Terra Lander / Terra Lander II - Rockslide Rescue / Terra Lander Remastered

Games by DM Media for PC (the first game was also released on iOS and Android), originally released in 2015 and 2020 respectively, with the Remastered version of the original released in 2019.
Terra Lander is a short series of gravity-based spaceship games where you must manage fuel resources while navigating planetoids, avoiding projectiles, destroying enemy cannons, and safely landing the ship before fuel – or the timer – runs out. In the second game, the player must also rescue humanoids trapped below the surface, and use a tractor beam to deal with rockslides. Borrowing mechanics and aesthetics from the classics of the genre – including Lunar Lander, Gravitar, Thrust, and Oids – these games are presented in a vector graphics style.


Unlike most genre entries, the player does not control the rotation of the ship, which removes one of the finer nuances of environmental navigation. Instead, the ship sits upright at all times and the player is free to thrust in any direction. In the first game, exhaust is emitted from each side of the ship as the player navigates, but in the second game, the engine thrust effect only appears from below.


TERRA LANDER / TERRA LANDER REMASTERED
The original Terra Lander focuses primarily on navigating the environment and making a successful landing on the pad at the end of each area. Per genre conventions, coming into contact with any of the solid edges of the environment results in the ship exploding. Similarly, the player must carefully control the speed of his descent onto the landing platform, as coming in too fast also results in death. The environments are fairly compact and they loop horizontally, as in many such games, allowing the player to engage surface targets from either direction, but vertical thrusters are disengaged if the player flies too high.


Turrets are found throughout most levels, with red turrets firing in a straight line and purple turrets firing homing projectiles with medium tracking. Both kinds of projectiles bounce off walls, making them tougher to deal with in tight spaces, but purple projectiles are particularly problematic because they explode after a while, sending out three additional projectiles in your direction. This makes purple turrets extremely difficult to deal with, especially if multiple turrets are engaging you at the same time.


Even in open space, dodging multiple purple projectiles can be difficult – since dodging or outrunning them comes at the cost of precious fuel resources – but in tight quarters, these projectiles can be nearly impossible to avoid, depending on the configuration of the turrets. Things can get pretty chaotic with multiple projectiles onscreen at a time, and this is further compounded by the fact that destroyed turrets and fuel pods give off a ton of particles when they are destroyed. Since turrets explode in the same color as their projectiles, this can make it virtually impossible to tell which tiny dots are harmless space debris and which are deadly bullets.


Fortunately, the ship is able to move and aim independently, and its bullets also bounce off of surfaces, allowing the player to strike turrets that are placed around corners… but firing also drains fuel, so the player must be mindful of when to let loose and when to hold back. The player can restore fuel by blasting fuel pods with his weapon, and destroying every fuel pod within the level grants double fuel on the next level, offering some incentive to explore off the main path. Sometimes there are multiple routes through a level, often offering a less obvious route with fewer turrets and more fuel pods. In some areas, the player must shoot switches to open doors, and some doors open and close on their own, requiring the player to get the timing right to safely pass through.


The HUD offers a minimap of the immediate area that extends slightly beyond what is viewable onscreen. This helps the player locate alternate passageways and also see the placement of turrets before they are scrolled onscreen and begin firing. The landing pad is also highlighted on the map when the player gets close. An arrow in the HUD points in a straight line to the landing pad, giving the player a general sense of where he needs to go to reach the end of the level. The HUD also displays the player’s remaining fuel and number of lives.


In most modern genre entries, the player is given infinite attempts to complete a level, with failures returning him to the start of the level, but that is not the case here. Instead, the player begins the game with five lives, and losing them all returns him to the start of the game, which is a considerable punishment given the game’s difficulty and the fact that there are 20 levels.


That said, there is another option in the main menu that lets you practice from the last level you reached, and completing a level in Practice mode allows you to continue to make progress through the game. This is effectively the same as granting a mode with infinite continues, as the only penalty is that your high score is not recorded in this mode. For some reason, the player is still limited to five lives in Practice mode, which is odd since there are no checkpoints and the player has unlimited continues.


Players can, of course, use Practice mode to hone their skills and then start up a new game for a 1cc attempt and a high score. The player’s score is based on the number of objects destroyed, how quickly the level is completed, how closely the player lands to the center of the pad, and the amount of fuel remaining.


There is some humor to be found in your death, with a speech synthesizer offering quips each time your ship explodes, such as “your understanding of physics is poor”, “your intellect must be small”, and “you should study Newton’s laws of motion”. Because of this synthesizer effect, it sounds as though Stephen Hawking is poking fun at your failures and lack of scientific knowledge, which is a nice touch.


The game has a single music track that plays in the background of menus and the game proper, which is The Blue Danube Waltz by Austrian composer Johann Strauss II. Having been composed in the 19th century, it falls within the public domain is therefore able to be used at no cost to the developer, and it serves a second purpose, as it also references the famous use of this waltz in Stanley Kubrick’s iconic science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey.



TERRA LANDER II – ROCKSLIDE RESCUE
Terra Lander II - Rockslide Rescue builds upon the foundations of the original game while offering more complex gameplay, larger environments, and increased difficulty. There are only 10 on offer, but they are larger than those in the original game. Gravity is somewhat stronger, but the ship moves more quickly and is more maneuverable, giving the game a faster pace overall.


This time around, instead of reaching the landing pad at the end of the level, you must land on multiple pads around the environment and rescue humanoids. This works similarly to Choplifter where setting down on a pad causes nearby POW’s to run toward your craft and climb aboard one at a time. Unfortunately, there are no animations for these humanoids as they run, making them less realistic and therefore less sympathetic, but at least they can’t be killed. Once all humanoids have been rescued, you must make your way back up to the surface and fly off the planetoid to complete the level.


Managing fuel is still important, with the player destroying fuel pods to increase his stock, but fuel is also replenished by setting down on landing pads, even when there are no humanoids to rescue. The player is encouraged to destroy every fuel pod in the level, and in addition to getting a fuel bonus for the next level, the player is also awarded with an extra life. The player also gains an additional life for killing every enemy in a level. This is all the more important because the player begins the game with three lives (instead of five in the original). Skilled players may seek out all of the fuel pods and enemies in early levels to stock up lives for the more challenging levels ahead.


This game retains the Practice mode from the original, with one very important change… it is no longer possible to save progress in this mode. As such, players may toy around with the last level they reached, and possibly even move forward to later levels, but the only way to retain progress – and select levels in Practice mode – is to go back to the main game and push forward.


In the original game, moderately skilled players could at least hope to see the bulk of the game by moving through Practice mode, and then determine whether or not they would like to try a single run from start to finish. Here, only expert players are likely to make it past the game’s early levels (beating the game unlocks a harder difficulty mode for the most skilled flyers). This is due in no small part to the increased level size – which doubly punishes players with lots of repeated gameplay upon failure – with the third level already presenting a total of six landing pads.


In this game, you are able to make use of a tractor beam to pick up and move rocks, which have physics applied to them. Smaller rocks are lighter and easier to move, whereas larger rocks are heavy and require you to expend considerably more fuel. As the game’s subtitle suggests, this physics system allows for rockslides, and falling rocks can hit your ship or – more importantly – pile up and prevent you from accessing doors or reaching landing pads. Sometimes, flipping switches will open doors that cause rocks to tumble downward, which can be a real pain if they fall across a landing pad and prevent you from setting down. Rocks can be used to block projectiles, but sadly, falling rocks do not destroy turrets or fuel pods.


You can shoot smaller rocks to knock them away, and you can bounce your bullets off of nearby walls to hit them from different directions. Larger rocks will need to be towed, but doing so can drain the bulk of your fuel depending on how far they must be taken to clear the path. Proximity mines occasionally appear in the environment as well, and getting close to one engages a countdown timer, causing it to explode after five seconds. This can be a hazard, but the player usually has plenty of time to get away before the blast; however, the resulting explosion can cause rockslides if rocks are nearby.


Enemies come in two varieties here: turrets and super turrets. Turrets operate similarly to the red turrets in the original game, whereas super turrets are the same but fire more quickly... so quickly that they can essentially create a wall of bullets. This time around, the ship is equipped with a shield, which engages automatically when the player comes into contact with a wall, falling rocks, or bullets, so it’s possible to absorb some damage without being killed. That said, each time the shield is activated, it drains some fuel, and it’s entirely possible to sustain multiple hits from super turrets or other hazards, causing you to lose too much fuel to recover from even minor mistakes.


The HUD shows the entire level layout instead of just the immediate area, making it easier for the player to plan his route, as all landing pads are visible from the start. The HUD also displays the player’s remaining lives, fuel, and the number of people to be rescued. Due to the subdued color scheme, the environment can occasionally be difficult to parse. Gone are the synthesized quips when you die, and the game is no longer accompanied by Blue Danube but rather the more operatic Lacrimosa, which originated with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.



2D CRED
Terra Lander and Terra Lander II: Rockslide Rescue were developed by DM Media, based in the UK and founded by solo developer Daniel Gallagher. The original game was released in 2015, with an update entitled Terra Lander Remastered released in 2019, which added graphical improvements and a targeting sight for the ship’s weapon. Prior to this, Daniel was the co-founder of Vektor Grafix and worked on the ports of Star Wars (1984) for Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and BBC Micro. He went on to author and program Voyager (1989) for Ocean Software, he designed and programmed Infestation (1990) and Red Zone (1992) for Psygnosis, and he has done coding work on a number of modern games as well.


The games were published by Funbox Media, based in Sheffield, UK. The studio has published numerous games, focusing primarily on casual and licensed titles, with releases including Brain Training 3D, The Cube (based on the television game show of the same name), and Hello Kitty: Big City Dreams.


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