The basics of Star Control -- two ships, competing in a one-on-one battle—takes quite a nod from Space Wars, but then ends up having its own identity with its extra features.
The basics of the game involves two ships at battle with each other, which are usually from opposing sides: one ship from the Ur-Quan Hierarchy, the other from the Alliance of Free Stars (or even two ships from the same side can do battle against each other during Practice mode). Each ship has their own characteristics, strengths and weaknesses as they are pitted against each other in battle.
Each ship has a certain amount of fuel and crew manifest that will contribute (or detract) to a battle. Ships also burn fuel during a melee, but not in the traditional sense: thrusting will not burn up fuel, but firing a weapon and/or using a ship's special power will. Using too much fuel will render a ship incapable of attacking their opponent for up to several seconds at a time.
Each time a ship takes damage during battle, one or more of its crew members will die. Once the final crew member of a ship dies, the ship then self-destructs and the opposing ship is declared the winner; if both ships destroy each other, then the event is considered a tie if a full game is being played and those were the last ships from each opposing fleet (see Full games section).
When each battle begins, most of the time (with the exception of when a VUX Intruder is involved) both ships start out on opposite ends of the screen, being off in the distance. Once they get closer they will get bigger and the players will have less time to react to each other and/or other obstacles in the playfield, such as a planet that is in each sector (which colliding with a planet will cost the player at least one member of its crew) or the occasional asteroid that flies by, which can impede a player's attack. An asteroid can be destroyed by either player's fire.
Onscreen displays shows fuel and crew amounts as well as a representation of alien or human entities that are working the craft on some versions (such as the Genesis and DOS ones); i. e., on the Earthling cruiser, when a player turns their ship, the onscreen pilot will react, and when the primary weapon is fired, the other onscreen person will press a button.
Practice and Melee
In a Practice mode, two ships battle each other, regardless of which side is chosen (i. e. a Hierarchy ship can battle against another one if desired). Whenever one ship defeats another or both destroy each other at the same time, the session will start over again indefinitely until the player(s) cancel the session.
In Melee mode, the two opposing fleets face each other, which one ship is chosen at a time by the player(s) or computer to do battle. Once a ship survives a round, it will stay in the game, as the player or computer chooses another ship to fight against it; once it gets destroyed it is removed from the game. The game ends either in a tie, when one fleet has destroyed the other, or when a player quits the game.
- There are three skill levels to choose from for a computerized opponent. At the easiest skill level, it will not use its special powers; on the higher two levels, its ships will, along with becoming more aggressive as well.
- Control of ships and strategy does not always rely on just a human or computer opponent, as there is also a Cyborg option when the computer will control what goes on in battle, and with the Psytron option, the human player fights all the battles, but the computer will take over all the strategy functions.
- During the Practice mode, the player can cycle through all ships on both sides and can view a full-screen image of all ships, along with a readout as to each ship's weapons, special powers and stats.
- Stars during a full game can be either visible or hidden, which the paths to the stars during a full game won't show up until a player makes a move.
A full game not only pits opposing starfleets against each other, but several more elements were added as well.
For most of the games, each side has a Starbase and players must jump from star to star in order to destroy the enemy (which most of the time the goal will be to destroy the enemy's Starbase). With each player's turn, they can perform at least three separate functions, as they can build a ship, move, start colonizing, mining and/or fortifying a planet, recruit ship personnel from a planet, scuttle a ship to remove it from the round or try to besiege a planet's fortification. If a player has to move a Starbase that will take up a player's entire turn. A player can also just pass even if they have a function remaining during a turn and will earn extra turns whenever it moves a ship of theirs from a colonized planet on their side.
The playfield shows a series of stars that rotate around and can be confusing to try to figure out a path to get to the enemy's starfleet and base. Each star the player jumps to has a planet, which a function can be assigned to one, as a minable planet can be mined for money. Once a player starts creating a mine, it takes two turns before the mine is ready and can start generating money in the form of a Starbuck, which is one Starbuck per turn (and meanwhile a Starbase generates a Starbuck per turn as well). Money enables a Starbase to build ships to combat the enemy.
Other kinds of planets include colonizable ones, which a player can, after two turns, create a colonizable world, which, if a ship loses crew members during a battle, the player can recruit members from the planet (if it's on the same side as the player) to raise their ship complement back to full (not including the Syreen Penetrator, who are banned from recruiting, but they can recruit from an enemy's colony planet though). A dead planet (which can't be mined or colonized) can only be fortified to deter enemy ships from proceeding in their mission to destroy the other player.
A fortified planet (which also takes two turns to create) will cause an enemy ship to get stuck if it is by itself; there is only a one in 15 chance that the player can destroy a planet by besieging it, not counting a Ur-Quan vessel, which will automatically destroy an Alliance's planet once its turn ends, or an Ariloualeelay Skiff, which can pass right through a fortification. Once two ships from an opposing side lands on a planet or Starbase, it's mine, fortification, colony and/or Starbase is destroyed.
Once one or more opposing ships jump to a star that is occupied by an enemy's ship, they will commerce in a battle like in the Melee or Practice mode. More than one ship can jump to a star and do battle, although only two ships can battle at a time (one from each side).
A player may also encounter Precursor Relics on a planet, who were an ancient race that vanished for some reason or another. However, their technology remains, and instantly adapt and upgrade whatever ship that jumps to that area of the starmap. They can increase a ship's maximum amount of fuel or crew capacity, quicken fuel regeneration, improve acceleration and maximum velocity or improve the turning speed of a ship. Also, entire precursor mines and colonies also appear occasionally, so they will not have to be built, speeding up the process then.
Once a ship jumps to an enemy's Starbase, at the end of the turn the Starbase will be destroyed if there are no enemy ships to defend it, or if a ship(s) was there and was destroyed during battle.
Strengths: huge crew and fuel, has a devastating main weapon, autonomous fighters as a special power will descend and fire upon the enemy while the player can still control the Dreadnought independently
Weaknesses: fighters can perish in space by being shot, running into a planet, or being wiped out by a passing asteroid, which will count to a Dreadnought's decreasing crew, has a slow turning speed
Strengths: big amount of crew and fuel, can regenerate crew during battle as a special power, automatically regains full crew if the enemy doesn't win a battle, primary weapon follows the enemy and does a lot of damage
Weaknesses: slow to move/vulnerable to attack, primary weapon, even though powerful, moves slowly
Strengths: big crew, backwards flying B. U. T. T. missile, fast-moving ship
Weaknesses: primary weapon is weak, has a low amount of fuel
Strengths: this is actually two ships in one, one of which emits a lot of bubbles as a weapon, which can be difficult for an enemy ship to maneuver around to try to get a shot off at the Guardian. And in its other form, it moves as a super fast fireball that can ram enemy ships
Weaknesses: in its regular form, it has slow thrust and can't outrun or catch up to much in the way of enemy ships; in its fireball form, it can only ram ships, which makes it vulnerable to attack from a distance
Strengths: most of the time during a battle, the VUX will appear very closely to their enemy, instantly gaining an advantage, their primary weapon has several meters' worth of range, VUX Limpets Cocoons, the VUX' special power, attach themselves to enemy ships and slow them down, has a big crew and fuel
Weaknesses: slow turning speed and thrust/other ships with halfway decent speed can outrun it easily
Strengths: main weapon can be devastating, has a cloaking device that renders it invisible
Weaknesses: not a lot of fuel, poor tactical position on primary weapon/range isn't very far, so the Avenger can be attacked from a bit of a distance and/or a side angle from the enemy
Strengths: can zip backwards quickly, its primary weapon can be hard to get a shot past due to its cone shape, primary weapon doesn't drain fuel
Weaknesses: slow turning speed, low crew manifest/can be easily destroyed by halfway decent weapons, its special zipping speed drains a lot of fuel
Ships, Alliance of Free Stars
Strengths: main weapon has a devastating effect, or even if it misses its target, it can splinter and still cause damage, its special power of D. O. G. I.s can suck fuel from the enemy's ship, large amount of fuel and crew
Weaknesses: slow to turn and thrust
Strengths: easy/fast to maneuver, has twin firing cannons, impenetrable shields
Weaknesses: not a large amount of fuel or crew
Strengths: the X-Form is actually two ships in one, one of which moves quickly and fires long-range missiles, the other form turns quicker and it's twin lasers are stronger
Weaknesses: this ship (either one) barely has any fuel, the fast-moving ship is very slow to turn and it's missiles only inflict minor damage, and the slow one's lasers have a short range, making it vulnerable to attack, plus it takes up fuel (thus delaying a possible attack) to change between forms
Strengths: has hyper-jump to a random location, instantly achieves full, fast momentum, has auto-aiming weapon, good turning speed
Weaknesses: not a big crew/is easily destroyed by a halfway decent weapon, sometimes its auto-aiming weapon does not go where the player wants it to, slow fuel regeneration
Strengths: sucks away enemy crew and can incorporate them with theirs, good thrust and turning speed, long range primary weapon, can enslave an enemy colony at the end of a turn during a full game, achieving a full crew then
Weaknesses: can't recruit colonists from their own side during a full game, primary weapon is weak
Strengths: automatic-aim phasers for close-up combat, which can hit a target multiple times in one shot, long-range "Fire and Forget" missiles that inflict more damage from a safe distance
Weaknesses: not a lot of fuel or crew, slow fuel regeneration, thrust not very fast
Strengths: glory device can wipe out a sizeable amount (or all) of an enemy crew, fast-moving ship, long-range primary weapon
Weaknesses—glory device destroys ship and crew, has a small amount of fuel and crew/can be easily destroyed, even with a fairly weak enemy weapon
Full game scenarios (Genesis version only)
The Sega Genesis version of Star Control has 15 full game scenarios; five games each that gives an advantage to a starfleet, along with five games where neither side has an advantage.
- Exterminate!--a lone Ur-Quan ship (with no Starbase) seeks to put an end to the Shofixtis. The Alliance can only build Shofixti Scouts. Either the Shofixtis or the Ur-Quan must be eliminated in order for a player to win.
- Lost in Space—a lone Chenjesu Broodhome must destroy the Hierarchy's Starbase.
- Target Earth—the Alliance starts out with only a Chenjesu Broodhome, a Mmrnmhrm X-Form, an Ariloulaleelay Skiff, a Syreen Penetrator, an Earthling Cruiser and the possibility of mines, fortifications and/or colonized planets. Only Earthling Cruisers can be built on the Alliance side. The Alliance must destroy the Hierarchy to win.
- Syreen Song—four Syreens (without a Starbase) must destroy the Hierarchy's Starbase. The Hierarchy only starts out with a few ships and has no mines, but several colonized worlds (for the Syreen to take over though).
- Onslaught—there are several Ur-Quan Dreadnoughts against the Alliance, but the Ur-Quan have no Starbase. The Alliance starts off with a few ships, some mines and possibly colonized planets. Victory depends on either the Ur-Quan wiping out the Alliance's Starbase or the Alliance destroys all the Ur-Quan ships.
- First Encounter—it's the two sides against each other with modest forces, only a few ships and 10 Starbucks each. All Hierarchy ships must be destroyed in order for the Alliance to win, as just destroying their Starbase alone will not win the game.
- Vux Incursion—it's several VUX ships only against the Alliance in this one. The Alliance start off with a few ships and possible mines and/or colonies. Shofixti Scouts are not available to build on the Alliance side.
- Beginner's Luck—introductory scenario; there are few ships and stars in this one. It's one lone Syreen Penetrator (with no Alliance Starbase) vs. Androsynth Guardians.
- The Nebula—only Chenjesu Broodhomes, Yehat Terminators, and Mmrnmhrm X-Forms on the Alliance side can be built in this game. The game starts with one Terminator and 75 Starbucks and a few Hierarchy ships, although the Hierarchy side has no money, but any of their ships can be built. The Alliance has to destroy every Hierarchy ship in order to win the game.
- CounterAttack—the Alliance begins a game with 60 Starbucks and a Chenjesu Broodhome; the Hierarchy has ships and mines but no money to start out with.
- The Art of War—the Alliance has and can only build Ariloulaleelay Skiffs and Syreen Penetrators, while the Hierarchy has and can build Ilwrath Avengers and Mycon Podships only. Each side starts off with 10 Starbucks.
- Proving Ground—it's Spathi Discriminators vs. Mmrnmhrm X-Forms in this one. The Alliance starts off with several X-Forms and no money, but they can build any ship that they wish. The Hierarchy begins the game with several Discriminators and usually colonized worlds. The Alliance must destroy all Discriminators to win the game, as destroying their Starbase alone won't do it.
- Escalation—each side starts off with no ships and 25 Starbucks. Each side must build their fleet from there and the winner must totally destroy the other's forces.
- Mushroom Cloud—it's the Alliance vs. Mycon Podships in this one. The Alliance has most of their fleet but no Starbase. The Hierarchy has a Starbase but can only build Podships. The Alliance must destroy the Starbase in order to win.
- Total War—this is an enhancement of Melee, since entire forces, mines, colonies, and fortifications are present immediately. Ships can be in random places though—even in enemy territory—when the game begins. Destruction of the enemy's Starbase wins the game.
Controls (Genesis version)
- Turn ship left and right—D-pad or joystick
- Thrust—button A or up on D-pad or joystick
- Fire weapon—button B
- Activate special power—button C
- Pause—Start button
- Unpause—buttons B or C
- Exit game—Start button twice
Full game/map controls
- Cycle through ships or Starbase—D-pad or joystick
- Select highlighted item/execute order—button B
- Cancel order—button C
- In the Genesis version, the onscreen display calls Star Bucks as StarBucks, yet in the instruction manual it's always printed as two words.
- The Genesis version originally had an offer for the box cover to be ordered as a poster, created by famed fantasy artist Boris Vallejo.
- The Genesis version was the first 12 megabit game for the system.
- There is a bit of a sense of humor with the game, as one of the Earthling ships is called the Tuf (ships are identified by name on the screen), while another is called the HAL-9000 (named after the 2001: A Space Odyssey movie). Also, the Chenjesu D. O. G. I.s make barking sounds when they attack, then whine when they are destroyed, among other things!
- The pause feature for the Genesis version was poorly conceived, as most games for the system allow the player to pause and unpause by pressing the Start button; on this version, if a player presses Start again, rather than the B button in hopes of unpausing a game, the game will end. However, if the owner of a Star Control cartridge also has a Game Genie, a code can be entered in order for the pause button to be a "true" one (even if the Game Genie owner has the later edition of the device where the Star Control code is not mentioned in the codebook, it will still work). The code to enter for this is BTPT-AN8A.
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