of Space Fury and the fresh platform gameplay of Donkey Kong. With it's black and white vectors, minimal sound effects, and playfield that looked remarkably similar to 1977's snooze-fest Space War, Solar Quest just didn't look the part of a serious contender. And by the time it showed up at the arcade it easily got lost among the other more colorful game personalities.

Thanks to Jeffrey Carl at ServInt for providing the space for CinemArcade


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