You just can't help yourself. Even in the midst of war, with the enemy's overwhelming air power, with the Air Force's best pilots gunned down like ducks, you just can't resist the urge to goof off whenever you take to the air. But now Central Command gets its revenge: the Blue Lightning, an advanced fighter jet, has been developed to the experimental design stage. The top brass needs it, but doesn't want to risk the lives of their remaining competent pilots. Guess who's deemed expendable enough to field-test a flying prototype in the heat of battle?
Witty storyline aside, BLUE LIGHTNING for the Atari Lynx is a first-person air combat game in the AFTERBURNER tradition. The action is seen from directly behind your plane as it dives and banks through nine missions. Barrel rolls can be used to dodge enemy attacks, and a ten-second afterburner burst provides extra speed. The Lightning is equipped with forty missiles and an unlimited supply of cannon fire, which are used to attack enemy jets and targets. A password for each stage allows you to start at later levels, and the game ends when you finish the ninth mission or use up all six lives. The only danger comes from collisions -- crash into a tree, a canyon wall, or an incoming missile, and kiss another life goodbye.
BLUE LIGHTNING strikes a perfect balance between respectable difficulty and reasonable gameplay. The action does not go at supersonic speeds, but proceeds at a brisk pace, and the result is that you never feel "cheated" from being destroyed by something too fast to be seen or overwhelmed with inhuman odds. The terrain and the placement of the enemy are somewhat random, which prevents the game from being solved by pattern development. The game starts off easy enough, but adds more threats at a gradual rate, and you're drawn completely into the action before long.
If there is a flaw, it's that the missions are not varied enough, as many of the levels involve destroying various ground targets. To compensate, most stages add extra rules to complicate matters -- For example, level 4 requires you to destroy tanks while travelling through a twisty canyon, and you cannot go high enough to fly over the rock walls. There are also a few minor nits: the aim of the guns feels a little off, and enemy missiles can go through the terrain, but these are easily adapted to and do not hamper the gameplay.
One major contribution to the appeal of BLUE LIGHTNING is the game's graphics: There's a lot of incredibly diverse stuff moving on-screen at once. From the flight crew that preps the plane to the sheer number of terrain and targets to see, the game graphics never feel dull. Especially impressive are the dancing paths of the enemy's manta-like fighters and the graceful arcs left by the vapor trails of the missiles. The Lynx's sprite engine is heavily used, with specks on the horizon growing into hills and mesas, and flat lands rendered with realistic disappearing perspectives.
There aren't a lot of different game sounds, but each one is properly suited to its situation. The most persistent noise is the roar of the jet engines, which is punctuated by cannon fire, flying missiles, the warning beep of incoming attacks, and lots of explosions.
It's very refreshing to see a game that's a challenge without resorting to tricks or gimmicks. Success or failure in BLUE LIGHTNING is completely based on the player's skill, and the game is recommended for all action players. Though the levels could use a little more variety, the user-friendly gameplay and the sensational graphics make this title a blue-ribbon winner.
GAMEPLAY: 9 GRAPHICS: 10 SOUND: 7 OVERALL: 9