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The original Moon Patrol was a 1982 arcade game from Irem, likely best known for introducing parallax scrolling [1]. The player operates a buggy, which drives through a sidescrolling landscape while jumping or shooting from its dual cannons, simultaneously firing above and in front of itself. Between jumping and shooting, the player is equipped to take care of myriad lunar dangers, such as UFOs, boulders, or pits. It’s quite fun (and readily playable to this day anywhere from the Switch to MAME), although, being an arcade game, it’s obviously designed to be hard in a way that extracts maximum coinage from patrons.

Rather unremarkable as a still, though you can see parallax scrolling in action here.

As with many arcade titles of the time, it found its way onto just about every 8-bit home computer, including the Apple II, the Commodore 64, the TI-99/4A, the TRS-80, and even the IBM PC. However, again, just like its arcade contemporaries, every single port was awful. 37 years later, however, thanks to video gaming’s rich culture of nostalgia, it now has a good home computer release! Enter Yok‘s Moon Patrol.

My computer appears to struggle to take screenshots while playing, so here is a shot from its page.

Billed as a first-time exercise in the Unreal Engine, it replicates the feel of the original in some remarkable ways. While it may feel slow and claustrophobic without context, the pacing is just about dead-on relative to the original arcade version. It’s to the point that, in my view, Yok (@yorick_bleynz) has on his hands the beginnings of the best remake Moon Patrol could have hoped for. There are no rolling boulders or ground-level robots. Nor, indeed, are there any “champion courses” (levels beyond 1 in the original). However, this isn’t made to be a total remake. Rather, it’s just a tribute and a learning experience.

If it were just a little toy remake with modern graphics, though, this article would be over by now. In fact, it might not even exist. The gameplay is so thoroughly like that of the original that it doesn’t need elaboration. Where this demo really starts to shine is in all its subtle touches. There are endless easter eggs in the background, from the silhouette of the bicycle from E.T. to a statue of that one alien from that one cartoon that looks like Family Guy but isn’t [2]. While the density of these references would come off as over-the-top in a real “release”, in a game explicitly billed as a development exercise, these are just the excesses of having fun making something. This is just as evident in the variety of models of buildings, geological formations, and other fun details that make up the background here. By intentionally creating depth perpendicular to the line along which the game progresses, then populating that depth with all these structures, the game presents a loving reference to the original’s innovation of parallax scrolling, aided by a sky with actual texture and detail rather than a black backdrop. The music can be set to either a relatively faithful rendering of the original music, or a lovely remix by Arkeda of the bastard. The UFOs, rather than being sprites even smaller than the player’s buggy, as they were in 1982 [3], are these larger-than-life flying saucers that move cartoonishly quickly compared to the game’s strolling pace. This all comes together to create the impression of a game set on a stage, populated by stage pieces, akin to the artistic direction of Super Mario Bros. 3. I really didn’t expect something in the vein of this game to push all the right buttons, but here we are.

It’s a little buggy (no pun intended), dropping textures on my PC and slowing my Macbook to a crawl to the point that both cannons don’t fire simultaneously before the next engine tick lurches forward, but that can all be expected of a first-time exercise. Nonetheless, it’s definitely worth giving a try, doubly so in tandem with the original for context.

Footnotes

[1] A surprisingly late innovation considering that Tropical Angel made use of the exact same Irem M52 arcade board yet managed proper faux 3D. However, large multiple backgrounds as in the case of Moon Patrol may well have taken about as much raw framebuffer throughput as Tropical Angel’s many little water splashes. Don’t ask me; I’m too young to have programmed for these systems.

[2] I refuse to look it up.

[3] Presumably due to hardware limitations.


Yestin Harrison is a dilettante fascinated by anything from games to graphic design to planetary-scale distributed systems. When not performing his duties as webmaster at Rebind or kicking the site an occasional article, he's found anywhere there's a lark to chase. Reach him on the Web at ylh.io, and on twitter @yestinharrison.