This is another game I spent lots of time playing as a preteen. My brother and I enjoyed the increasing skill level as we got to higher and higher scores. I’m pretty sure we got to the invisible robot on our original INTV unit.
The game play can be pretty slow, with furious fits at times. You “run” around the maze (but the man runs pretty slowly in my opinion) shooting robots, bats, and a spider. The maze in general isn’t very populated, in contrast to Berzerk where each screen has a half-dozen or more robots to shoot. This ends up making the game much more of a strategy/hunting time game than a running robot shoot-em-up.
One thing this game has going for it is atmosphere. The heartbeat background thrumming is pretty cool. I wish the different robots made different firing sounds, but other than that the game’s sound is pretty cool (although no real music).
Like a lot of four directional INTV games, there are control issues. It’s really hard to tell when you’re properly lined up with a wall opening, and that can be deadly when you’re lying in wait for a robot to come by. Also, I’ve noticed that if I press a fire button too quickly (in the sense that I just slap the button instead of holding it down for a 1/4 second or so) it sometimes won’t fire. I’m assuming this is code within the game logic that addresses switch bounce, etc. Because of these minor issues, I would give the game an Arcadeability score of 4.
But there is the problem of how to map the controls (see below). If you don’t have a cabinet with a diamond shaped arragement of buttons or a dual joystick panel (one for running, one for shooting ala Robotron), this game would be quite cumbersome. So I have to give it a dual score. A 4 if you’ve got a control panel that allows this game to map well, a 2 if you don’t.
The game presents you with an array of robots, which I’ve gone ahead and captured via some screen shots.
The “Grey Robot,” which my brother and I referred to as the “bubble head.” It looks very reminiscent of the robot on Lost in Space (“Danger, Will Robinson!”), but it is just really kind of annoying. It doesn’t do much at all in the way of tracking you, so you have to hunt it down, which is hard because of its random-ish movements. So the game feels kinda boring for a bit at the start because this robot just seems so dumb.
The “Blue Robot.” This one at least tracks you down. And it looks better than the first robot also. It has a red eye that moves back and forth, just like the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica! A really nice touch. It’s relatively easy to kill, though (again like the Cylons – at least in the ’70s version). Since you don’t have to worry about it moving randomly, you usually can get past this robot quickly enough and on to the white robot.
The “White Robot.” This is the first robot that has shielding. It takes three shots to kill this robot (and all robots that follow). This robot looks like it also has an eye that moves back and forth (although not colored like the blue robot) and I think something like tank treads along its base.
The screen shot on the right is showing the white robot activating his shield.
The “Black Robot.” Here’s where the game starts getting a bit nasty. This robot not only has a shield, but he shoots bullets which consume yours. So no more bullets passing each other when you both shoot. If you both shoot, only his energy pulse (?) travels on.
I have to admit that I never really got the gist of what this robot’s sprite is supposed to look like. It looks like a top-down shot of a beetle or something, but the other robots have been side-shots. Assuming it is a side-shot, are those curly, springy legs beneath the robot? Well, it’s weird looking…
The right-hand screen shot shows the energy pulse that the black robot shoots. This is different than the other previous robots who shoot red bullets (?) like you do.
He does look cool when you shoot him, however. The yellow energy shield looks good behind the black robot.
While working on this review, I was saving the game via Nostalgia’s quick save feature. I paused it a few times as well. Somewhere along the way, the cartridge data got into some kind of goofy state. When I restored, the black robot headed straight for the bottom of the screen, going through the walls as he went! When he got to the bottom of the screen, he got stuck in the wall. I was able to bring the game back to a playable state by killing the robot. He regenerated as usual and the game continued. It was so strange, that I grabbed a couple video clips of it. I converted them to MPEG (using a trial version of some conversion software — so there’s an “unregistered” word in the upper left corner) so they could be enjoyed by others!
The next robot change that comes along isn’t a new robot, but the black robot again. However, now he has acquired yellow colored energy pulses that have the ability to eat away at the protective bunker in the middle of the maze. Nowhere to hide anymore…
The “Invisible Robot.” OK, a blue square isn’t quite a screen shot, but I was able to grab an image of the robot showing up behind his shielding.
Once the invisible robot shows up, you’re pretty much nearing the end of the game. I don’t think many people will last long once they get to this level.
I managed to get a shot of the invisible robot flashing behind his energy shield, but as you can see he was killing me at the time. Hey, I just wanted a screen shot.
The controls mapping for this game will need customization. The controls themselves are simple enough: 4-way directional controls plus four buttons for firing in the four directions. The original controls for these on the INTV were the directional disc and the 2, 4, 6, and 8 keypad buttons. This diamond shaped button pattern for firing can be a problem for arcade cabinets.
But not all cabinets will have problems with this configuration. Any cabinet control panels that have been made in order to play the arcade game Vanguard should have a diamond shaped pattern in their buttons. My panel has just such an arrangement!
Another possibility would be a dual joystick panel. You could configure the movement controls on one stick and the firing controls on the other just like the controls in Robotron. But I think that would feel a bit strange. Maybe it’s the Robotron influence on me, but a joystick firing control just seems like it should be a rapid firing kind of control. You’re not going to get that with this game. Each shot needs to be planned, and I think buttons work better for that kind of timing/control.
Because the INTV controllers are wired up such that inputs from the keypad and the directional disc cannot be read at the same time, the right way to map these buttons is to use the directional disc and action buttons from one controller with the keypad inputs of the other controller. So here’s how my controls are mapped for this game:
- Movement, left controller directional disc: cursor keys
- Firing, right controller keypad 2, 4, 6, 8: X, LALT, Z, LCTRL (player 1 buttons 6, 2, 5, 1)
This layout on my panel matches the diamond arrangement of my buttons with the diamond arrangement of the keypad controls.
I’ve saved this controller config in a file named stalker.kbd (the romfile on my cab is named stalker.rom) and the batch file shown on the main Intellivision page picks it up.
How does it compare to the original arcade game?
It’s very similar in concept to Berzerk. But it plays at much too slow of a pace to be a real Berzerk clone. Berzerk is about a lot more running around. You’ve got to get out of the screen before Evil Otto shows up!
I always found Berzerk a bit difficult to control. The gun always fires in the direction you were last moving. So you end up always running towards the thing that you’re firing at. As I indicated above, this is one case where the INTV controller really helped out with gameplay — sort of.
But the fact that Night Stalker’s maze never changes makes the game seem much more static and plain than Berzerk. You also do a lot more waiting and planning in Night Stalker compared to the running and shooting action of Berzerk. The game play is just too different to make this a decent comparison.
Still, I’ve always liked Night Stalker.