In a number of films, the future is often portrayed in a number of ways – be this futuristic towns as in Back To The Future or machines that are out of control in Terminator 2. In games the future is often portrayed with the first two numbers showing and then x’s to show things being mysterious – like in Mega Man games which are set in 20xx, though quite what year they are supposed to be set in is anyone’s guess. So imagine the joy when a game comes along that trounces over the 1990’s and the mysterious 20xx’s and raises the bar by three whole millenia. When you get a game, that can **** all over previous millenia, it deserves attention and respect. So grab your self-tying shoes, your hoverboard and a fresh pair of (under)pants, because we’re going racing in the 51st Century(tm all rights reserved).
Galaxy 5000, published by Activision is a “futuristic” racing game – futuristic in that it is set on far away planets in the galaxy and the setting is space. So expect lots of black backgrounds, random dots to signify the stars and random coloured balls to signify the planets. Not quite as futuristic as one would expect being set in the 5th Millenia but this may change in the scope of this review. The premise of the game is straight-forward, you control a ship which can fire weapons in order to battle for first place. Nothing too complex however such as other racing games on the NES at the time, you can upgrade your vehicle so that it can get shields or have more powerful weapons, and that’s never a bad thing, is it?
Slamming the cartridge (or gently inserting it) into the console and turning it on, you’re presented with Activision’s idea of the Year 5000, with severed blue helmets, parts of the ship scattered on the planet and aliens popping out from the ground like futuristic moles to greet you. Pressing the start button you are then presented with the options for play and thank goodness the game allows two players to play, and also what control system you can use. The game classes the controls as alpha or beta – alpha controls is where holding down the corresponding direction on the d-pad makes your ship go in that direction. The downside to this is that say your ship is facing the immediate left ( <- ) and you want to go diagonal bottom right, by pressing the bottom right direction on your d-pad the ship turns ever so slowly and you may find yourself crashing into the wall. The other direction system, the beta controls seems much simpler but you may get an aching thumb from it. You hold the up d-pad direction for your ship to accelerate and then hold down the left or right button to turn the ship. Personally, this is more preferable however either control style is an innovative way of moving and not consigning the player to the standard “holding the A button” to move. In this game, the A button makes your ship jump and the B button fires your weapon to try and disrupt your competitors. What you find with the game as you progress is that it is the same level, however with each stage you complete more obstacles appear on the stage such as spikes which can hinder progress so you’ll be familiar with the caveats of the track within a few races.
With the two player option, it is not set like Super Mario Bros where one player at a time takes a turn, no this is the better two player expereince where both ships are on the screen at the same time and you are both racing mano y mano, fighting for first place. So what happens if one player is falling behind and struggling, do they crash out of the race or does the game punish the player(s) in anyway? Not at all, all that happens is that the player rushes back to where the other human controlled player is, so at least it gives the last place player a chance to catch up, but doesn’t cause a slingshot effect where they can overtake past the more skilled player on the course. So if you are playing this round a friend’s, don’t expect to slob out playing Snake on your phone, both players will be on screen at the same time.
The graphics in the game are bold and colourful, though it is very stereotypical of the space theme, having black backgrounds and coloured dots to represent stars and the planets. However with this in mind the ships are varied in colour and the race track is in stark contrast to the black background so it is a game you’re not going to squint your eyes at. What is nice is that on the track it has detail that you wouldn’t neccessarily find on other NES games, especially racing games which gives it a realistic edge – again, realistic as your imagination allows for a game being set in the year 5000. In terms of music and sound effects, the music is not too bad and the sound effects suit the game well, so you don’t need that Saturday Night Fever soundtrack ringing in your ears. What was good in terms of the sound effects is that when the ships collide, primitive voice effects say one of three phrases – “Hey”, “Watch it” (from the school of Charles Bronson in Deathwish…) and “Excuse Me”. Although it may not sound much and these days we take it for granted that games will have voice acting, it was a good step and one that would get any gamer excited at the time as to the future of voice acting in a video game.
So how does Galaxy 5000 fare – ship-shape or consigned to the eternal hangar in the (futuristic) sky? Well, Galaxy 5000 is a fairly decent futuristic racing game that differed from it’s peers such as Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart or R.C Pro AM by being set in space but allowing your vehicle to be customised as long as you win races. There are a couple of drawbacks to the game, such as the clunky alpha controls but as well the difficulty – this can be jarring as when you race around on the track, if you hit the edge of the track or cut into the turn too quick, this allows the computer players to race past and it is VERY difficult to catch up. With practice you can learn to navigate the track without crashing into the walls or the sides of the track or even be prohibited by the spikes that appear later however with the timer on top of the screen as well (oh yes there is a timer as well to add to the fun), if this counts down to zero then it’s game over so bear in mind this game can be difficult. If you like a challenge then do pick up a copy, copies in the wild are not that expensive and take advantage of the good control system, the start of voice sound effects and a blooming steep difficulty curve. If you’re not a fan of challenge but like the idea of racing games and upgrading your vehicle then stick to the Ironman himself. I’m off to the Year 3000, I hear nothing’s changed but they live underwater…
Rating – 3 out of 5