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I liked this game so much in the late 70’s and early 80’s that I spent 5 hours of my time with a programming book typing a listing into my ZX81 that purported to be the same game. It wasn’t the same game… it had a block where the ship should be, and some blocks where the ground should be… and it was very poor.
Lunar Lander however was not very poor, it was ace.
A simple way to describe it to someone who wasn’t old enough to have played it is to say it’s Thrust’s granddad. You control your ship in a very similar way. Deciding how much power to use to stop yourself crashing horribly into the Moon’s surface.
The skill is in compensating the force of your jets against the force of gravity. Left to it’s own devices it will just crash and burn. But mis-control your engines and it will crash and burn also. However dither about too much and you’ll burn off all your fuel, and you’ll have to insert more 10p coins to buy more. I like to imagine the NASA astronauts putting 10p’s in their Lander’s meter before their Moon landing. Now we know where it all went wrong for Apollo 13.
A neat touch was when you got close to the ground (trickier ground earned more points and fuel) the screen showed a close up, so it was easier to find a good spot. There were also different criteria of landings.
It was a bit of an oddity (a Space oddity ha ha) in the arcade world because whilst most games of the time required you to shoot or eat things, Lunar Lander just wanted you to help some astronauts
My ZX81 version didn’t last long… if I remember rightly it failed to save properly and I couldn’t load it back in the next day. There was no way I was going to type it in again, so I had to wait for Thrust to be released to get up to speed again with gravity defying fun.
As a final note I’d recommend people firing it up into MAME. I still find it quite a relaxing experience, especially when you can just press F5 to purchase millions of tons of fuel.