By: Mastertronic Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 36,950
Also Available For: Amstrad CPC
Back in gaming’s distant past, a phenomenon known as budget games was born. Budget games were something that, until Sony came along and introduced their ‘Platinum’ range of older titles, had never graced the console market – they were restricted to the now-classic home computers of the day. They were at their most successful during the days of the battle for 8-bit computer supremacy and, at this time, they usually cost £1.99 or £2.99. They included, either top-selling titles which had been on release at full price for a while already (much like the Platinum range), or they were original but often somewhat limited games whose developers felt wouldn’t shift many units at full price, and thus released them for a knock-down price. Some budget games were indeed substandard, or even mind-numbingly crap, but there were also many better than average, or even awesome titles available too. Chronos was among these.
Even in its day, Chronos was one of the most basic shoot ’em ups seen for years. It’s a horizontally scrolling affair spread over six fairly long levels. It features no power-ups, very basic and repetitive enemies, and little else. It should be complete crap, but for reasons I find myself completely unable to explain, it’s not! The first level features two kinds of enemies. The first are flying aircraft things which fly in a straight line and explode, either when you shoot them or when they hit part of the scenery. The second kind is a simple sphere which does much the same thing, but doesn’t move as quickly. The level is over when you reach the ‘Chronos Zone End’ marker, at which point the next level begins and the monochrome graphics change colour. Each new level brings with it a new kind of enemy. Level two for instance, sees the introduction of the ‘tumbling’ squares. These erratic fiends are much harder to avoid or shoot due to their unpredictable flight path and they often seem to lie in wait, popping up at the most inconvenient moments! All the enemies seem to appear randomly too, and often in or from rather strange parts of the levels.
The levels themselves are quite interesting. They feature an abundance of scenery – some of it along the top and bottom of the screen, as is standard, some of it simply floating in the middle of the screen, and much of it pretty sizeable and arranged in such a way that you’re rarely able to fly along in a straight line. At a few points it even offers two different routes, but one of them generally ends in a dead-end! Amusingly, many parts of the scenery also display various non-game-related messages, presumably as a result of the programmer larking around while writing it! This doesn’t represent the extent of the levels’ features either. The first of the obstacles you’ll encounter are segmented barriers, which can be destroyed a section at a time by shooting them. They are numerous and appear in all sorts of locations – sometimes they are only one or two sections high inside a tunnel or small gap in the scenery, other times they appear screen high (on the rare occasion that’s possible). They are replaced by honeycomb-like barriers in later levels too, which effectively do the same thing. There are also energy barriers which span the distance between the top and bottom of the scenery. These are taken out by shooting them at the top or bottom which disables the beam. A more aggressive feature, which can be found increasingly frequently as the game wears on, are the gun emplacements. They are usually found near the bottom of the screen and shoot directly upwards. Just about the only other feature of note is the bonus letters which appear every now and then. They gradually spell out B-O-N-U-S (what else) and give you extra points.
There’s not a lot more to it that that. Chronos is a basic shooter to say the least, but it unquestionably has a certain something. But what is the hook? One of the most appealing things about it is its appearance. Each level is presented in a monochrome style – one colour for the space background, which is littered with stars moving at different speeds, and the other colour for everything else. The first level features a black background with yellow scenery and sprites for instance. While technically far from the pinnacle of Spectrum achievements, Chronos’ graphics are very neat and suit the game well. The only bad point here is the somewhat jerky scrolling. Like many Speccy games, the sound is far less impressive, however. The only tune in the game is present on the title screen and during play there are all of three sound effects – your ship’s shooting noise, explosions, and when you collect the bonus letters.
As far as the gameplay is concerned Chronos should be a bit of a stinker, but for some reason it’s not. I’m not sure why this is but I’ve always enjoyed playing it, from right back in 1987 when I first got it up until this very day. I think at least part of this is down to the highly imaginitive scenery. Shooting the aliens almost takes a back-seat at times to navigating your way around the screen, down tunnels, and taking out or avoiding obstructions – the game always keeps you on your toes. The six levels won’t challenge you forever and I’ve finished this game several times, but it’s a good game to return to due to its high-score potential. There are a fair few enemies on the screen at any time and you can’t cover the entire screen the whole time. Therefore, if you can’t destroy all of them, the possibility to improve your score will always exist, as there are always points missed.
When you see Chronos in action for the first time, you’d know it’s a budget game. It doesn’t have the ‘presence’ of a full-price title, but the truth is I’ve spent far more time playing this than I have almost all other Speccy shooters, full-price or otherwise. But at the same time, it would be slightly unjust to give this game a huge score, due mainly to the existence of far more polished Spectrum shooters such as R-Type, Side Arms, Salamander, and Flying Shark. The mere mention of those titanic games should see this game immediately fade into obscurity, but for some reason I can’t stop myself from liking this cheap and cheerful, but highly enjoyable little game.
RKS Score: 8/10