Landing with a thump. And an explosion.

Source // Wikipedia

By the sounds of it, Gravitar is yet another space shooter, right? I can't think of any other genre of early 80s video gaming that would settle on Gravitar as a name than a space shooter of some kind, so I do hope it's an interesting one.

It wasn't a surprise to find out that, yes, it was set in space, but I was a little surprised to find out that it plays like a mix of Asteroids and Lunar Lander, which immediately put it into the 'must play' category, for me at least. Whether it actually is a must play depends on whether I've any luck in playing it in its original form...


No. Come on. If you've been reading this blog for a while you know full well that getting to play the arcade version of anything seems to require a minor miracle, and Gravitar is no exception. I'll not be playing with those funky line drawn graphics that glow like the lasers I'm sure my spaceship is shooting. I'll not be playing with all the bleeps and bloops. Then again, I won't be sinking spare change into it either, because I'm firing up the Atari 2600 port!

And it's good!

Fun Times

I don't have a damn clue what I'm doing at first, but that's thanks to the learning curve of gravity in Gravitar, and what you can do to harness its invisible power. Not to mention working out what each thing on the screen even is. That purple thing in the middle is a star. You can't land on that, and it pulls you in pretty much from the word 'go'.

The blue circle is where I started from, the blue... bone...? ... is my ship. It's got a little toot of a thruster out the back (though it sounds like someone blowing raspberries on a hissing walkie talkie), and some kind of shield/tractor beam thing elsewhere. The other bits and bobs are planets and aliens and whatnot. What's hard to follow about that?

Left and right rotates your ship, forward fires your thrusters. Nudge it to give yourself a little push before letting gravity gently do the rest, or hold it if you're an idiot with a death wish, though death doesn't appear to be a problem in Gravitar, not for casual players who don't know what's going on with their score in the first place.

Oh look, another hot landing...

Once you find out what a planet is, and can safely navigate in the general direction of one, your view snaps to something more landscape-y. It's here where you're faced with turrets, alien ships and invisible walls blocking your escape until you've done it all - shoot the turrets, grab the fuel, and only then does freedom await.

It's a good job there isn't a three lives system of any sort here, because it'd be quite the challenge to get anywhere in this game, especially on your first few goes (and so reading about how Gravitar didn't do so well in the arcades is no real surprise). Instead, clearing out a planet is like trial and error. Too much thrust that time. Wrong angle. Just a little nudge, shoot, there we go. Joy.

Final Word

I'm still nowhere near good enough to make any clear progress through these planetary systems. Gravity throws a wobbly and planets become invisible in later stages, but I'll have to take the Internet's word for that. Skill - and lack thereof - aside, Gravitar is fun. Fumbling around in a desperate but doomed attempt to get your ship out of harm's way is fun. Firing the thrust at the wrong time or for too long is fun, because it generally leads you into those fumbles. Getting shot isn't as fun, but respawning in an instant and exacting revenge when you eventually spin your ship around is, and having fun is what matters.

Like Asteroids and Lunar Lander before it, the controls will take a little time to adjust to, but once you do, Gravitar becomes that must play game that combines the two for your gaming pleasure.

Fun Facts

The high score record for Gravitar stood for 24 years before being almost doubled in 2006, during a gaming session lasting just over 23 hours. Don't expect to come anywhere close to that for a while.

Gravitar, developed by Atari, Inc., first released in 1982.
Version played: Atari 2600, 1983, via emulation.