Many classic arcade games in the 80s often went in wild and unpredictable directions to create their challenges whether you were a jumping car in Bump ‘n Jump to being a guy trying to rescue a damsel in distress in Donkey Kong. But Gottlieb came up with this gem in 1983 called Mad Planets which pit you against, um, really angry planets. Not “Mad Hatter” kind of planets. More like “red in the face” kind of angry planet.
Gottlieb was a giant in the arcades with its pinball machines. Established in 1927, it went on to become one of the kings of the silver ball arena along with others such as Williams, but it also dabbled in arcade stand-up cabinets in the early 80s right before the Crash shook the North American industry to its core. Mad Planets’ unfortunate timing in ’83 would bring it into the path of when all of that starting hitting the fan.
But for the moment, Gottlieb’s shooter was content to lob world after world at players. Their ship, fielding the kind of firepower that makes the Death Star look like a beachball, is traveling in space when it’s attacked by planets. To survive, players have to destroy their moons which emit a protective field over the planet. The moons are also hurled at them, too, like angry softballs. Once the moons are destroyed, the planet gets angry, turns red, and starts chasing players faster and faster until destroyed. And there’s more than one to deal with.
The controls were quite unique — a stick with a trigger controlled movement and firing while a dial on the left controlled your ship’s turning. It could be a bit awkward to use but got the job done. As planets zoomed in from deep space, it was possible to destroy them before they came in range and spawned the moons that protected them. If you managed to do that, you got a nice point bonus and moved on to the next round.
Bonus rounds started right at the end of every third round and involved the the player flying around to capture floating astronauts for points while avoiding comets (that could be blasted) that flew in and spun around. After Round 3, stages involved floating astronauts, comets, and more faster moving planets zooming in from beyond. Difficulty ramped steadily after that, just like any classic arcade game.
The game didn’t escape the arcade to any other platform, though Simon Nicol apparently liked it enough to make an unofficial port for the Commodore 64 that was never released. Then in 1985, according to MobyGames, Crazy Comets appeared on the Commodore 64 bearing an almost uncanny resemblance to Mad Planets. Though looking at the C64 Wiki’s topic for the game, it didn’t get a warm reception from critics, the soundtrack by Rob Hubbard garnered quite a bit of praise. Then in 1987, Nicol and publisher, Martech Games, released an enhanced version of the same game which apparently fixed some of the issues with Crazy Comets.
Mad Planets was a fun little shooter despite its oddball controls and if you want to try it, it’s available at the Internet Archive as a part of its arcade preservation initiative though the emulation isn’t perfect (it’s getting there, though). As for Gottlieb, they were owned by Columbia Pictures who were acquired by Coca-Cola in ’82. In ’83, Gottlieb was renamed Mylstar Electronics which was shuttered in ’84 and whose assets were bought up by yet another company, Premier Technology, who created new pinball games under the Gottlieb name until ceasing business in 1996.
For a brief moment, though, Gottlieb did what any arcade developer wanted to do which was to introduce something new to the arcade and succeeded with Mad Planets’ weirdness. Players got to battle moons, fight comets, and defend themselves from angry planets that chased after them while aiming for that high score. Not a bad way to spend a few quarters blasting planets without having to worry about a Sith Lord looking over your shoulder.