Retro Game Review – Lazarian

Publisher: Commodore
Platform: Commodore 64
Release Date: 1983
Media: Cartridge
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Based on the Bally Midway arcade game of the same name, Lazarian typifies 70’s arcade game style; topped only by the fact that it was originally released in 1981. The mentality of the time was to put weird characters in nonsensical settings with a level system that endlessly loops, from easy to hard, over and over again. Just take a minute and think about the design of Pac-Man and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

This is not to say that Lazarian is a bad game. On the contrary, Lazarian is quite fun. Like Pac-Man, it’s one of those games you can pick up and play having never read a manual. Try doing that with Everquest. You can turn it off just as quickly and not get that feeling of reckless abandoning. It just has that classic arcade charm, which provides hours of mindless entertainment.

In Lazarian you are in control of a super high-tech spaceship, that shoots frickin’ laser beams. I’m not about to pass judgment, but the “space ship” looks surprisingly similar to my charcoal grill, you be the judge. I don’t remember what the story behind Lazarian is, but I’m sure it involves the earth being attacked by slimy space creatures from Mars… or Jupiter. Again, it’s that classic arcade charm. It is your mission to blast away enemy pixels and progress to the final level, more on that later.

The game begins with your ship floating in space, outside a blue circle. Inside of the blue circle are several darker blue circles, which you’re supposed to pretend are meteors. Your job is to shoot the meteors when their “confinement zone” turns yellow, thus freeing them to crash right into you. While this doesn’t sound like a smart idea, it’s the only way to progress in the game. Once you free all of the meteors, they thank you by shooting at you. Stay with me here. You then have to enter the blue circle, which turns red, and take care of the little ingrates. Did I mention that Beethoven’s Ode To Joy is playing the whole time?

From this point you move on to a Donkey Kong style level. This game is all over the place. You move through 4 tunnels, each one becoming more difficult than the last. The first one is crawling with giant space bats that cause your ship to explode at the slightest touch. The second pits you against four steam rollers that want to flatten you. In the third tunnel flaming torches shower your ship with fiery death. And the final tunnel consists of an insane barrage of missiles that, for some reason, shoot high or low but never at the same time. This is a tremendous design flaw, and allows your ship room to evade. Thank heaven for government contractors.

Next, it’s time to confront the Lazarian. The Lazarian’s appearance defies all description. It’s not that threatening either, armed with only a single fire gun rivaled by civil war weaponry. The Lazarian doesn’t even move… at all. Its only defense is a thick hyde that you must shoot through at close range. Watch out! While your mighty lasers are occupied on performing surgical liposuction on the Lazarian, you are vulnerable to its bullets.

Once you cut through the Lazarian, it unleashes it’s final weapon. It would appear that the enormous, grotesque, body is merely a husk. The body disappears leaving its eye to fly around, unleashing vengeance on your soul. Be careful, the eye is not completely vulnerable. It requires five or six direct hits in order to destroy. Once you destroy it, your quest is over.

You’d think that such risky adventures would be rewarded with ticker tape parades and long speeches. Alas, your mission happens before the invention of congratulatory screens. You start over, holding desperately on to your high score as proof of past battles. This endless loop is part of the games’ appeal. Rather than concluding the game, where it would certainly be tossed aside, it goes on forever providing endless entertainment. There’s something to be said for games that don’t end.

Lazarian is just a great time-killer. There’s no real strategy to it, just turn it on and start blastin’. It’s not nearly as monotonous as, say… pong, and it mixes things up just enough to keep you interested. Of course, Lazarian has long since left the arcade/home computer arena. Thanks to the power of emulators though, I’m sure that Lazarian will be around for a long time. Hit the links above to get a copy for yourself.

— Matt

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