Vertically-scrolling shoot-'em-up for one or two players by Oregan. Reviewed by Rob Gibson.
Note: This review was originally written for the Illusions disc magazine well before Acorn Arcade was born, so we make no guarantees that this game will work on more recent machines. Many thanks to Richard Goodwin, Phil Coleman and Rob Gibson for allowing us to reproduce this review on the site.
When reviewing a game I always seem to start out intending not to like it; whether this is because it starts all games off on an even footing so giving each an equal chance to impress or just because I'm an awkward sod I'm not quite sure, but on first loading Quark from French team the Zygotics I sat back as usual and said out loud "Okay - impress me."
The title screen comes up, it's a rather nice nebula with a weird logo emblazened across it, so the score in my mind is about one all. The away team pull ahead in the credits/score table league with a great starfield effect playing behind text which, although in an old BBC style system font, is plotted using a dithered rainbow effect. With high I hopes I started pressing buttons to get into the game.
Not being one for reading instructions unless I'm forced, it took me some time to figure out the rather strange method used to start playing. First of all you have to press right CTRL to get back to the title screen, then (shudder) press f12 to go to ship selection. Not exactly intuitive for your average Arc user, and any expectations that might have arisen earlier come crashing back down. However, once into the selection screen you can switch on player one and/or player two, and choose from half a dozen different ships. This is done using two large, spooky alien hands as pointers, and they respond to your fire button by pressing whatever's underneath.
Ship selection: as you choose your ship and study the accompanying passport 'photos, music plays and various bits of the screen respond.
Once your desired mode of transportation has been determined, it's f12 again to enter the arena; if on subsequent goes you want to keep the same set-ups you can press f8 from the title screen to go straight in.
The scene is a huge desert. Your ship (or ships) sit there waiting as an enemy vessel races towards you. It's killing time! It's at this point that you see at first hand that not only can your selected ships look different, they have different firing characteristics too. There are only two available in the demo, the first fires what looks like sheets of wind, and the other fires missiles. The missiles are not quite as good, but with enough power-ups you can have homing bullets so it's a trade-off between ease of use early on and more complex weaponry later.
The missile ship, whilst heavily upgraded, still has trouble clearing a large number of enemy craft, whereas the wind ship tackles the same situation with less power-ups and still manages to cause more damage.
Graphics on the whole are good, the best I've seen from a non-conversion game of this type (although that's not saying much!), and the use of an overscan mode for a larger play area is a big plus point too. Compared with the other two big shoot-'em-ups, the feel of the game is very similar to SWIV, including the way the picking up of tokens is implemented, although here it goes slightly further. Xenon 2 is a totally different example of the genré, and quite far removed from this offering; especially in the speed department which, thankfully, Quark is better at, both in the speed of movement after collecting the relevant tokens, and in the redrawing of the screen after killing baddies with heavy weaponry (Xenon 2 stops dead for a fraction of a second, but Quark just keeps on trucking). The graphics however are, if not quite as well drawn as the two conversions, at least more varied, in content, ways of moving, and in size, which ranges from lots of independent small orbs to large, er, things (see sprite below); large meanies are not just restricted to end-of-level jobs.
Big meanie flying past an active volcano. Hang on, haven't I seen similar graphics in games before...?
For an all-round, knockabout shoot-'em-up Quark is hard to fault. When you die, although you lose all your speed, only two points are taken away from your weapons status, so you don't have to begin collecting totally afresh. It does start off quite hard, but with practice it's probably easier than Xenon 2 to get into, and the tokens come quite frequently. The only complaints are minor, concerning the strange keys used (very PC in places, and can't be altered), the constant changing of palette - this was done a lot more slickly in SWIV, whereas the changeover here is done by off-putting fades every few seconds - and the size of the shielding, which, after considering the way that the graphics change (and of course hacking around inside), seems to be set at a maximum of only 3 points, but strangely this doesn't seem to cause too many problems in that you don't die too often. Other than this I can't really find too much to grouch about, on the contrary nice touches abound - you ship changing graphics and trailing smoke and fire after getting hit for instance, or the fades when using one of the generously large amount of smart bombs.
A good, solid game with lots of nice touches - you can see that a lot of time and effort has gone into this game, where other Arc releases look rushed and shoddy. It takes a couple of goes to get into, but is addictive and deserving of at least some of the hype.