Better than clockwork

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CRYSTALLOGRAPHY is a fun subject. No, really it is. Packed with useful and everyday concepts such as Burger Vectors and Peierls-Nabarro Stresses. It's riveting reading for insomniacs.
This gem of a subject (wit, or what!) doesn't exactly spring to mind as the plot for a particularly mindless shoot-'em-up, but Firebird has tried.

What has happened is somewhere, somehow, a crystal lattic has come over all unstable. This has been deemed a Bad Thing, so a suitable bozo has been found (viz, you)., plonked in a small space fighter and shrunk down to be small enough to fit into the crystal.

To get a rough idea of the required size, think of the weeny side of very, very tiny, and then some. Even now, you're still out by a couple of hundred angstroms, which are nothing to do with what a depressed artificially intelligent system might have. A rouge nucleus is causing all the trouble.

It's big enough - relatively, of course - to cause you real problems with your standard issue weapon, so you must stroll about the nucleus, blasting open quarks to capture the valuable neutrinos inside.

Now a neutrino is an incredibly small and fast thing. Travelling through the Earth doesn't cause a neutrino to even blink. But that's only in real life. Once you're caught enough of them in Quartz you can use them to synthesize new and more destructive weapons.

The nucleus does its level best to get rid of you with an orbiting electron cloud. The more you shoot the nucleus, the faster it spins. Until it splits. Once the nucleus is destroyed, you fly off via an enormous change of scale, through a meteor storm to the next crystal.

Quartz has been put together by Paul Shirley, he wrote the 8 bit classics Spindizzy (clever) and Mission Genocide (violent). All his games have some feature that's neat. The new thing in Quartz is a multi-level scroll, with shadows between and above levels, and a parallax starrfield behind it all. The actual play area is small, and the screen is shorter than it has any right to be, but the effect is generally quite neat.

The tune is palatable too, if you haven't had too much of electropop already. There is but one problem. This type of game, though fun and well presented, can't really justify its £25 price point, especially since some companies are trying to release bearable games for a fiver.

Quartz is certainly good. The lattice level is strongly reminiscent of Sinistar, while the meteor storm hit tastes of every scroller you've ever played, so it isn't exactly original.

Quartz logo

FIREBIRD £24.99 * Joystick

Aliens get absolutely everywhere: if they're not out in space destroying everything they can get their tentacles on, they're usually attacking the Earth. And if they're not doing that, chances are they're running around inside lumps of dense crystal at the sub atomic particle level.

Well, they are in Quartz., the latest game from Paul 'Spindizzy' Shirley. It's a viewed from above (mostly) shoot-em-up split into several sections The first and biggest section (which is not dissimilar to Asteroids) is set within the lattic structure of a crystal where the player controls a ship and has to blast away at Hydrons (which look like yellow and red pool balls), to split them into quarks which in turn change into neutrinos once shot.

Collect enough neutrinos to fill the three containers on the right of the screen and you can then choose a power-up. Power-ups include things like eight-way firing (only lasts for a limited amount of time) and a RAM save feature which allows you to restart from where you bought the feature rather than having to work all the way through from square one all the time.

Your ship is also able to carry up t three power-ups and the player can choose which one to have active is simply by hitting the space bar. Eventually, the aliens will detect your presence in the crystal and will drag you off into the next stage which is a horizontally-scrolling blast where waves of aliens give up neutrinos and there are ground-based objects to avoid.

Reach the end of the section and there's an end-of-level structure to destroy before going back to the relative safety of the lattice. The other sections of the game include a meteorite dodging stage and some more blasting, this time of the vertically scrolling variety.


Excellent graphics, though the lurid backgrounds tend to make it difficult to see what's going on some times. It's all well drawn and smoothly animated. The title music is jolly and the in-game effects are OK if not outstanding.


Very pretty, playable, and jolly tough: work is needed if you wish to do well in this game. Ultimately, though, it tends to get repetitive, so it's not a game that's going to keep you playing for months at a time.

Quartz logo

Price: £24.95

How's this for a strange scenario? You are the pilot of a ship flying though the lattice layers of a crystal, under attack from sub-atomic particles. Shooting the particle once will split them into three smaller particles, shooting these will result in a neutrino being created.

Collect enough of the various coloured neutrinos and you can choose something from a fairly standard set of add-ons for your ship. Initially you have space for three add-ons but this can be expanded by collecting pods. Eventually your presence will be detected and you will be dragged away to do battle with a large enemy in another layer of the crystal.

Basically, Quartz is a shoot-the-aliens, collect-the-weapons and shoot-the-aliens-a-bit-faster game, but it does have a couple of twists. The lattice levels, for example, scroll in all directions and are really only for building up a respectable arsenal, the real action takes place elsewhere. One of the extra allows you to start from the level where you died, an excellent idea as the game can get extremely difficult at times.

Graphics are consistently good, if a little blocky in some cases. Each level (apart from the lattice levels) has its own set of aliens so there's plenty of variety as well. Some great graphics effects are dotted around for good measure - just watch that explosion!

A groovey tune plays on the title screen and there are plenty of excellent sound effects in the game which tends to be the exception rather than the rule these days.

Initially, Quartz seems impossibly difficult, but as you get used to the controls and weapons it all becomes much easier and you soon get to show the aliens who's boss. Each level requires slightly different tactics, and this adds a touch of variety and stops gameplay becoming monotonous.

Quartz is a fairly standard shoot-em-up but excellent presentation, nice graphics and lots of variety make it surprisingly addictive and lasting.