The Fair Shake

Round 42

Greetings Readers! Today, Carl fires up the PC and DosBox for 42 rounds. 42 rounds of aliens attacking you. 42 different ways to die. 42 Rounds? Round 42? Or is it Round42? (25 years later and I still can’t figure that out..)

Round 42 could also be a lousy drinking game.

Round 42 is a shareware DOS game released in 1986. It is a shooting, wave based, arcade style game, placing you you in control of a small space ship (shaped like the letter ‘Y’). Similar in play to Space Invaders, with your ship along the bottom of the screen and enemies appearing at the top half. Unlike Space Invaders, however, your ship can move horizontally as well as vertically. It’s assumed we are in space, or it’s nighttime. It’s pitch black outside, and Vin Diesel isn’t here to help. Hordes of various aliens are out to destroy you, from small winged creatures, to red Cthulu looking heads, out to large pastel colored armless heads with hats. What will you do?


Feed these digital birds some Alka-Seltzer.

Your defenses consist of bullets, which are unlimited, unguided, and quick as anything, and a ‘phasor’ weapon, that will instantly kill a single nearest enemy. Of course, you have a limited amount of phasor shots, as you initially begin with only one, but gain an additional shot at the beginning of every level. You also gain a phasor shot every 7500 points. Enemies initially move slow, but their movement rapidly speeds up as their numbers decrease, which is also similar to Space Invaders. That phasor comes in handy for the very last few or single remaining enemy. They’ll zip around the screen so fast you end up hopelessly shooting, hoping to make contact. Making things more interesting, inexplicably, every fourth round is a “warp round” which is a small tunnel that you must navigate your spaceship through. Touching the walls destroys you. Lose all your lives and the game ends. Make it to ‘Round 42″ and the game actually repeats, even harder!  How far can you make it?

Death is pretty in CGA.

Round 42 has great play control, but the execution could be better. Unfortunately, it’s keyboard only. Amusingly, the arrow keys control your movement, while “F1” and “F2” control your bullets and phasors. WTF? I could see ZX or spacebar/control.. but F1/F2? Ugh. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but the keyboard I use has non-standard small function keys, and I swear they feel like pressing buttons on my TI-82 calculator. Oh well. Minor quibble, and my fault, not the game’s. Your Y ship is responsive, and only has one speed. The phasor is great when you’re stuck. One neat thing about Round 42 is if you die, you can sort of control where your new ship will appear, as you can move before being restored. This game would be PERFECT for a gamepad (Note to self: explore DosBox USB gamepad settings). Hit detection is great, as enemies vary in size, but the bullets hit when it counts.

Why can’t we just go AROUND the tunnel.

Graphically, Round 42 is bright and colorful, using a weird 160×160 display, with 16 colors. The display size causes the aliens to look like they came from an Atari 2600 game, but its consistent throughout, so the game has a feel. Did I mention the various enemies? You’ll learn to hate the ‘thin flying bird things’ the way I do.  While simple in design, they all have a unique look and movement, from the Cylon heads  to the chocolate truffle balls. . The screen fills up fast with the ‘body parts’ of the aliens as you blast them out of the sky. The screen also fills up with your spaceship parts if YOU are shot. Easy come, easy go.

Little Cylon heads!

For a 25 year old PC game, the sound effects are great. An ominous intro song starts the game, while the enemy sound effects makes you feel there really are endless waves after you. It always amazes me to see how advanced some games were for their time. Remember, this game came out in 1986, as shareware. Many games of the time were still simple beeps and boops. Whenever I use the phasor weapon, the sound allows me to imagine giving the aliens a big virtual middle finger.. Efff you! And you!!! Oh crap.. I’m out of phasors. Moving on.



This game is weird. I mean that in a good way. The sheer diversity of enemies causes you to wonder, ‘what’s next?’ Round 42 does play like a more advanced version of Space Invaders, but that’s like saying piloting a cruise ship is just like piloting a speedboat. There’s a lot more here in terms of movement, enemy variation, sounds, those damn tunnel levels, and the phasor shot. There’s even a self destruct button.. I’ll let you play with that. Many an afternoon after middle school was spent by me with this game for a little while before dinner. It was (and is) quick to start and dive right into. I fired it up tonight and after a few runs, made it to level 17. I always have trouble with the warp tunnel levels, and still do to this day. Of course, death causes you to lose all your stored up phasor shots. Did I mention I hate those tin silver things that have jaws and kill you?  If you do want to try this, you’ll need DosBox. You’ll also need to start DosBox from an actual command prompt, and use this command.

dosbox.exe -machine cga

This forces DosBox to run as a CGA computer, allowing that 160×160 display. You can then mount your drive and start the game normally. You’ll also, of course, need to crank down on the speed to around the 350 cycle mark. The game is available online in several locations. If you even slightly enjoy Space Invaders, you’ll like Round42 that much more. A game that, for this week, has been lifted out of the dustbin, blasted clean with a phasor shot, and given The Fair Shake.