Blue Lightning CD
by Robert A. Jung
Atari Corp., for the Atari Jaguar
Free with Jaguar CD player
What was that old saying about power corrupts? General Drako, the world's foremost military strategist, has fallen prey to the seduction of power. By hook and by crook, he has assembled his own private army, and has now weaved an international network of crime and corruption. The United Nations' elite Blue Lightning air squadron has been authorized to stop him; with a number of modern aircraft available, you must engage Drako's forces and prevent his schemes from bearing fruit.
And that video-game chestnut opens Blue Lightning for the Jaguar CD, a title based loosely on the jet combat game for the Atari Lynx portable game system. You go against General Drako's forces, shooting jets, blasting tanks, and flying escort missions in various tours of duty around the globe. There are three planes available at the start, and more are earned by successfully completing tours. The game ends when all of your jets are lost or when Drako is finally defeated. Three difficulty levels, a training mode, and the ability to save up to five games (with a Memory Track cartridge) round out this title's list of features.
Blue Lightning on the Lynx became a success by offering uncomplicated jet-blasting action in a fun and easy-to-play environment. Blue Lightning on the Jaguar also offers uncomplicated jet-blasting action, but it is not easy to play, which severely hampers the fun factor. The game is not a realistic flight simulator by any means; the basic idea is to use your guns and missiles and make all sorts of things go kaboom. If you're looking for modern ECMs, detailed instrument panels, or fine control over every flap, look elsewhere.
A lot of user-unfriendly game aspects prevent Blue Lightning from being enjoyable. For example, the joypad is used both to steer your jet and to aim the guns, which is simply cumbersome. There's little latitude with the aim -- the crosshairs must be centered precisely on most targets to destroy them, which detracts from the action. Fire-and-forget missiles are almost as bad, with missile locks which vanish at the jet's slightest twitch and secondary targets that are simply ignored. Audio cues for incoming missiles are easily lost among the background noise and graphics, and speed control is performed with a clumsy system of afterburners, cruise control, and air brakes. Most of the flaws are minor individually; taken together, however, they inhibit the pleasure of the game and stack the deck against the player.
To be fair, Blue Lightning is far from unplayable -- the tours are fairly diverse and offer a good challenge, while the controls are reasonably responsive. Once time is taken to learn how things work, it's possible to wreak lots of property damage, beat Drako, and win. But it's hard to justify the attempt; other Jaguar titles deliver more fun and action with fewer hassles. There's fun in this game, but many players won't bother to take the effort needed to find it.
The best thing one can say about the sights of Blue Lightning is that they get the job done. Game graphics consist of scaled sprites, with a texture- mapped ground included on low-altitude missions. But while planes and clouds and buildings and trucks are easily identifiable, there's little life to them; animation is almost non-existent, colors are drab, and they often feel like a last-minute afterthought. The frame rate and scaling are reasonably smooth, though the barrel roll slows things down considerably and seems gratuitous. Aside from a nice full-motion video opening, in-game cinemas are boring and bland. Fortunately, there is an option to turn them off.
Music and sounds are better, but just barely. Weapons fire and jet engines constitute the majority of game sounds, and they're diverse enough to work well. There are also a number of voices sprinkled throughout the game; these range from passably plausible to radio-school rejects. Finally, music consists of a few "heavy rock"-type themes. They're tolerable, if a bit too generic, and there aren't a lot of them, which means it becomes repetitious pretty quickly.
Blue Lightning could have been a simple, no-nonsense blast-a-thon, but numerous unfriendly features turn it into a frustrating chore instead. The graphics and sound are sufficient for the job, but they don't help draw in the player by any means. Devotees who take the time to work with the game's shortcomings can find some thrills, but most will prefer to stay grounded and avoid the hassle.