Review by nastynate3118

Reviewed: 04/27/12

Nonsensical controls ruin what could have been a decent Transformers rip-off

Introduction

Thexder is essentially an Apple II version of the 1980’s Transformers fad. The original version of the game came out in 1985, with later versions coming out throughout the '80s (such as the 1988 Apple II GS version I played). The artwork of the game boasts that it is a popular and high-selling title, so naturally one would assume this would be a somewhat good game. Sure, a game from 1985 should not have extremely high expectations, but if it was that popular then there has to be a great core to it. Well, sadly, one fatal flaw completely destroys what could have been an awesome Apple II game.
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Gameplay – 2/10

Here is the one positive thing I will say about the gameplay in this game: Thexder was an early run-and-gun game and for its time was pretty innovative in this concept. Remember, this is 1985, so platforming games were still relatively new to the console and PC gaming worlds. Thexder offers a different experience from other games by allowing the player to control a robot that can transform into a fighter jet. As the robot, you can run and shoot a homing laser that kills enemies. On paper, this sounds like a fantastic idea and a great basis for a game, especially back then.

That is why it breaks my heart that the controls are an absolute abomination. You see, as the robot, hitting the left key or moving left on the joystick moves Thexder left. The same could be said about up and right. But down? No, down is the button that transforms him into a fighter jet. The fighter jet controls are also pretty screwy; if you move in the opposite direction you are flying, you’ll automatically transform back into the robot. Now, this doesn’t sound too bad, but in the heat of battle or when you are trying to negotiate through a tight corner, the game’s controls really screw you over. It’s very confusing and pretty much makes the game unplayable. A game this simple should not have such awkward and wacky controls. Would it have really killed them to add a key that could transform for you instead of making it the down key or the backwards key? I guess so.

The level design, coupled with the disastrous control of this game, only adds to the mess. Each of the thirty-or-so levels is designed like a maze with tight passages for your robot to navigate through. Occasionally they will open up so you can battle a few enemies but most of the time you are struggling to find your way through these mazes. To make matters worse, the enemies in this game are ridiculously hard. They swarm you and deplete your health pretty fast, forcing you to retreat back into the maze and take them out there. The only problem with this is that firing your laser also depletes your health, so no matter what you are going to take damage. Often times you will have to jump up and fire at the same time and this is pretty awkward. Thexder is unable to go up and left or up and right at the same time, making his combat abilities even more handicapped.

Ultimately, the levels are very repetitive and it is hard to not be bored of this game after twenty minutes or so. It also does not help that the controls are very sluggish and sometimes responsive leading the player to get frustrated and want to stop playing. For whatever reason, after you beat the final boss the game loops and repeats itself (similar to the original Donkey Kong). Who in their right mind would want to play through this game again?

Interface- 4/10

For starters, there is no menu at all in this game. I realize this is a 1985 Apple II game, but many Apple games had menus at the time (example: the Space Quest games). This makes the interface all the more jumbled and confusing. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not, but you can skip levels by hitting the “L” key. Now, the reason I am questioning this is because there is a lack of a menu, there is no way to save the game. Worse yet, there are no continues or even extra lives; if you die, that’s it, game over. Fortunately you can simply skip back to the level you were at but this creates an extremely annoying hassle that could have been avoided with a save feature.

There really is no indication of what is going on so you sort of have to go around trying to figure what you are supposed to do or where you are to go. This game really leaves you in the dark and the interface is pretty nonsensical.

Story- 3/10
Basically, Thexder the giant transforming robot is escaping from a fortress for some unknown reason. That’s pretty much all I got out of the instruction manual. There is absolutely no presentation, introduction or ending to this game. Nothing. Not even a little blurb of text. So, if you are looking for a game with any semblance of a plot, you need to look elsewhere. There really is no indication of anything going on, so you can use your imagination and make something up in your head. For all we know, Thexder is trying to escape the fortress to catch a new episode of Friends. The problem is, as mentioned above, the game repeats infinitely so you never know if he achieves his goal.

And another thing that bugs me: why does the game announce “Warning! Intruder!” every time you begin a new level? Technically, if Thexder is escaping a fortress, he would not be an intruder…oh well.

Graphics - 6/10

The graphics are decent but very repetitive. The animation of Thexder transforming is very smooth and impressive for the time. Sadly, this is pretty much the extent of good things to say about the game’s graphics. The mazes and backgrounds, while varied to an extent, are very repetitive and bland. The color scheme in this game is very dull and the backgrounds do not really light up until Thexder is in the cave stages. Another problem is his laser just looks awful. It is a spastic white line that is bouncing all over the place and just looks very sloppy.

Sound/Music - 6/10

The first piece of music you hear is a rendition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” which is pretty neat. The only other song in this game is this cool little electronic song that plays in every single level and loops forever and ever. Don’t get me wrong, it is a cool song, but would it have killed them to put in another track? This really adds to the repetitive nature of the game that I have mentioned several times.

The sound effects sound like they belong on the Atari 2600. I realize that is not very far off from the Apple II but the Apple was certainly capable of a lot more than is in Thexder. There really is nothing more than beeps and blips and the annoying voice actor saying “Warning! Intruder!” every time you begin a level.

Play Time/Replayability - 2/10

The game is actually really short once you figure out the best way to navigate mazes. This is good news because it means you have to deal with the awful controls less. Considering this game loops, that pretty much eliminates all replay value. Sure, you may play again to try and top your high score, but it is such an unimportant feature to this game that it really serves no purpose.

PROS
+Innovative premise to game
+Transformation animation is cool
+I love the electronic rendition of “Moonlight Sonata”

CONS
-Controls are an abomination and make this game unplayable
-Level design is terrible
-Enemies have the ability to destroy Thexder very fast
-Gameplay becomes very repetitive and boring
-No menu, save feature or extra lives
-Any sort of plot/presentation is nonexistent
-Graphics are dull and repetitive
-Same song repeats in every level
-Sound effects are Atari-quality
-Replay value is nonexistent

Final Recommendation

Thexder could have been an absolutely groundbreaking classic game that would be talked about for years to come with a few minor flaws if the controls were different. That absolutely kills this game that actually has a strong foundation. Unless you are into old Apple II games that are relatively obscure, stay far, far away from this game.

Final Score: 3.8/10 rounded to 4/10

Rating:   2.0 - Poor

Product Release: Thexder (US, 12/31/88)

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