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Destination Earthstar


Hoskat

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destinationearthstar-label

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Genre: Simulation

Publisher: Acclaim

Total time played: 20 Hours

Short review: A space simulator and a side scrolling shooter. Both game play types are passable, neither are great. Prepare to be bored by the vastness of space and frustrated by the side scrolling difficulty.


Interesting links related to Destination Earthstar


Two Games in One

There are 16 stages in the game. Unless I missed something there is no place on the screen that tells you which stage you are on. All I can tell you is the odd numbered stages are a passable space simulator and the even numbered stages are an average side scrolling space shooter. I will describe each of the styles of stage below. Each subsequent stage is longer than the last making the game much longer than it needs to be and beating 8 of the 16 stages doesn’t put you halfway through the game, probably more like 35%.

Never Seen This Before

In the side scrolling stages you can earn extra lives, in the space simulator stage it is one life and you are dead, no continues, no way to earn extra lives. It is the only game I can think of that has different extra life counts on the different level types. Let me tell you, there is nothing more frustrating than have 9+ lives in the side scrolling stages and dying in the space simulator stage. Luckily I only died 3 total times in these stages (out of the 20+ times I played the game).

I’m New, I Don’t Know What To Do

When I first put this game in I had no idea what to expect. The start screen appeared so briefly it took me several seconds to realize I was playing the game. There is a lot of things happening on the screen, so much so that half of the screen is your status bar.

Destination-Earthstar-U-5B-5D-0

Good luck making sense of this without the manual. 

Where to Begin (Space Simulator Stages)

What you are reading below is what I learned by playing the game, I very briefly read the manual so take most of this with a grain of salt. I’m sure some of it is wrong.

Let’s start with the grid filled with A, B, 1, 2 and 0 which acts as your map.

  • A is a planet that will refill your weapons supply
  • B is a planet that will refill you energy and heal your damaged ship
  • 0 is a planet which is either uninhabited which does nothing but waste time or partially refills your health, fuel or weapons. There is no way to know unless you land on the planet.
  • Any number other than 0 is an enemy ship which must be destroyed. The number denotes the number of ships in that sector. The ships can move from square to square so be prepared to fly all over the map.
  • B with a green background is the hidden enemy base. This appears when you have killed all enemy ships on the screen.

To land on a planet you must travel to the square where the planet it, line it up directly in front of you and slow down almost to a stop. It isn’t hard to do once you figure it out but it really slows down the pace of the game. You can only land on each planet one time per stage.

Red Text – Line 1 – Position

The 1650 and 1480 on the screen above are you X and Y coordinates. Each square on the map is 1,000 wide and 1,000 tall. So with 1650 and 1480 coordinates your ship is up one square and over one square from the bottom left square.

Red Text – Line 2 – Height

I never used this line but it denotes the height of your ship. The two vertically stacked boxes to the right of the large box on the right side of the screen also denote height. When tracking down an enemy ship you must be in the same square as well as the same height position to attack. You will know you are lined up with the ship when the entire ship appears inside one of the two squares on the right. Since I could see the ship I never needed the numerical height to know where to go.

Red Text – Line 3 – Speed

This line is your speed. The red dashes on the right side of the screen also show your speed. In the image above you are one speed click away from light speed which is the speed you will travel the most since it helps you move quickly around the map.

Red Text – Line 4 – Weapon

Shows your current active weapon. If you press the select button the entire red text changes to show you all possible weapons. If you press the start button it will change your currently equipped weapon.

Red Text – Line 5 – Enemies

Denotes the number of enemy ships left to destroy. I never used this line as you can see all ships on the map (1, 2, 3, etc.) much easier.

Red Text – Line 6 – Fuel

You start with 1,000,000 fuel on each stage. When you fly around your fuel goes down. The faster you go the faster you burn fuel. To replenish fuel you must land on the B planet or hope one of the 0 planets refills some of your fuel.

Score

As you probably guessed, this is your score. I’m sure you get an extra life after getting to a certain score (on the side scrolling stages only) but I never figured out what the magic number was.

Squares on the right side

The large square is a larger view of the square you are in on the map. It does not show where in the square a planet is located but enemy ships will show as red dots in this screen. The smaller squares will show a front view of the enemy ships. These 3 squares make it manageable to find enemy ships, line up with them making them easier to destroy.

6 Small Squares Under the 3 Large Squares

This is your damage. Each time an enemy ship hits you one of these squares turns red. If they all light up you die.

Green bars

These bars show the heat of your weapons. If you shoot your weapon multiple times in a short time period they will overheat and you can shoot no more until the heat dissipates.

900 Words Later You Are Ready to Play

Now that you understand the map here are a few things to know.

  • To beat a level you must destroy all enemy ships on the map which makes the enemy base appear as a green square with the letter “B”. Travel there to go to the next stage.
  • The faster you fly the faster your fuel decreases.
  • When traveling at light speed you cannot see planets, enemy ships, shoot your weapon, change you weapon or change directions. But, you will need to travel light speed to avoid going mad from the boredom of flying through space.
  • You can only land on each planet once so make it count
  • I typically would head towards the B planet to re-fuel once I got down around 400,000 fuel.
  • The enemy ships are faster and move around much more the further into the game you get. It seems that there was always one ship that would move around so much it took longer to destroy than every other ship in the level.
  • The laser weapons were my favorite (5 hits to destroy a ship). You can shoot multiple times quickly and it is fairly easy to hit your target. The other weapons shoot slower and are harder to control (at least for me).
  • To pause the game you must hit A+B. To my knowledge this is the only game on the NES that uses this button input for pausing. I accidentally figured this out on my own as I hit every button combination trying to figure out how to play the game. If you pause and un-pause twice in quick succession the game music turns off…not sure if this is a feature or a bug.

Side Scroller

After finally defeating all enemy ships in the space simulator stage you are treated to a pretty decent cut scene of your ship landing on a planet. Now the real fun begins.

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So much black and blue

How to Play

the D-Pad moves the ship up, down, left and right. The A button shoots forward and the B button shoots backwards. Notice in the image above how close the left side of the screen your ship flies. This makes it nearly impossible to avoid ships that come at you from behind. Thankfully this doesn’t happen THAT often.

Power-Ups

Throughout the stage you will run across bright yellow power-ups:

  • Star – Extra Life. The number of lives is shown on the bottom left of the screen. Once you get more than 9 lives (good luck), the number changes to an arrow making it impossible to know how many lives you have.
  • Circle – Shield. Gives you one extra hit, you can collect multiple shields but I never got more than 2.
  • Right Arrow – Increases the power of your forward firing weapon.
  • Left Arrow – Increases the power of your backward firing weapon.

The stage features one hit kills (unless your ship is protected by a shield, which makes the ship glow yellow). You can die if you hit the floor, ceiling, an enemy ship or are hit by an enemy weapon.

Most of the floor/ceiling can be destroyed by shooting it, this means you can carve a path if you choose, but, I wouldn’t recommend it. I typically stayed close to the ground and would shoot any small juts shooting up out of the ground just so I didn’t have to maneuver up/down quite as much.

You can change your weapon by pausing the game with the Start button and selecting left and right on the controller. The selected weapon is displayed on the top of the screen between the two arrows. The top arrows are your front weapon and the bottom arrows are your backwards weapon. I didn’t bother changing the backwards weapons much, but I would alternate between the double shot and ground shot for front weapons depending on the type of enemies on screen.

Cheap Deaths

If the ships only attacked from the front these levels wouldn’t be too bad. But, there are ground enemies that shoot weapons up. These enemies seem to fire at an insane rate and are near impossible to dodge consistently. If you can maneuver your ship low enough and kill these enemies it is much easier than trying to time your ship to go between the vertically fired projectiles.

Each stage can have enemies that attack from behind. If this happens you will almost always lose a life because the ship flies so close to the left side of the screen you have very little time to react.

Oh, Come On!

The extra lives that appear as a star on the screen feature one of the most infuriating things I can think of. In the later stages if a projectile hits the extra life before you get it then it disappears. Extra lives are so precious and missing one is heartbreaking.

Maps Maps Maps

After dying over and over on these side scrolling stages I started to map them out. As you travel through the stages the floor/ceiling will change from red to blue to brown or from large circles to small circles. There are branching paths where you must go either up or down. There doesn’t seem to be much difference in backgrounds or paths as far as difficulty goes.

I would go through each stage and map where the extra lives were and where the ships attacked from behind so I could be ready when it happened. Doing this mapping of each stage greatly decreased the difficulty, but, greatly increased the play time since I was constantly pausing to see what was around the next corner. Without this strategy I could have never beaten the game.

Bosses

Each side scrolling stage features an end boss. Theses bosses are typically two shapes on the right side of the screen that move up and down quickly and shoot projectiles at you. They never change pattern and the never move left to right on the screen. Theses bosses are all a joke and I never once died while facing them. Honestly I’m glad the bosses are easy as the stages are really hard, it was a nice breather.

The Final Stage

Power Ups

Throughout the side scrolling stages you pick up right and left arrows to strengthen your front and rear facing weapons. Whatever weapon you finish a stage with is the weapon you start the next stage with. If you die,  your weapon sometimes stays powered up and sometimes it retracts back to a weaker weapon. If you die a few times in a row it retracts back to the weakest weapon in the game.

Honestly, this weak weapon isn’t that big of a deal in stages 1-7. But, if you don’t start stage 7 with the stronger weapon it is impossible. The weak weapon is not strong enough to carve a path through the landscape of the level and the way level 8 is laid out that is necessary.

The first few times I got to the final level I had the weakest weapon due to dying a lot at the end of level 7. No matter how many lives I had I lost them within 30 seconds of starting level 8. In the attempt where I beat the game I had the strong weapon at the start of level 8 and I didn’t die once. That is, until I reached the boss.

Except For That Last Boss

After 7 side scrolling stages and dozens of attempts I never once died fighting a boss until the final boss of the game. I only made it to the boss one time and luckily I had 7 lives when I did. The projectiles this boss shoots out don’t seem to have a pattern and I died, a lot. In fact, I was on my last life when I finally beat the boss. I think if I had gotten a game over at that point it would have been the most upset I have ever been in a video game.

So…Long

The first 3 or 4 stages are pretty fun and a good length. Just as you start getting tired of the space exploration you get a break by playing the side scrolling stages. But, each level is longer than the last. By the time you get to level 6-8 it can take an eternity to get through a level. The side scrolling stages 7 and 8 take close to 10 minutes to get through. This is way too long. There are people who can beat Ninja Gaiden or Contra or Batman in the time it takes to get through a single stage in Destination Earthstar.

If the game were more fun or had more variety it wouldn’t be so bad, but these later stages are very monotonous.

Final Thoughts

It took way too many attempts to finally beat this game. I wanted to give up on many occasions as I would get to level 6 or 7 or 8 and get a game over. It takes close to an hour to get that far and when you get a game over you have to start all over. Because of the game length and monotony I didn’t have the mental energy to do more than one attempt every couple of days. I’m glad to have this one in the rear-view. It isn’t a bad game to pick up and play but it is much too long.

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