I remember the lie I used to tell myself as a kid about how video games would turn me into a master of hand-eye coordination, able to react against whatever balls and bullets life could throw at me. In reality, however, video games can only improve your hand-eye coordination through the interaction of your fingers, thumbs and a two-dimensional television screen. But for us wannabe gaming ninjas, games like Backfire (not actually Backfire, as it didn’t exist) were virtual catnip.
Backfire takes its cue from Spectravision’s late-blooming classic Cross Force, in which a cannon on top of the screen and another on the bottom blow up baddies in the middle of the playfield. The difference is that you couldn’t blow up your sister ship in Cross Force, while in Backfire you will likely do so often. You select your cannon by pushing up or down on the joystick; while it may seem like tying your shoes with your elbows at first, once you get the hang of the control scheme it’s pretty addictive.
Much can backfire (ha!) in Backfire. Most of the time the playfield is littered with shields that will deflect your shot – often right back at your cannon. If you let one of the spaceships into the outer row near your cannon, you get caught in its invisible tractor beam. You can escape this, but most of the time getting caught leads to an extended and rather annoying death.
For a game comprised mainly of rows, shields and other blocky objects, Backfire looks colourful and crisp. At only 4K, it made me wonder why Atari itself had such difficulty producing good-looking row-based games (Demons to Diamonds, I love ya but you look like ass). Of course, Atari had focus groups, marketing, Ray Kassar and freakin’ Warner Bros to worry about so maybe we should cut them a break if things didn’t always turn out better than what a lone enthusiast could muster.
One thing that bugged me about Backfire (other than its extended death rattles) was the tininess of the missile. If it’s going to bounce all over the place threatening to wreak havoc on the player, you should at least be able to see it. Otherwise, it’s all pretty well done. B-
Backfire is available for purchase at the AtariAge Store.