Parsec
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8  |  Parsec Review (TI-99/4a)
larsoncc , 2/5/2003 7:17:53 AM

Asteroid Belt (pic) "Press Fire, to Begin." The voice synthesis module on my TI-99/4a greeted me again after all these years. She was as pleasant as ever, her silky voice coaxing me to play one of my life's classics. Suddenly, I was struck full-force with a realization brought on by time and experience: this lady is about to get me into trouble. BIG TROUBLE. Helen of Troy trouble. If there's one thing that life should teach you, it's to never, ever trust a light-framed, soft spoken lady from Texas... especially one that's "just" asking for a favor.

Parsec presents a beautiful irony. I FIRE FIRST. In fact, I have to fire TWICE before enemy craft descend on my sleek green machine. This planet is not familiar to me - the landscape is filled with pictures of Texas, alien ships, and "Jed Urb" (whatever the heck that is). I'm obviously the foreigner here. Yet, the next words coming from her sweet synthesized lips are "Alien Craft Advancing!" That lady is just lucky that I enjoy being the aggressor. It's much less exciting to be stuck defending an ungrateful planet by myself, while an unstoppable force assails me with bomb after bomb. I'll take swinging swords over shell shock, thank you very much.

Refuel (pic) Yes, in Parsec you fire the first shot. But it won't be your last (unless you're pathetically BAD). Three key elements that separate Parsec from the other shooters of the day are the laser, the lift, and the refueling tunnels. Those freakin' refueling tunnels. Oh, that third refueling tunnel is no picnic, let me assure you of that. Who in their right mind puts a Shell station in the middle of Carlsbad Caverns? ARGH! To master the refueling tunnels, you have to master the concept of lift. You've got 3 levels of vertical speed that you can choose from. Lift 1 will get you through the refueling tunnels (as long as you're nimble enough to make microscopic course corrections), Lift 2 is fantastic for those forays into the asteroid belt (five seconds that seem like an eternity), and Lift 3 is your everyday fighting and cruising gear. Did I mention that Texas Instruments saw into the future with Parsec? Yes, your laser is powered by an Athalon processor, if the overheating is any indication. If you see your ship turn red, it's time to stop shooting. Your ship turns red after a microsecond of firing once you're to the third or fourth stage. Heat management is key in Parsec.

Although this is a side scrolling shooter, you have a full 360 degrees of ship control (laser always fires forward) - which is good, because you'll get snuck up on from behind by flying saucers. Of course, those are the only things that'll sneak up on you, and they do so in an orderly, pre-warned fashion. Don't think that's any excuse to slack - these things are fast, and the longer you leave them on the screen, the faster they go, until they are little more than a blur. Good luck hitting a Kamikaze comet, my twitchy friend.

UFOs (pic) There is also an obscure way to cause a level warp. Yes, this game, produced at the dawn of the eighties, has a LEVEL WARP. Before you begin the game, you have the opportunity to fly around in your craft, blissfully unaware of the impending attack. Now, if you choose suicide, rather than fight, there's a chance you'll be WARPED to a random level! Crash your ship into any area of land, and you stand about a 1 in 20 chance of being level warped. I don't know if it was intentional, but if you crash into specific objects, you'll get further in the game. Among the hills, there is a water tower with 2 ships next to it. These ships look almost square. Crash into those, and there is a chance that you will fight them first! (or immediately after the first round of ships) These ships are extraordinarily FAST, and your laser will overheat at the slightest touch. It's best to drink 3 cups of coffee before attempting battle with these villains.

Parsec gets a lot of points in my book for being an addictive, patterned shooter with enough unique quirks that make it worth playing. But, this is a REVIEW, not a trip down memory lane. So I must show no restraint in kicking my fondness aside, and spitting on the classics. Imagine if we did this to Shakespeare!

Here's what causes Parsec to tarnish with age:

  • There aren't nearly enough sub-levels in a level. You'll find yourself with blurred vision and little thought as you endlessly repeat through the Urbite, Dramite, and Bynite attack ships.
  • The graphics, while phenomenal for the day, caused my wife to instantly say "Sa-Weeet graphics, man" while rolling her eyes. I think she's just jealous of my relationship with the speech synthesizer.
  • Parsec isn't Parsec without the speech synth. If you don't have this accessory to your TI, don't bother (you HAVE a TI, riiiiiight?).
  • Is there a way to pause this game?
  • Switching from joystick to keyboard to change "lift" makes the keyboard a better way to play Parsec. This doesn't please me - I'd rather make the dive to the keyboard when I need it - I like the joystick control too much.

Still, many childhood memories are locked away in that little black Parsec casing. My brother and I played that game probably more than was healthy. Others had an Atari, we had a TI. We had better graphics, better sound, and I firmly believe a better time. Our TI taught me how to program BASIC. Our TI gave us Munchman (the best TI game) and TI Invaders (my brother was the MASTER). You want a fair review of my childhood? Well, you're looking at a biased source, pal. I give Parsec a 8/10, and only that low because Munchman still needs to be reviewed.

Other Pictures: Blown Up

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