Captain Lunar: Jarheads of Zarabus

The man in th14e moon

Developers today sometimes mistake complexity for sophistication and make games that are more complicated than they need to be. Big Blue Bubble takes the opposite approach with Captain Lunar: Jarheads of Zarabus by making an accessible game that’s reminiscent of the oldest of the classic 2D platformers. Unfortunately, it suffers from repetitive play and little level variety.

Captain Lunar is a colorful, little spaceman who’s been stranded on the planet Zarabus because his ship ran out of gas. He must go through several levels, which are about four screens square, to collect 16 gas molecules in each one. The levels are inhabited by a handful of different aliens that are out to get Lunar.

The look and feel of Captain Lunar is slightly reminiscent of Tecmo’s arcade game Bomb Jack or id’s classic PC platformer Commander Keen. The actions are basic. Lunar uses a jetpack to fly a limited amount. Your jetpack time is measured by a meter at the bottom of the screen, and it refills quickly when you stop using it. There are occasional missile depots, but they only provide Lunar with one missile at a time. Oftentimes a missile shot will just freeze an enemy instead of destroying him or her. The game is really more about jumping and avoiding your enemies than destroying them.

There are a set number of levels, but, like any real arcade game, the real measurement of success is your score. Jarheads of Zarabus has a Bomb Jack-inspired point system based on the order of item collection. Generic gas molecules, which are blue and yellow, are worth 10 points and can be grabbed in any order. However, each level has a bonus based on collecting molecules in a particular order. The next molecule in the sequence is red and green and is worth 25 points.

The enemies in Jarheads of Zarabus are interesting but limited. One is a square vehicle that resembles a large space helmet. It moves left and right across a short distance. The other machine is a spiked, iron cyclops eye that moves similarly to the helmet in the first stages but begins taking less predictable paths in later levels. Finally, there are the Jarheads themselves, who are planted in tiny spaceships with lots of headroom for their big noggins. They are by far the most dangerous enemy, because they don’t follow any pattern. They basically resemble bees as they buzz around your precious molecules.

Aside from the aforementioned missiles, there are other items to help you get around the levels. Finding a jetpack will refuel you in midflight. More potent is the time clock, which freezes all enemies for a handful of seconds. Lunar is invulnerable to hits when the aliens are frozen.

The level designers didn’t pull any punches when they created challenging and occasionally frustrating setups. One level situates three sequential molecules down a long hallway, which it seems can only be accessed by grabbing a time clock and running through an enemy who’s blocking the door. There’s no timer or missile depot in the hallway, so a non-savvy player would have to sacrifice a life to complete the level. However, few of these puzzles are really tough, and you are rarely forced to think outside of the box. Only players who are trying to get a perfect score will truly be challenged.

This is the main problem with Jarheads of Zarabus: There’s really no impetus to keep playing. The first area, a moonlike landscape, changes into a mechanical fortress after the first eight levels, but the gameplay never really advances. Furthermore, there isn’t a congratulations screen or a bonus for collecting all the molecules in sequence. Instead, you’ll receive just a few extra points. The stage designs aren’t interesting enough to sustain more than a dozen levels of play, if that.

Jarheads of Zarabus is fine on the audio/visual side. The graphics are small but colorful, and little details—like the moon in the background—make the gameworld feel pretty real. There isn’t any music, but the sound effects are fun and appropriate. The whoosh of the jetpack is great, and the explosion used for when Lunar dies will make any gamer cringe.

With its limited replay value and easy accessibility, Captain Lunar: Jarheads of Zarabus would be the perfect arcade game in, say, 1984. However, it simply can’t be recommended today for the 10 or so minutes of actual entertainment it provides.

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