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PlusPak: B.U.G.S.- by Colin L. Hildinger


Bill's Unbelievable Ghastly Spaceships is a game that I expected to be shareware -- but which was picked up by Stardock to be part of their PlusPak series (which can be purchased on-line from Stardock's web page, BMT Micro, and various other channels presumably). The game has many similarities to Galaga, but is far from a straight clone of the classic arcade game. It is well polished and plays well, and since there are 50 levels for each difficulty (and I still haven't quite managed to beat it on the easiest level), you are assured of hours of gameplay.

Gameplay

As I mentioned, PlusPak: B.U.G.S. plays much like the game Galaga, a classic shoot 'em up game. Your adversaries, the "Bugs", come at you from different directions in different patterns on each level. Each kind of bug behaves differently, and bugs of the same type will even behave slightly differently on different levels.

One interesting twist in this game is that instead of being locked into an area at the bottom of the screen, you can move your spaceship anywhere. This is useful for avoiding bugs that dive down to the bottom of the screen or scroll from the bottom of the screen to the top.

Another unique twist is the ability to shoot the bombs that the bugs drop to protect yourself. While this in itself is not unique, the behavior of the bombs is. As you progress further into the game, the bombs will start to take longer to completely vaporize. This means that you can't shoot them right before they hit you on the later levels. While I don't make shooting bombs my main defense strategy (avoidance is more prudent), it did catch me off guard the first time a bomb continued to streak into me after I'd shot it. Nice touch.

As you shoot bugs, occasionally you'll get one of several types of "power ups." One type of power-up enables your ship with shields. Each shield will last six seconds or through a certain amount of damage. This is also a nice touch, since these shields have to be used strategically.

Another type of power-up gives you 10 rapid firing shots, and another arms your ship with missiles which will follow the closest bug and destroy him on contact. These power-ups appear wherever the bug carrying them was killed, so sometimes it can be hard to get to them before they disappear (which happens after a delay) without getting destroyed yourself -- especially when you're playing on the "elite" difficulty level (GIF, 27.3k).

The Big Cheese

Every ten levels you meet a "boss" bug (GIF, 20.6k). These bugs have multiple attacks and are quite difficult to defeat on the elite level. One of my favorite things about this game is the way unique features were worked in to classic concepts: each boss bug has a little power meter in the center of his "face". As you hit the bug, the power meter goes down, but it will recover over time. This is a really well thought out feature. (An interesting addition would be the ability to destroy the arms of the boss bugs though.)

Graphics and Sound

The graphics for the game are well done in every way. In fact, you might recognize some of the graphics in the dialogues from the old MicroLearn Game Pack, Volume II (reviewed in OS/2 e-Zine! vol. 1, no. 3). This is because Ingo Guenther, the artist for the MicroLearn games, also did the art for B.U.G.S.

B.U.G.S. is full of great little graphics details. For example, as you get power-ups, your ship even changes its appearance (GIF, 14.3k) to reflect the new capabilities (like getting missiles will cause your ship to grow missile launchers). The scrolling backgrounds are also nicely done as are the bugs themselves.

The sounds are done using Stardock's sound engine which was developed for Entrepreneur (the "soon to be released" killer game from that company). It uses DART and allows easy mixing of digital sounds. This can be noticed when the "game over" .wav file sometimes plays at the same time as the "high score" .wav file. Of course a DART capable sound card is a must to use sound.

Finally, the game requires DIVE, and I recommend EnDIVE if you're going to stretch the screen to its maximum size (although Matrox's EnDIVE apparently doesn't work right, my Trident 9680's EnDIVE support seems to work just fine).

Difficulty

I recommend starting off at Rookie level. This will let you get used to the first few levels and controls of the game. If the game is still too hard, you can select a faster computer model in the options menu, which will slow things down. Or, you can scale the game to twice the normal window size to slow things down. Finally, by increasing the difficulty level (Rookie, Veteran, or Elite) you make the game considerably more challenging.

While you get more power-ups on the higher difficulty levels, you often can't even get to them without getting killed because of the barrage of enemy fire. Elite mode should be a challenge for anyone. But if you're still too good, try setting the game to randomize the levels. This means that you won't know which pattern of bugs to expect next, which makes the game significantly more difficult.

At the other end of the spectrum, for the ultimate challenge, set the game to 486 mode and the window to its smallest possible size. On my Pentium 166, this made the game nearly impossible.

Of course, while all these things are fun for making the game harder or easier, I'd prefer a pure speed setting and an algorithm within the game to keep it running at the same speed no matter what window size I selected. You could then say, "I beat B.U.G.S. set on Elite difficulty with the speed set to fast," and people would know that they were playing at the same difficulty as you. For people on slower systems, the developers could just grey out any selections that were beyond the system's capability.

It would also be nice if the game would appear, using the entire screen height when you start the game. For people forced to run in 640x480 resolution, the default size is a little too large to fit the window and its title bar entirely on the screen.

Feature Wish List

The only thing lacking in the prerelease version I tested (and the release version I received afterward) was joystick support, and my right hand sorely misses it -- quite literally. A few hours of B.U.G.S. and my arrow hand feels like it's going to fall off.

I was assured by the authors that joystick support would be added in the 1.01 version, and with the response the team gave me on the few "bugs" I found, I'd say that this version can be expected soon. The guys at Cramon Utilities cranked this game out in no time at all and I have to say I expect nothing but good things from them in the future. (Hopefully we'll see a B.U.G.S. II or something similar soon.)

I'd also like to see more complex levels similar to the ones near the end of the game, but since the engine has been developed, I suspect that a sequel certainly isn't out of the question.

Finally, one of the coolest parts of the original Galaga was the "capture/rescue" feature which gave players a pair of ships to work with. (It's a little complicated to explain if you've never seen Galaga. If you have, you know what I mean; if you haven't, trust me, it was an excellent feature.) Something like this could be cool.

Conclusions

While there is room for improvement, I found PlusPak: B.U.G.S to be quite fun. Everything is well polished, and the authors were quite responsive when I made suggestions or found any minor bugs. I look forward to more good things from the guys at Cramon Utilities.
 * PlusPak: B.U.G.S.
by Cramon Utilities
published by Stardock Systems
MSRP: US$24.95
Colin Hildinger is an Aerospace Engineering senior at Oklahoma State University and has been using OS/2 for the last 3 years. In addition to being the Games Editor for OS/2 e-Zine!, he maintains The Ultimate OS/2 Gaming Page and the AWE32 and OS/2 Page in his "spare" time.

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