623: Lunar Lander and Lunar Rescue

This is where you'll find threads specific to the games we'll be covering in our current volume of podcasts
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623: Lunar Lander and Lunar Rescue

Post by JaySevenZero »

Here's where you can contribute your thoughts and opinions for 1979's Lunar Lander (Atari) and/or Lunar Rescue (Taito) for potential inclusion in the forthcoming podcast.

A friendly reminder that where the feedback for the podcast is concerned, we love it - but keeping it brief is appreciated. We do want to include a breadth of opinions where appropriate, but no-one wants a discussion podcast that’s mostly reading out essays. Better to save yourself time and cut to the chase if you can.
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Re: 623: Lunar Lander and Lunar Rescue

Post by AndrewElmore »

I have a strong emotional connection to Lunar Lander, and I'm not even sure that I could tell you why. I played it in various emulation collections as a kid, and countless clones, I'm sure. But it's the arcade cabinet that I'm particularly drawn to. One day in the earlier part of the previous decade, I walked into my local arcade (that's "Dorky's" in Tacoma, for the curious. Same place I wrote "ASS" at the top of the scoreboard for the Asteroids issue) and they had acquired another new, old machine--part of why I love that particular arcade is their dedication to collecting and maintaining a wealth of machines going back to the 1970s. Anyhow, this time they'd acquired a classic Lunar Lander machine! The vibrant marquee art drew me in immediately (I just spent an hour trying to find the original artist, to no avail). I was familiar with the game already, but something about seeing it right there in front of me, with its freshly-recapped eye-searing vector monitor and Big Chunky Lever Controller was simply too cool to ignore.

I find great compulsion in recreating media experiences of the past, whether I lived through them or not. Currently, the room in my home that houses all of my retro games and the like is also set up like a tiny home theater circa ~2006. Once, a close friend was renting a room in a house carpeted by old orange and green shag from back in the day, so we leaned into it and furnished it appropriately with wood paneled electronics, a plaid couch, the works. Playing Lunar Lander on an original machine in such beautiful shape, I couldn't help but imagine what it must have been like to have encountered this at the time, a decade after the moon landing and just on the cusp of all the wild globe-altering escapades the 1980s and their space races would bring. I can see it now, the chainsmoking parent telling their child to learn the game well, because by the 21st century we'll all be landing spacecraft at our moon bases instead of pulling Buicks into our driveways. If that isn't a prime example of C.S. Lewis' concept of "chronological snobbery" than I don't know what is.

As for the game itself, I appreciate that Lunar Lander is quite difficult from the jump, urging you to be conscious about your application of fuel burn while tempting you with those fiendish little 5x multipliers. There's a surprising range of analog control on that lever that feels quite good in-hand. There's room for subtlety in the range of the lever's sweep that you don't necessarily get from trigger controls in something like Atari 50, though that's still the best home conversion of the game I've encountered by miles.

There are other games that have utilized a version of Lunar Lander's core mechanic as a mechanism for movement and exploration, Rare's Solar Jetman comes to mind. But those games don't tend to work for me the way that this one does, if only because Lunar Lander places so much emphasis on the careful execution of that movement, spotlighting the simulated physics as they relate to the player's fine motor control adjustments. It's simple, clean, technical, and mean. Every time I go to Dorky's, Lunar Lander is the first and last game that I play. I can't imagine it's been a big "earner" as a coin-op in the modern day, especially when they wedged it in-between an NBA Jam machine and a row of pinball tables for a while there, but I'll be more than happy to spend some time with that cabinet every chance I get.
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