Monday, August 03, 2015

Alpha Waves

Boing... Boing... Boing...

Alpha Waves is a unique game released by Infogrames in 1990 and is nothing like I first imagined (back then). In fact, I still remember the first time I booted it up and then picked up my jaw from the floor. Not because I was seeing wondrous graphics or anything I might have hoped for - but simply because I was experiencing something brand new.

Yes, this is a new genre of 16-bit gaming that had us piloting a rather odd spaceship (it looks like a wedge of cheese). We are trapped within a multi-roomed cube and each of these inner rooms is littered with platforms. These function to progressively bounce us higher into the air, which is our means of transportation. I guess they forgot to include a decent engine?

Anyhow, this mechanic allows us to bounce independently, as if on a trampoline. But only when using the platforms, otherwise gravity takes over and we sink to the floor like a lead balloon. The wedge of cheese has no upward thrust, only forwards. So pilot wisely and skim from platform to platform - to ultimately reach the dizzy heights. And the exit door.

It's a cool concept that is well-executed and very easy to pick up and play so let's view a screenshot...

That's me there and you can see my shadow. Use that for guidance.

But is it any good?

Two gameplay modes are available: "Action" has a time restriction whereas "Emotion" gives you all the time in the world and is useful for newcomers or those simply wanting a more leisurely experience. Controls are best with the joystick and navigation can be improved by pushing up or down to change your world viewing angle.

Interestingly, a shadow is cast by your craft - this helps to pinpoint your position in each position perfectly. Some rooms contain obscure baddies which can annoyingly get in the way and knock you about - watch out for the "snake" creature!! Alpha Waves will never disappoint no matter which gameplay style you prefer and is great for explorers.

As you can tell, it's tough to explain but much easier to pick up play! So let's see another screenshot...

What is that weird thing? An enemy ship or someone coming over to help?


Graphically this may appear simple or even crude judging by the screenshots. But playing the game reveals how great everything moves in what I can only describe as an abstract world of 3D-filled vectors with zero distance clipping.

Faster computers will knock it out of the park but the 8MHz Atari ST performs fast and fluently. Heck, it even runs in high resolution so you can see all the polygons at 640x400 without any slowdown (but I personally preferred the whacky colours in low resolution which also looks a lot better to IMHO).

In-game sound effects are samples and very nice too but, there is little else to hear. If I'm honest, you spend most of your time listening to your ship bouncing on platformers. I love the door sound effect, very Interphase I thought.

Okay, so it looks weird but also brilliant at the same time. Great! So let's check out a screenshot...

The CryptO'pinion?

I personally rank this as one of the best Atari ST games I have ever played. Bold statement but this is an amazing experience and a perfect example of the gems lurking within our archives just waiting to be discovered. It may not appeal to everyone but Alpha Waves certainly helped invent a genre that nobody ever expected. It plays great with many unique challenges that require much skill and perseverance. A flabbergasting moment in gaming history and one I absolutely adore.

Who would ever have thought bouncing a piece of cheese through cubic rooms would be so much fun?

> Downloads are available for both floppy and super-zippy hard drives!

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