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a review by Rob Morris

startrekvideocockpit.jpg (62331 bytes)In on-screen canon, the leadership test known as the Kobayashi Maru forced Captain Kirk to reprogram the computer, and left Saavik quite perturbed. Here at Orion Press, at least two characters I've written have pitched fits when the test revealed their shortcomings. But in 1983, the test forced many thousands of arcade gamers to yield up their quarters for the chance to prove their worth, courtesy of Sega.

Very loosely based on the dramatic opening scene from Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, ST: SOS was a vector-graphics based game, a la Asteroids and of course, the original Star Wars Arcade game. Even the best, most powerful arcade games in those days had memory limitations that make most hand-held portable systems today seem giants by comparison. Audio files, such as those of Alec Guiness and James Earl Jones in SWA, and Leonard Nimoy and James Doohan in ST:SOS, only pushed those limits ever closer to the wall. Suffice it to say that in 1983, though, this all rocked hard. With its simulated 3-D look as you hunted Klingons, Antimatter UFOs (?) and most dangerously, Nomad itself, you entered the world of Star Trek as never before.

On a targeting screen, you kept watch to lock onto your enemies, while on a sensor screen, you had a wider view, especially for the Klingon marauders who threatened your sector's starbases, which were the only thing outside of point totals that could effect repairs on your ship. You of course had limited shields, limited but very powerful photon torpedoes, and virtually unlimited phaser and impulse power. Warp drive was engaged for short jumps. The Klingon ships ranged from strategic to aggressive to suicidal. The anti-matter UFO was a must to avoid, for obvious reasons. Nomad was not only insanely powerful and tough (an end-level boss by later standards) in and of itself, but laid down mines that you had to avoid as you went. After this, each sector was a repeat, but of course the enemies grew more powerful and the damage they inflicted proved harder and harder to recover from.

The turns away from what every Trekkie knows abound in this game. A Klingon ship might turn kamikaze if all were lost, but it was never sent out for that express purpose. Hunting Nomad would certainly not last very long, and Starbases tended not to need starship protection 24/7. The limitations on photon torpedo supplies was I think briefly mentioned on Voyager before the show lost sight of its premise, but not elsewhere AFAIK. Still, it is a video game, and it needs to hold you down somehow, else where's the mission?

The game came in a standard stand-up cabinet, possibly a cocktail table version, as well as carts for the Atari 2600 and its computer version, the 800, though neither could recreate what the arcade game's vector graphics did. The supreme thrill was playing the arcade game in a sit down cabinet, making believe you sat in you-know-who's chair. Again, nowadays, you could precisely recreate the Bridge Kobayshi scene from TWOK with detailed graphics and full voices on something like Playstation or Xbox, and definitely on the PC. But in 1983, the tiny, colorful figures of the Enterprise and its foes were all you could ever want. This game rates an 8 out of 10, and can occasionally be found on eBay.

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