Warbirds – Atari Lynx
Platform: Atari Lynx
Release Date: 1991
Nerd Rating: 3.5 out of 10
Tonight I ended up playing this game purely by accident. I picked up the Lynx and fired it up to see if the batteries were any good, and it turned out that Warbirds happened to be in the game slot. Just as I was about to power it off, I spotted a plane on the horizon, chose one of the two buttons to push, and started shooting. I suppose it’s fair to say that I got a little hooked on it, and then a little more hooked once I began to get a feel for the controls. My recreation persisted in part because there is some fun factor to the game, but also because it’s been far too long since I really sat down with Atari’s one and only handheld.
Warbirds follows in the path of rather prototypical flight simulator games. The player controls one of those older style planes, the kind where machine guns were timed to fire through the blades of the propeller. Depending on the chosen mission, 1 to 3 identical enemy planes are also in the air, and it is the player’s rather pedantic task to shoot down the opposing aircraft lest the player be gunned down first. That’s it. No buildings to destroy, items to collect, or time limits; no score to beat, no weapons to choose from, and no unique stages. The planes are the same, the scenery is the same, and despite the list of missions available, they too seem to be the same.
Even though the visuals will get old after a few brief moments, it should be noted that there is a relatively high degree of gameplay customization available. When Warbirds is first booted up, the player is presented with a multitude of options. Several aspects have a number of settings, including the amount of ammunition available, number of lives, whether or not collisions are possible, where the planes start, the amount of damage that can be sustained, and a choice between “Flight Simulator” or “Arcade Action.” In all cases these options can be set to “infinite” or some comparable equivalent, making for a game where one simply cannot lose. I can only guess that the intention was to gradually play games with smaller amounts of ammo, only one life, and so forth in order to beef up the difficulty and eventually produce an expert player. As for what the difference between “Flight Simulator” and “Arcade Action” is, I have no clue. Games played with either setting seemed exactly the same in all respects.
Once the options have been set, the player then gets to select a mission. The missions don’t seem to be all that different from one another, aside from the number of enemy planes and the behavior of such planes. Sometimes the planes will focus on frontal assaults, other times they stay hot on the player’s tail for the duration. Still, the missions are so very similar that it’s a bit of a stretch to label them as “missions” at all.
The controls take some serious getting used to, and even afterwards can remain somewhat awkward. The A button is used to fire, and the B button, when held in conjunction with a directional button, is used to view the area on the sides of and behind one’s plane. The tough part is controlling the plane with the D-pad. There is no way to start or stop the plane. It remains moving the entire time, and all the player can do is control the direction. Left and right don’t strictly turn the plane, but rather roll it on its side. If one is hoping to do a 180 by holding left or right, it won’t happen. Instead the plane will do a barrel roll.
To actually turn, left or right must be held until the plane is at an angle, then released while the plane turns, and then the opposite directional button needs to be pressed to reorient the aircraft. While this may imitate the motion of an aircraft more realistically than other games, it is still confusing and difficult to pull off precision movements, especially when an enemy plane is directly behind. Fortunately, the up and down aspect is inverted giving Warbirds a more natural feel. Oh, and despite what the options may lead you to believe, the player can and will crash into the ground if too close.
Aiming the guns is also difficult. There are no crosshairs in Warbirds, leaving it up to the player to determine exactly how the bullets will make contact. Rough estimations can be made and adjusted at longer distances, but once close-quarters combat becomes imminent the game degenerates into pure luck. Another conspicuously absent element is a HUD. Unless you’ve got all the options at the easiest settings, there’s no real way to keep an eye on how well or badly one is doing.
For the time period, the graphics are pretty good. There isn’t a ton of detail when it comes to the scenery, but the planes and clouds both look very good. There’s also some rather catchy music in the background, preventing the sound from becoming overly annoying.
Between the difficult controls and total lack of variation between missions, backgrounds, and planes, Warbirds leaves much to be desired. I suppose it can be marginally interesting at first, but with no real ending or over-arching purpose beyond destroying all the planes in a particular mission, there’s not much of a reason to play this game very long. Perhaps its age is showing, as I can imagine someone back in 1991 giving this title a 5 or a 6. As it is though, there’s just not enough uniqueness going on in this one to merit much discussion. Oh well, there’s a reason the Lynx never made it as huge as the Game Gear or Game Boy.
Reviewed by The Cubist
Share This Post