Retro Game of the Day! Gates of Zendocon
Gates of Zendocon, released in 1989 by Epyx for the Atari Lynx system (developed by Epyx as well, incidentally - and, the cause of their demise, essentially!)
A launch title for Atari's ill-fated handheld, this as intended to be their answer to the Gradius-style of games. While not really grasping much of what made those Japanese-developed games so popular, this Western-developed shooter still held it's own and did what it was intended to upon it's release - as a launch title, it should show off the capabilities of the system, and in that it respect it was very successful (even if no one bought it, or remembers it now!)
Reading further into this review, one must keep in mind that this game appeared at the same time as the first volley of GameBoy launch titles - portable gaming was such a tiny niche in the industry to begin with, and anything running on a system that wasn't a dedicated/burned LCD screen was a serious cause for celebration. Seeing "Super Mario Land" running on the pea-green blurry GameBoy screen was remarkable - but witnessing Electrocop or Gates of Zendocon, in glorious backlit full color, was not even imaginable - yet, here it was!
This series of Lynx games were running on a processor more powerful than the 8-Bit NES system, and so not only did games like Zendocon have a lot of color to show off, but they could also pull of tricks like hardware scaling and generous implementation of sprites - both things that were unusual in the (just-releasing) 16-Bit systems of the time, and not even really possible at all in the 8-bitters. Without delving too much more into that territory, we'll just leave it at the notion that Lynx games looked and performed gorgeously compared to anything else on the market.
As for the game itself? Zendocon puts you in a spaceship, fly to the right, blow up aliens, ho hum. The graphics were good enough to hook me for awhile, and though their powerup system implementation was a little unusual, it was enough to work and give the player a shot at overcoming the odds. The major fault of the game would be in the unimaginative level design, while not terrible it was certainly an afterthought and made for a dull experience after repeated plays.
Zendocon's not a bad game, and considering the time it released, quite an impressive feat. It doesn't hold up now (you wouldn't want to play a game like this for long on your iPhone, for example) but it's got a nice foundation and is remniscient of an exciting time in gaming history.