Quadron for the ZX Spectrum Review – Was it worth waiting 30 years?

We have seen from other retro-gaming sites like Planeta Sinclair the announcement of a new (old!) game for the ZX Spectrum, Quadron, an action game where you control a robot in charge of clearing the Quadron from the invaders.

The Origins

Andy “Cosmium” Beale had started developer Quadron in 1986-87 and after two years he completed it and was about to publish it when was cancelled by the publisher alongside the plans for an Amstrad CPC conversion.  

Andy was featured on a Retro Gamer issue about his time as a ZX Spectrum developer and felt motivated to revive Quadron and make it finally see the light of the day, 30 years after it was written.

Andy Beale
Retro Gamer 181 Featuring Andy

The main problem was that the source code was long lost, and only the binary was available. Since the game is written in plain machine language, Andy got his old notes taken during the development and started to reverse-engineer the game in order to fix some bugs and make it available for us.

His efforts paid off, and the game is finally released with even a fancy trailer to show it off.

Quadro Trailer

The Game

As mentioned before, Quadron is an action game where you control a robot that has to navigate through the 28 screens that make the Quadron getting rid of all the enemies which are after the crystals. Their objective is to take the crystal to the conversion rooms where they will be used to convert the enemies in a way that will turn them in almost invincible foes.

Throughout the game, the robot will be able to collect objects randomly placed in the Quadron. These objects will power-up the robot capabilities, like better shields, more powerful weapons and more. The use of the power ups is usually limited by the energy level available for each type.

At the start of the game, it is equipped with the basic Beam Laser which uses less energy and even can still be used without any energy at all, but with way less effectiveness (only two shots at once). With this type of weapon, the robot can only fire horizontal laser beams.

As soon as you start you will see how limited is the Beam Laser. The horizontal-only direction makes imperative for the user to master the robot control in order to place it not only in range but also horizontally aligned to the enemies to have a chance to hit them. Since the enemies are a little bit easier at the start, the balance remains almost adequate for a newcomer to the game. I use almost here because there were moments during the first wave that the enemies came so fast that my only choice was to die, with no way to avoid, run away or destroying them. For a complex game like Quadron I would expect that the first wave was easier to beat. It is important to recall that games designed back in the 80’s were in general way less forgiven and the concept of a tutorial level simply didn’t exist.

After I was finally able to beat the first wave and the second had started, I started to see energy boosters for my laser gun and other objects to pick up which weren’t present during the first wave. Until now I was playing the game in old-school mode but I realized that I had to cheat and use the emulator state saving feature to be able to move forward faster! You know, I am not 14 anymore…

When you are able to get the second weapon, the Bolt Laser, it gets easier to hit the enemies, even having more and more of them coming after you. You also have to spend time understanding the other objects, so you can use the shields when you probably need the most, etc. To be able to properly do that, it comes another interesting feature of the game: the status screen.

At any time during the game, if you press SPACE, a status screen will show up, pausing the game while visible. The first obvious functionality is the give you a break whenever you need, and you gonna need because the game gets very tough at a times.

Status Screen

At the top middle of the screen you have the scanner that shows the map of Quadron telling you where the object highlighted in the middle is located. The image above shows two Fetchers at the top lane, for example.

At the corners, it shows the objects you have collected. The top-left displays the weapons, and clockwise, the shields, transporters and remote devices. The red area is an energy level gauge for the specific object. In the middle, you have your score and the number of lives left.

The idea is, at any time you need, you can bring the status screen up and using the cursors you can select or de-select the object you want to use. 

These extra details make Quadron much more than an arcade shooter for the level of strategy they demand from the player who has to keep the eyes on the status screen to know where to go and how and when can use the objects.

Another neat feature I found was that while you are shooting and destroying the enemies, you can get power-ups, or lose them! The mechanism is very clever: if you destroy three or more enemies is a short period of time (looks like 2-3 seconds tops) the word POWER shows up on screen, moving around. The work keeps flipping between POWER and REWOP. If the robot gets to it while it shows POWER you get a power bonus which will increase a certain capability. However, if you hit REWOP, you decrease that power instead. In both cases, it will only work while you are on the same screen. As soon as you leave that screen, they are gone. Because of that caveat, I recommend you stay more or less centred on the screen to avoid leaving it by accident.

There are many power-ups given to the robot including an increased range of the laser, increased fire power and more. The included PDF file list them all explaining the effects in details – make sure you go through both files.

Wrapping Up

Quadron is an action game with a lot to give to the player. It demands more than quick fingers – the player has to manage the energy and the objects that are available in order to go further in the game.

The learning curve at the very beginning is a bit uneven and steep, which can throw off the 5-minute retro gamer. However, if the player invests some time to learn how to use all the options available and also the controls, it is hard to put it aside – You will get hooked trying to get more and more waves of enemies eliminated.

The game doesn’t have background music as expected of 48K games but the sounds effects are perfectly placed, giving it a scifi mood all around, like for example, when the enemies are spawning.

The graphics are also superb with each screen showing a different environment that is never boring.

The collisions are almost precise. The only problem I found is the laser beam that needs to hit the enemies dead-center to make them die, which can be a little frustrating sometimes.

To answer the question in the title of this article – yes! it was worth wait 30 years. If Quadron had been released where it should, in 1988, it would certainly be a hit. We are just lucky to be able to play it now, thanks to Andy efforts to bring it back to life.

Quadron can be purchased on itch.io for USD 4.99 as a downloadable file which includes the game itself and the user manual – You might want to know that the “detailed instructions” manual is a scan of the original text printed in 1988!

Author: Paulo Garcia

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