Centuri 1981 (KLOV entry)

Reviewed by Dave Dries

In preparing to review the 1981 shooter, Pleiades, I did some research on the 'net to see what others had to say about this game. I vaguely remember playing it once or twice in the arcade "back in the day," but I had no solid recollections of it. Apparently I'm not the only one, as it seems there isn't much information out there. Sure there are the usual screenshots, cabinet pics, and gameplay summaries but there aren't many real in-depth reviews of the game. But from the information I was able to gather it's really no surprise Pleiades was doomed to a life of mediocrity.

Pleiades isn't a bad game, it's just a game with an identity crisis. In every write-up of the game I found the biggest point everyone tries to make is that it's the sequel to its successful older brother, Phoenix. As you may remember Phoenix was the fairly successful vertical shooter that featured various waves of gameplay. One of the coolest features of Phoenix were the title characters. Attacking enemy "birds" that could only be destroyed with a direct hit to their mid-section. Hitting them on their wings would only destroy a small section until they were able to regenerate. And after defeating a few waves of these enemy birds you came face-to-face with the big ol' Phoenix mothership, floating city, alien thingy. It was cool, a slightly different twist on an already old formula, and it had personality. Pleiades didn't. But it sure tried hard.

Like it's older brother, Pleiades features 4 waves of gameplay:

The first wave is fairly straightforward vertical shooter stuff that tries to go the extra mile in the graphics department. For it's time, the graphics were quite elaborate. Although it's not really explained anywhere, it's assumed by that you are defending a great city from the attacking bad guys. Blocky, neon-colored skyscrapers bookend your ship at the bottom of the screen. Satellite dishes, rockets, and other stuff you presumably must defend litter the landscape. Far above the landscape the blinking stars and swirling clouds of distant galaxies are visible. In an interesting twist, sometimes if an advancing bad guy gets to the bottom of the screen he will start to build a barrier to prevent you from hitting any targets. While this wave features ambitious graphics and some well-intentioned extras it ultimately plays like all other vertical shooters. And with the way the graphics are implemented it can sometimes be difficult to target the bad guys. There seems to be some sort of invisible grid system being employed behind the scenes that results in less than perfect collision detection. Whatever it is it just doesn't feel very satisfying when you zap the bad guys. Stage 1
The second wave revisits the "direct-hit" concept from Phoenix with updated graphics. Instead of shooting off wings you apparently cause some sort of temporary gas leak on the Phoenix ships when you hit their wings. Instead of the wing being vaporized you see what appears to be a cloud of smoke trailing from the wing. Instead of the satisfaction of hitting the wing and seeing it disappear, you hit the wing and it appears to get larger and stronger. Not very satisfying. Stage 2
Stage three revisits the mothership, floating city thing. Thanks to ambiguous graphics you're not really sure what you're shooting at here. Although in Pleiades' older brother it was very obvious you were trying to wear down the rotating wall that protected the underside of the city. And when the wall was finally thin enough a direct-hit to the evil Phoenix alien thing could be scored. In Pleiades it feels much more like a timed event or "you've got to crank this many shots into this thing before it blows up" kind of game. Stage 3
The fourth and final stage to Pleiades is it's most unique, as it doesn't have anything to do with Phoenix. Apparently you've successfully completed your mission and it's your job to navigate the cluttered spacecraft parking lot and bring your ship to rest at the end of the runway. And they must have realized that this level is pretty boring because they've disabled your guns, which prevents you from taking potshots at the double-parked spaceships. Now that would have been fun! Stage 4

Graphics and gameplay issues aside, Pleiades had other hurdles to overcome that didn't help in its quest to establish a unique identity. While the title screen of the game clearly reads "PLEIADS," the Centuri licensed version of the game spells it "PLEIADES" on the marquee.

Pleiades' game flyer didn't do much to enhance its image either. Instead the whole first page of the flyer talks about Centuri's other successful games implying that since their other games were moderately successful, Pleiades will be too:

"In less than one year we zapped you with Rip-Off, crystallized you with Targ, Soared with Eagle, reached new heights with Phoenix and drove you wild with Route 16."

It's not until you actually turn the flyer over that they even mention the name of their new game.

So in the end, Pleiades isn't a bad game. It does feature some ambitious graphics and unique gameplay additions. But at its core it's just another shoot-'em-up that couldn't compete. Apparently success just wasn't in the stars for Pleiades.


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