Super Qix -
Taito Corp, 1987
Qix is a game that's deceptively simple. By using your cursor, you need to draw boxes on a screen to claim territory while avoiding obstacles. The goal is to take at least 75% of the total available space before the enemies wipe you out.
The original version of Qix, released in 1981, was very simplistic in appearance. If you touch the Qix (reminiscent of that one Windows screensaver) or the Sparx (little flashes of light that follow you along the lines you've drawn), you'll die. You also can't backtrack on the line you're drawing or stop moving - otherwise, a fuse will appear from the back of your line, and if it catches up to you, you'll lose a life. The original version was very simplistic, and your only reward for clearing a screen was to move to another level with tougher enemies. In the original Qix, you had the option of drawing "stix" (your lines) fast or slow, with a higher point reward given if you used the slow option. The game was all about getting the highest score.
In Super Qix, the challenge is much more detailed. You're still a little cursor, but your enemies now have personalities of their own. The big bouncing enemy (originally known as the "Qix") now looks like a green Gremlin, while the perimeter enemies (originally called "Sparx") look like little red bugs. Or maybe aliens, I don't know. There's a timer that lights up around the edge of the screen - when all the squares have filled in, another pair of bug enemies appears. The Gremlin guy changes size randomly, and will become a chain that bounces around the screen. When you lose a life, he'll laugh at you. Instead of merely taking the territory in Super Qix, you're trying to clear a picture underneath the playing field.
Thankfully, you have a variety of powerups to help you complete the levels. The most important one is the H heart - H for "Hurry". Your little cursor is painfully slow at the start of the game, but pick up 2 H hearts and you'll be moving almost as fast as the Gremlin. The second most important heart is a minus sign. Get that, and all your enemies freeze on the screen. This is really useful if the Gremlin is close by, as you can box him in a tiny area and claim everything else. This is the only way to get really high-scoring games. The other powerups include the rarely seen extra life (a little dot inside a heart), the W heart that lets you warp ahead a level, and the blue heart that lets you bypass one of the bug enemies. This isn't as useful as it may sound because it replaces any H hearts you've collected.
If you're going for a high score, you can also collect the letters that appear as you draw your lines. If you spell out the word that describes the picture you're uncovering, you'll get extra points upon completion of the level. Also, the title screen says "Let's Try for 98%", but the highest I've ever gotten was 97%. I wonder what happens if you get 98% (which I'm guessing is the most you can possibly clear)? The way I've gotten 97% completion is to catch a minus heart when I was close to the Gremlin (who was small sized) and draw a box just around him.
Clear a screen with 75% or more, and the action stops to reveal a picture underneath the playing field. A little animated icon comes out, clears off all the lines you've drawn, and the picture lights up and animates. The game seems to have a mythological theme, with Chinese dragons, Medusas, mermaids, and little red imp guys sitting on pagodas. There's a touch of Engrish as well - for example, the garden level is spelled out "GERDEN". There's also a short bit of dialogue at the end of the game that makes very little sense.
Overall, the graphics are cute, if simplistic. Most of the time you'll be too busy trying to suvive the level rather than looking at the visuals, but they're a vast improvement over the original Qix. The reward screens are a nice touch and definitely give you something to aim for. The music is bouncy and catchy - there are 2 different tunes that alternate between levels while you're playing, and at least 3 different "reward" tunes that play after you clear a board.
I can imagine that I would've spent tons of quarters playing this at an arcade. The game is easy to learn and forgiving at the early levels. When you reach the higher levels, powerups become less frequent. I didn't really start having trouble until level 11, where it just seems like the Gremlin is really cheap. The beauty of emulators is that you can put in as many virtual quarters are you want.
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