BattleSphere is perhaps the most highly-anticipated game ever for the Atari
Jaguar. The promise of its eventual release from dedicated developers at
4Play/Scatologic, along with some new games from Songbird, has kept fans
hanging on to their systems for years.
Late in 1997, I had the opportunity to become an official playtester of
BattleSphere, and I was thrilled with the chance to not only see the game
early, but help stamp out any bugs and put some remaining interface/gameplay
touches on the product. It's been a lot of fun seeing this game through
its final development, so read on and learn about all that is BattleSphere.
BattleSphere takes place in the future when a bunch of alien races get
together to "work out their differences" using heavily armed ships. By now,
you all know the story anyway. :-)
There are multiple play modes (which I'll address below), but basically
you find yourself in the cockpit of a ship ready to slug it out against
an onslaught of foes. There are many choices available for ships, from tiny
fighters to massive superships. The game itself screams quality -- everything
from controller menus to title screens to the in-game action fit seamlessly
together to form an enjoyable video game experience. And the fact that
multiple play modes are included only help broaden the appeal of of
Here are some mini-reviews on each play mode:
- Alone Against the Empires - Fantastic update to the "Star Raiders" style
of game play. You can either take on a wave of foes alone, or get help from
a number of friendly ships (and there's even a single keypad command to
direct friendly ships to attack your current target, a nice touch). This is
perhaps the most strategic of all the play modes, and certainly fills a void
in the Jaguar's library. My only complaint with this play mode is after
several years of off-and-on playing, I still haven't figured out how
to correctly hyperspace to other sectors on the higher difficulty levels.
- Free-For-All - This will likely be the first play mode (well, maybe second,
after the Training mode) players will dive into. The rules are simple and
straightforward: kill or be killed. A number of ships simply duke it out in
a survival of the fittest. This is a nice, quick play mode, when you just
want to relish BattleSphere for a few minutes but don't have time for extended
- Gauntlet - This play mode really grew on me over time. Think Missile Command
in space, but you've got a roving defense ship instead of a fixed turret. It's
very fun and nerve-wracking to defend your starbases against wave after wave of
enemy ships. Some of the waves are hilarious (can you say Pilot Wave? I knew you
could!) to terrifying -- just wait until you see a Capital Ship in action! (BTW,
one of my contributions to this play mode was to have your ship's energy
automatically recharge after each wave, instead of forcing the player to "tail"
the last ship in each wave while waiting for a slow, gradual energy recharge.)
- Training - This is cool for first-timers, and does a good job of gradually
working you into the controls. And if you think it's too easy, try actually
beating the last level or two! I dare you. :-)
- BattleSphere - This is the one play mode I have still not tried after all
this time, simply because I don't have anyone to network with locally. I'm
really looking forward to some networked play in general, so I suspect this
mode (as well as others) will be a lot of fun.
You're in for an "optical nerve-toasting" overload with BattleSphere.
The menus are very attractive (if a bit slow at loading) and even the title
screen "logo unwrap" is very cool. But what about the game, you say? Glad
you asked. The 3D shaded polygon ships are obviously not in the same class
as current leading edge games, but what did you expect from hardware that is
6+ years old? The 3D graphics are mostly shaded with some textures applied
judiciously. And it's a lot of fun seeing ships blow apart into (collidable)
debris accompanied by a slick explosion.
The audio is solid in BattleSphere, and impressively the game is able
to churn out a nice variety of 4-channel tunes even while networking. There
are some homages to the original Star Raiders, etc., which is a nice touch.
The music is well done and very different from most Jaguar games -- however
I find that T2K still has the most engrossing tunes I've heard on the Jag.
One audio effect that is not included but would have been cool is a
breathing sound when you are playing as an ejected pilot. Could have
really made you all alone in the night! ;-)
It's all about the gameplay, right? Does BattleSphere deliver?
The answer is emphatically, "YES!" Everyone (myself included) will find
minor bits that they wish were done differently, from music styles to menu
options. But one area I suspect everyone will agree on is that BS delivers
the gameplay promised for years to Jaguar fans. From the available menus,
it's obvious the designers painstakingly made as many options configurable
by the player as possible.
Even better, the ship handling is very sharp, and it's easy to tell
the differences in maneuvering and power levels among the various ships.
Some ships move like a cow -- but that's intentional. Other ships are
quick and nimble. The attention to detail on floating debris, explosion
animations, starbases, capital ships, and more are all a real treat. And
I've already pointed out the multiple play modes which all but guarantee
that every Jag fan will find something to like in this game.
AI is likewise surprisingly challenging. You won't often find ships
floating off by themselves firing aimlessly in the dark. They'll track
you down, perform maneuvers, sneak up on your starbases when you're not
looking... and beware if you actually skrag somebody in Free-For-All!
The one thing you won't find in BattleSphere is mission-based
gameplay. This is not a complaint, merely an observation. All the play
modes have an arcade feel to them, except for AAtE which as mentioned
above has a very strong and effective strategic element to it.
BattleSphere has the same high presentation quality as the recent
Songbird releases -- and well it should, since developer Doug Engel
did the layout and some logo design for all those games. The label
and manual are even (dare I say it) a notch above the Songbird releases,
based on the amount of included graphics, screen shots, and overall
Ah, the inevitable comparison. BattleSphere is good, but how good
compared to the best of the Jaguar?
There's no question the game is one of the most ambitious Jaguar
games that will ever be made, and clearly it is a "top 5" sort of game.
The use of polygons while maintaining a high frame rate certainly
rivals other 3D games such as BattleMorph, and is more attractive and
replayable than Zero 5.
Iron Solder 2 and BattleMorph are still two of my favorite games
if you're looking for an immersive solo game with outstanding graphics,
variety, and control. BattleSphere scores high for a "quick play"
game with high marks in those same areas, and of course no game can
touch its networking abilities. BattleSphere is a top notch game that
no Jaguar fan should be without.