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Publisher: Big Fish Games    Genre: Arcade
Min OS X: 10.4    CPU: G3 @ 400 MHz    RAM: 128 MB

Atlantis Sky Patrol
December 5, 2006 | Matt Diamond

Click to enlarge
Atlantis Sky Patrol is the latest in a long line of color matching games. It's immediate predecessors are Zuma and Atlantis. Matching games like these can be a lot of fun, as anyone addicted to Snood or Zuma will already know. Atlantis Sky Patrol is polished and entertaining, but experienced gamers won't find it to be very challenging, and the Mac version suffered from small patches of instability. Read on to see if it might be right for you.

Each level of Atlantis Sky Patrol has a series of colored marbles rolling down a twisty track. The player launches new marbles at them, trying to create a group of three or more of the same color. If the player succeeds, that group disappears. Otherwise, the marble becomes embedded in the stream of marbles, making it even longer. And if the rolling marbles reach the end of the track, it's game over.

I found Atlantis Sky Patrol to be a nice improvement over Zuma and Atlantis. The waves of marbles never stop coming until stationary marbles in the level, called "control elements", are each knocked out by a marble of the same color. This forces the player to constantly switch between offense (clearing out control elements) and defense (preventing against the streams of marbles from reaching the end of the track). This adds a nice level of strategy and tension.

The tracks are cunningly arranged so that the rolling marbles often block the way to the control elements, and vice versa. To help the player there are power-ups that must be caught as they fall past the player's ship. Power-ups do useful things like slow down the rolling marbles, destroy all marbles of a particular color, or give the player a one-shot explosive that clears an entire area of the screen.

Atlantis Sky Patrol also takes a page from role-playing games (RPGs) by allowing the player to purchase permanent upgrades for their ship, such as a laser beam to help aiming, or a magnet to help the player collect power-ups from a distance.

Quest Mode
Atlantis Sky Patrol comes with 111 single-player levels that gradually increase in difficulty. Although the track layouts repeat after a while, there are other changes that make them harder. For example, the control elements may need to be hit more than once, or the puzzles are sped up.

Although this is a generous number of levels, the game isn't particularly hard. If you are the type of player that likes a real battle, or the satisfaction of getting past a level that you've been stuck on for a while, this may not be the game for you. Personally, I found the game to be fun in a relaxing way. I occasionally lost a level, but never twice in a row. My pre-teen son had only a little more difficulty than I. Despite this we both enjoyed the game quite a bit. But once those single-player levels were done, I didn't feel much urge to replay them all the way through again. There is no way to skip forward over levels, even ones which you've already completed, so if you want to play that nifty last level again you'll have to start from the beginning and play through all the easy levels, one by one.

To break up the levels a bit there are occasional bonus levels and news flashes (in the form of a spinning newspaper headline.) But the bonus levels amount to just a bit of target practice, and the news headlines just add a fun bit of atmosphere without actually adding much story to speak of.

Atlantis Sky Patrol has two multiplayer modes: cooperative and competitive. There is no network play so the second player has to be on the same computer, using a second mouse.

Cooperative mode is the same as the single-player Quest mode, just with two players attacking each level instead of one. This is certainly a more fun way to share the game than taking turns, but other than that there's not much to say about it.

Competitive mode offers a new twist though. It has 10 brand new levels designed specifically for head-to-head combat. Each player has their own track and control elements that they need to clear. The catch is that one player fires down from the top of the screen at their puzzle and the other player fires upwards from the bottom. Stray shots from one player can interfere with the other player's puzzle, and a sneaky player will of course do this on purpose.

This mode was very interesting, but there were two problems with it. The first is that the levels never seem to last very long. I was hoping for long pitched battles, but usually one of us managed to clear their level before the other player had much chance for strategizing. A more serious problem is that after a few games one of our mouse buttons stopped working. It could make menu selections just fine, but would not launch marbles during an actual game. The only way to get it working again was to quit Atlantis Sky Patrol and start over. (This also happened once in cooperative mode.)

I can't speak to whether this mouse problem is widespread or not. It might be limited to the particular mice I used or the version of OS X I was running. A quick search on the internet failed to turn up complaints about Atlantis Sky Patrol's multiplayer modes, but I suspect this is because people are spending most of their time in single-player.


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