Back on theme of celebrating the ESA’s successful probe landing on a comet after a ten-year journey is Halley’s Comet by Pacific Manufacturing Ltd. and published by game giant Taito which seemed to fly under the radar in 1986 at the arcades.
That same year, Halley’s Comet was swinging by our neck of the Solar System in one of the most miserable showings in anyone’s lifetime, so Taito apparently wanted to get in on the excitement.
The designers, however, went to extremes with comet mania by envisaging Halley’s as a titanic monster of a comet throwing baby comets at the Earth and accompanied by alien ships determined to destroy us. At the time, Bruce Willis was still a private investigator with Cybill Shepherd on TV’s Moonlighting, so he was in no position to fly off and save the world with a crew of oil drillers. It was up to arcade players everywhere, instead!
Players start off from Earth to battle the ships and asteroids in their path on their way to Halley’s Comet. A gauge on the right hand side of the screen shows their progress with Earth on the bottom and Halley’s glowing, blue visage of impending doom at the very top as it slowly creeps downwards. Power ups, like a spread cannon, could be found by blowing up small asteroid obstacles.
Enemy ships also loved to weave all over the place, some even creeping back upwards a bit to throw the player off, and there was no continue once all of your lives were burned through. This was old school arcade action — one quarter, one set of lives, and all the skill you could muster to keep going.
Occasionally, smaller comets come flying in that need to be blown up. If not, they hit Earth and do a small percentage of damage that impacts the player’s bonus score if they actually manage to clear the stage. If it reaches 100%, though, the game simply ended regardless of how many lives you had in reserve.
Each stage is split into three areas — the approach from space and beating the boss at the end, flying towards and then facing Halley’s Comet, and then fighting through the inside the comet to destroy the final boss for the stage after cracking it open.
Once the stage was cleared, it was off to the next planet in the Solar System to defend it just as you did Earth and so on until it looped back — or until all of your lives were finally wiped out.
Halley’s Comet is a relatively unknown game, but it received a sequel called “Halley Wars” for the Game Gear which was released in ’91 and for the Japan-only disk system for the Nintendo Famicom.
Halley Wars was esentially similar to the arcade game, even down to the retooled music, but with better graphics, bigger bosses, and flashier effects making it something more akin to an “HD port” for the classic. The action took place across seven stages ultimately culminating in a showdown with the evil “Lord Halley” (the alien, not the astronomer) on the way back home and giving the player an actual ending upon winning. It was eventually re-released in 1997 as part of the Japan-only Taito Memories II Gekan, a compilation of Taito’s classics for the PS2.
Halley’s Comet isn’t a bad shmup, but it’s not that remarkable, either, outside of its place in trying to ride the trailing coattails of the comet’s big year in ’86 or in being the target for up-and-coming scoring record breakers. Still, it’s not every day that you get an arcade game that turns a famous comet into an alien battlewagon.