A near impossible task for any gamer, I set myself the challenge of coming up with a top ten of all time a few years ago, and I am only just now comfortable with how it reads.
So each Sunday until the New Year I’ll be unveiling one game at a time.
My number nine spot goes to:
Developer: Mr. Chip
Publisher: Mr. Chip
Director: Shaun Southern
Soundtrack: Shaun Southern
Genre: Shoot ’em up
Players: 1-2 turn based
Platforms: Commodore 64
I played it on: Commodore 64
. . .
Like a lot of gamers, I love me a hidden gem.
You know, the kind of game that might not have been as popular or well known as it deserved to be for one reason or another.
It might not have sold too well or it might have been overlooked because of an unfortunately timed release.
It might have been too quirky or unusual and the gaming masses just didn’t “get it”.
Every platform has tonnes of hidden gems, and I love telling people about them just as much as I love being told about them.
Anyway, my number nine game of all time, the 1984 shareware title Ad Infinitum, is “hidden gem” personified.
Ad Infinitum is much, much more than that old Commodore 64 game that ripped off the Star Wars theme music.
It’s a true indie masterpiece- a single button space shooter that put the big name titles in the genre to shame.
Year after year, broken joystick after broken joystick, Ad Infinitum was an absolute favourite in my family.
(Along with Bomb Jack, Ad Infinitum was the game I saw my mum playing the most, and she was a discerning gamer. She remained that way through the Nintendo 64 days, too- but that’s a story for another day.)
Ad Infinitum sees you control a little red space ship, shooting enemies that come across the screen in a variety of directions and speeds.
You can only shoot forwards, but your ship can move in all directions around the screen, and you’ll need to combine quick evasive manoeuvres with well timed shots to clear a level.
For the most part, it’s kill all the enemies, clear the level, move on to the next.
Sometimes though, the enemy ships make a single sweep across the screen, and if you dare, you’ll just be able to take out a few while avoiding their aggressive pot shots.
There’s also some really tricky bonus levels where you’ll have to navigate an asteroid shower.
These multi-coloured space rocks hurtle at you at breakneck speed, and not only will you be asked to avoid the flashing ones, but you’ll need to collect static coloured ones to recover some fuel until the next docking station.
There’s no holding the button down and firing blindly in Ad Infinitum- your ship’s laser will overheat and you’ll explode if you go too heavy on the shooting.
You’ll also explode if you run out of fuel before you clear a certain number of levels and make it to a docking station.
Your fuel level is always slowly reducing, adding to the urgency and as you get lower on fuel the panic starts to set in, making your trigger finger happier and your laser hotter.
Quick, accurate shooting is a necessity, and the combination of these two gameplay mechanics really ensures you’ll need to fine-tune your skills if you want to beat the harder levels.
And there’s certainly plenty of those.
The game gets difficult really quickly, and although the learning curve isn’t exactly a smooth one, it’s never unfair.
You’ll be kicking yourself when you mess up on a level you know off by heart, and I suspect the developer knew there’d be plenty of silly mistakes made when he was devising the movement patterns for the game’s enemies.
They’re all laid out for you to see, and while they might be varied in speed and complexity from level to level, there’s very few cheap shots.
This wards off out-and-out frustration most of the time, but I’m pretty sure more than a few cheap joysticks ended up in pieces thanks to this game.
Even though you might have played a level countless times, the sheer variety of enemy types and movement patterns keeps things exciting and challenging.
You’ll get to remember the sequence of levels, and anxiety sets in when you’re low on lives or fuel and you know which foes are up next.
Forgetting the silly Star Wars intro theme, music plays a big part in maintaining the game’s tense atmosphere, too.
While technically it might not be anything too inspired, the music changes at each new level, making it feel like each group of baddies have their own theme music.
The tunes cleverly suit both the look of the baddies themselves, and intensity of the action.
Silly looking bad guys have light, jovial music- while the more sinister looking ones will have a suitably dramatic theme that invokes a feeling of dread upon hearing the opening bars.
The new music starts just as the new enemies appear on screen, and this really adds to the atmosphere.
And music completely drops out when you reach an asteroid field, so they hurtle past you with an interesting yet fitting whoosh sound.
Successfully navigating one of Ad Infinitum’s asteroid showers is made all the more satisfying when the whooshing stops and the calming silence of space takes over.
It’s pretty rare for a game to completely encapsulate all that is good about a genre, and it’s especially rare for that game to be a shareware game that was (as far as I know) made by just one person.
The Commodore 64 had an enormous library of games by the end of its lifecycle, but few were as fun to play and deliciously addictive as Ad Infinitum.
That’s why it’s my number nine game of all time.
Did you play Ad Infinitum? Let me know by leaving a comment!
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