Male Voice: "Twenty-four aliens."
Robot Voice: "Starbase 1: Under attack. Starbase 2: Under attack. Starbase 3: Destroyed."
Male Voice: "Energy level one thousand five hundred eighty-two."
Female Voice: "Battle computer: Destroyed. Impulse drive: One-third down, under repair. Shields: Destroyed. Tracking computer: Destroyed. Hypderdrive: Two-thirds down, under repair."
Alien Commander: "The battle is over."
Robot Voice: "Starbase 1: Under attack. Starbase 2: Destroyed. Starbase 3: Destroyed."
— Typically the last thing a player will hear in Space Spartans.
Space Spartans (Mattel Electronics, 1982) is a game that pits a single player flying a powerful ship against huge fleets of enemy fighters, in an effort to defend three starbases. Like the historical Spartans, the player is outnumbered and doomed to eventual defeat but must hold off the enemy as long as possible.
Space Spartans was one of the few games designed for the Intellivision Intellivoice system, an add-on module that fit between the Intellivision and the game cartridge to add spoken words to the games. It combines elements of space action and map strategy to survive as long as possible against an unlimited number of enemies.
Space Spartans was based off of an earlier Atari 2600 game called Star Raiders.
The game consists of two different screens, the map and the ship's gunner viewport. The view can be switched between the two at any time, and action continues on both views regardless of which one the player is currently looking at. If your ship is sitting on an enemy fleet on the game map, you will occasionally take damage from enemy shots while you aren't looking (although the sound effects would let you know).
The map is an 8x16 grid on which the ship, the aliens, and the starbases are located. The alien fleets slowly move across the map one grid space at a time, while the player can hyperspace across the entire map in a single leap. The starbases are stationary but at the beginning of each round the player can position them wherever he likes, usually as far away from the starting locations of the enemy fleets as possible.
The ship's gunner viewport is your basic starfield view. Two laser blasts are fired from the bottom corners of the screen to converge on the center of the screen, marked by crosshairs. The player flies around the starfield with realistic inertia, motion in one direction continues in that direction until stopped by opposing thrusters. Alien ships, looking suspiciously like TIE Fighters, fly around the screen trying to shoot you down — your ship takes battle damage every time your crosshairs are hit by their shots.
Pretty simple so far. However the game was pretty complex for its time. This isn't your basic "one hit and you die" style game, not by a long shot. What made the game challenging is that you only have one ship, no extra lives, and each time you take damage your ship's various systems would get damaged, making the game harder until you get them repaired.
Your ship is better in every way than the enemy ships that are thrown at you in massive waves. The ship's computer is the game's female voice and reports damage and the status of your ship's systems, which are essential to survival. If all five critical systems (‡) are destroyed, the ship is destroyed. The various features are accessed with the Intellivision's 12-button control paddle.
‡ Battle Computer: Automatically fires when an alien ship is in your crosshairs. It isn't very good at leading a target though and sometimes it throws off your manual shots. When the Battle Computer is damaged or turned off, your shots will no longer center themselves on your crosshairs properly.
‡ Impulse Drive: The maneuvering drive that allows you to move around, aim, and dodge enemy shots in the viewport screen. When it is damaged the ship responds sluggishly, and when it is destroyed the ship continues in whatever direction it was last headed until it is repaired, even if you leave the viewport or hyperjump to a new map location.
‡ Shields: The energy bubble around your ship that helps protect you from enemy shots. When the shields are in good condition, enemy hits damage one system at a time. When they are damaged or destroyed they allow enemy shots to damage more systems with each successful hit. Each system could take three hits, becoming less effective with each hit until they were destroyed and stopped functioning altogether. When the shields are down, it isn't unusual for another system in perfection condition to be utterly destroyed with one hit.
‡ Tracking Computer: Automatically adjusts the impulse drive to help you align an alien ship in your crosshairs, although I'm a control freak and leave this feature turned off.
‡ Hyper Drive: This is the FTL drive that allows you to speed your way across the map grid. If it is damaged, it uses more energy per grid sector to use. If it is destroyed, it still works, but there is a 50% chance that using it will destroy your ship. However, since you cannot repair destroyed systems in the field, sometimes you have to roll the dice and take your chances.
Repair: Your ship comes with a self-repair device which slowly fixes your damaged ship during combat. Your ship's repair function cannot repair destroyed systems. It's good for fixing small problems in the field but a starbase will repair your ship much faster. It can be set to repair everything as it sees fit, or you could single out individual systems to repair if you feel they are more critical. A system under repair will flicker on and off.
Energy Level: Your ship has limited energy reserves which can only be recharged at a starbase. Everything you do uses energy, Impulse Drive, Hyperdrive, firing your lasers... they all drain your reserves, so you must occasionally return to the starbases to recharge and repair before going out to do battle again. Meanwhile the enemy fleets are sill multiplying and advancing on your starbases. To save energy you could turn off any system, although turning off Impulse Drive is generally counterproductive. Your ship's energy level is reported by the game's male voice, and has a maximum rating of 10,000. You will begin to receive warnings if it drops under 1,000. Running out of energy will end the game.
Alien fleets are represented on the game grid by colored squares, the color representing the approximate number of ships there are in the fleet. You could also put the game's map cursor over the fleet to check exactly how many aliens are in it, which is reported by the male voice. The number could also be checked at any time during combat, and the vocal report saves you the trouble of taking your eyes off the enemy to find out.
Enemy fleets will slowly move across the map, sometimes converging into larger fleets when they meet, and sometimes splitting to attack two targets. You could use this to your advantage, sitting next to a fleet to draw some of the fighters away from the starbase.
The enemy has three starbases, just like the player. These starbases are protected by enemy fleets and continuously produce more alien fighters as the game goes on until they are destroyed. Destroying all the enemy fighters defending the base automatically destroys the base, so unfortunately there is no showdown with the mothership or anything like that.
Alien ships fly across your viewport screen and fire spinning energy discs at your crosshairs to damage your ship. The discs start out small and grow large to represent them coming at you in three dimensions. When they are still small, they are in the background and your crosshairs can pass through them. It is only when they grow large that they are considered close enough to hit the ship. A good pilot can pretty consistently dodge these shots unless his impulse drive is damaged, at which point his controls become maddeningly sluggish and more hits are almost guaranteed.
Alien ships only take one hit to destroy, and if multiple ships are close together the explosion will destroy more than one ship. This can cause chain reactions which rack up bonus points. Destroying all the aliens advances you to the next round, allowing you to reposition your starbases and setting you up against new alien fleets.
The three starbases are the key to the game and must be defended from the alien fleets at all costs. When a fleet reaches a starbase, the game's robot voice reports "Starbase n: Under Attack". The player must hyperdrive over to that starbase as soon as possible, because it will be destroyed in a time frame which depends on how many alien ships are in the attacking fleet. When all three starbases are destroyed, it will only be a matter of time until your ship is destroyed because you can no longer recharge your energy level, or repair destroyed systems.
The starbases weren't just there to be defended though. Hyperjumping to the map grid location with the starbase will "dock" your ship with it, which repairs your ship and slowly recharges your energy reserves, as long as the starbase isn't under attack. Repairs done at a starbase are much faster than ones done by the ship's own repair system.
Every 50,000 points provides a bonus which partially repairs the starbases. If the remaining starbases are fully repaired a destroyed starbase will be partially rebuilt, but be extremely vulnerable until the player racks up enough bonuses to fix it up. Starbases repair and recharge more slowly as they are damaged.
The Intellivoice provides four voices for Space Spartans, a female voice, a male voice, and a "robot" voice help you through the game, and a final, alien commander voice announces solemnly, "The battle is over." at the game's conclusion. His tone would leave you with the feeling that although your defeat was inevitable, it was a Pyrrhic victory due to the massive damage you caused their fleets.
The female voice represents the ship's computer, and is the voice you hear most often. Announcements such as "Shields: Destroyed." "Battle Computer: Off." and "Hyperdrive: One-third down, under repair." keep you up-to-date on the general health and well-being of your ship without having to interrupt a battle by going to a status screen and reading.
The male voice reports your remaining energy level and the number of aliens in a fleet, but only when requested. If you aren't checking these regularly you could find yourself in trouble unexpectedly, only aware of how much trouble you are in when reaching 1,000 energy units triggers a warning.
The robot voice announces when the starbases are under attack, and also when they are destroyed. It was sampled at a very low rate and spoken in an emotionless monotone, and is the last thing you want to hear during a pitched battle.
As with B-17 Bomber, the voices are critical to the game's playability. The automatic announcements keep you up to date on everything going on around you without distracting your eyes from the task at hand. Unfortunately, sales of the Intellivoice module were sluggish and only four games were ever produced for it. Space Spartans was probably the best of the four released games, and really showed what the system could do.