RESCUE ON FRACTALUS by Lucasfilm Games

By Mark Nobes

Rescue On Fractalus! was originally released by Lucasfilm Games for the Atari 8-bit computers and the 5200 console. It was later ported to other computers such as the Apple II, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, C64 and Tandy Color Computer 3.

The game uses fractal technology (hence the name Fractalus) to create the rocky landscape. 

The aim of the game is to land your Valkyrie spacecraft and pick-up the Ethercorps pilots, avoiding the aliens. The craft needs to be landed within walking distance of the pilot. However, the player needs to beware! The Jaggi aliens disguise themselves as distressed human pilots and need to be avoided at all costs - this idea came from George Lucas himself. You eventually learn to look out for the alien's green head, as he isn't wearing a helmet, but without knowing this it is a nervous wait as a player to see whether you have picked-up a Jaggi or Human. If you hear a tapping noise then you know you have a human waiting to board your craft, otherwise you must prepare yourself to see the scary alien jump in front of your screen - more about that in a moment! 

As well as dealing with anti-aircraft turrets, as you progress through the game, new night time missions need to be completed. These are particularly difficult as you can't see the terrain and your are heavily reliant on the altimeter to judge your height.
Both the graphics (it looked like a flight sim) and sound effects are really excellent given the limited capabilities of the 8-bit computers, and it's amazing what you could do with just 64k on an Atari. They both give the game a unique ambience and definitely add to the feeling that your are on a craggy, hostile world. Indeed, I have read that some people are actually buying old 8 bit computers just to play the game again! 

Jaggi Aliens

Looking at the graphics now, it's hard to believe that the scene where the Jaggi alien appears in front of the window scared the life out of me. In fact, I nearly broke the high jump record in the process! Even in old school 8-bit, he's a scary looking dude, so forget The Fly or A Nightmare On Elm Street, this was the scariest moment of the 80s! 
During its development, the game used the working title of Behind Jaggi Lines. The aliens were actually kept as a surprise element in the game as requested by George Lucas himself. There was no mention of them (only a hint) either in the manual or any promotional material, which is why so many kids jumped out of their seats - it was a touch of genius!
The Jaggi Alien in Rescue on Fractalus (Atari 800XL screenshot)

The Jaggi Alien (Atari 800XL version)

Atari 8 Bit Version

The game was originally developed for the Atari XL/XE and 5200 with other versions being ports, so it's not surprising that this is the superior version. It runs slightly smoother and quicker than the C64 version, but overall there are only minor differences in the graphics and sounds.
Atari Mania has given the game a decent score of 8.9/10


This video (in the playlist at the top of the screen) is particularly good as it features narration by the uploader which explains exactly what's going on. 

The C64 version appears to be less smooth than the Atari version but is still an excellent game, nonetheless, and the sound effects are almost identical. The reviews were mixed, with Zzap!64 awarding it an impressive rating of 91%, although Commodore User described it as "nothing special"

Rescue On Fractalus C64 screenshot

Screenshot from the C64 version

ZX Spectrum Version

I quite like the fiery landscape on the ZX Spectrum 48k version, although the viewing area is too narrow with the ship's console and interior taking up way too much of the screen area. The light grey colour choice is also questionable, and darker grey or even black would have been so much cooler. It suffers from the same choppiness as the Apple II version but is still just about playable, nonetheless. 
Reviews for the game were mostly average to unfavourable, although Computer & Video Games magazine gave a reasonable score of 70/100, Crash! rated it just 46/100 and Your Sinclair magazine was also not overly impressed, awarding 50/100. 
Rescue On Fractalus ZX Spectrum Screenshot

Apple II Version

This version has the most colourful spaceship interior and I quite like the blue. Due to its limited capabilities, the sound effects are pretty basic and are mostly simple beeps, but it opens with a pleasant musical intro, at least. Graphically, although it's more choppy than the C64 and Atari versions, it's better than expected and definitely playable.
Rescue On Fractalus Apple II Screenshot
Lucasfilm Games Rescue On Fractalus Advert by Activision from Crash magazine March 1986

This full page advert for the game is from Crash magazine (March 1986)

Rescue On Fractalus C64 Disk - Lucasfilm Games (1984)
A Compendium of Atari 8 Bit Games