Earlier this month, I went to a writing retreat, held at a state park in West Virginia. The lodge had a game room downstairs with air hockey, foosball, as well as a tabletop video game where you could select from about 60 options – Dig Dug, Frogger, Mr. Do, etc. I love classic video games in general, but Gyruss holds a special significance. I played it every day.
The concept is easy enough. You are in a spaceship traveling toward Earth. You begin by flying to Neptune. It takes several levels to get to each planet. You have to clear all the enemies from the screen before progressing to the next level. There are asteroids, laser beams, and other attackers.
You move around the perimeter of a circle as you are travelling through space. This separates it from a lot of games of that time. Those operated in a horizontal line of attack (think Galaga, Space Invaders, Galaxian). This style of game is called a tube shooter. Gyruss was not the first. Tempest came out a few years earlier. [At the time, I thought that Tempest sucked. I may have been a little too young to appreciate it.] Gyruss doesn’t let you insert coins to continue, which adds an additional element of difficulty. Three ships and then you’re done.
From the first time I saw it, Gyruss blew my mind. I could not fathom being able to fly all over the screen. I first played it at a pizza parlor in Hickory, North Carolina. I was about 8. My grandmother lived there. We visited a couple times a year, it was an eight-hour drive and we’d go down during school breaks. The pizza was pretty good; I remember we’d get lunch there regularly. It was in a strip mall along a four-lane road. There was a pet store in the same shopping center. It was summer and the dark cool of the restaurant was a refreshing alternative to the southern heat.
Playing Gyruss always transports me back to that pizza parlor. I consistently have the same sense of delight flying all over the screen that I did during that first game. I feel the same sense of discovery and amazement, and the comfort of being near family.
Prior to this trip, I had only ever made it to Saturn. During the last game I played on the retreat, I made it to Jupiter and was on my way to Mars before finally losing. My grandmother was generally not a fan of video games, but I think she was cheering for me.