Quartet: Sega Master System
Whoa. I must be writing this from Bizarro World. Two Sega Master System games in a row? Yes! I’m attempting to branch out of my comfort zone for a bit (which means no NES games for a few weeks, sorry Bailey). This week, I present a game called Quartet that’s part Gauntlet, part Contra, and a whole lot of fun. Released in the arcades in 1986, and a year later in ’87 for the C64 and Sega Master System, the game is best described as a platforming shooter. UK friends, you saw the game for the Amstrad CPC and the ZX Spectrum in ’87 as well.
Being an arcade release initially, the story line is a little thin. Space Colony Nine has been invaded by nondescript ‘aliens’. Of course, it’s your job to mop up the mess over the course of six stages. You’ll encounter a multitude of enemies as you journey from left to right on a journey to meet a boss at the end of each level. Don’t fret, though, as the game allows up to four simultaneous players! (Unless you’re playing a home release, then there’s only two.. but it’s still called Quartet.. D’oh!) You’ll stumble across some helpful items, like a bomb and a jetpack, which allows controlled flight and hovering. Similar to Gauntlet, you don’t have ‘lives’ in this game, but rather a timer-as-life-meter which decreases constantly over time. Once it reaches zero, the game is over. Luckily, you can bypass enemies entirely if you can get around them, only dealing with bosses and finding their keys which unlock a door to the next stage.
The SMS port of this features relatively small sprites walking and flying around. They aren’t very detailed, and they are typical of most SMS games. I’d consider these slightly above average graphics anyway, however, but that’s only because it looks like the color palette used is a lot brighter than a typical NES game. In my unscientific opinion based on wishy-washy feelings, SMS games often times looked a little bit nicer than NES games because of that. The music in Quartet is pretty good, with different tunes for each stage. The sound effects are mid 80s arcade worthy, which is a testament to the SMS’ sound abilities. The last boss is, um, interesting, and for some reason reminded me of the ultimate enemy in the spring sci-fi movie ‘Oblivion’ if it was shooting bullets.
Quartet allows you to walk, duck, shoot, and jump what feels like an absurdly high distance. Once you get a jet pack, which appears in almost every level, you can move around like a slow hummingbird, hovering in place for as long as you wish. The weapon of choice in this game is a Mega Man like ‘pea shooter’, except it’s slower… and doesn’t shoot as far. Control is decent and for once the square D-pad of the SMS which I usually complain about is useful, allowing quick and easy diagonal movements on screen.
While I do really like this game, I wish the SMS release allowed for four players, but that’s more of a system limitation, as no four player module was ever released. Too bad. Gripe number two is, gee, I can just waltz on past most of the bad guys? I know most games at the core are like this, but it feels really chumpy. Nevertheless, I do still like the game. The arcade release is a fun play with four players (having tried this recently at Funspot in New Hampshire), but the home release works well too. Unfortunately, you can’t add quarters to refill your life, but hey, you’re sitting on the couch at home as opposed to standing in an arcade. There’s trade-offs in everything. If you’re looking for a platformer, want to shoot some aliens, or enjoy a game in the style of Gauntlet, I invite you to dig out Quartet and give it the fair shake.