PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous
RELEASE DATE: 01/18/87 – (JP), 04/87 – (US), 1987 – (EU)
The name ‘Quartet‘ is a bit misleading, I’m afraid. When the original arcade version was released in 1986, the game allowed four player simultaneous action. When Sega ported the game to the Master System, however, they eliminated two of the characters, thus making the title ‘Quartet‘ a bold-faced lie. The Master System version kept the Quartet name while Sega of Japan changed the name to Double Target for the Mark III. While the latter makes sense, I imagine this may have confused players looking for a home port of Quartet. On the other hand, if the quartet of characters has been reduced by two, are they not a duo or perhaps, as the Japanese title suggests, two space warriors with prices on their heads?
Futile reasoning aside, Quartet is a just-fun-enough side-scroller that doesn’t need four players to be enjoyable. The first player always controls Mary, the stern, yet vivacious space babe, while the second player always controls Edgar, the bald spaceman who may or may not have inspired Riddick. Both characters jump and shoot their way across an alien base comprised of six levels. The base itself is overrun with maniacal robots, robots who never truly die. While they seemingly disappear after a hit or two from your space blaster, they’ll quickly reappear in a puff of smoke a second later. Enemies’ constant reappearance and aggression towards Mary/Edgar gives the player a sense of urgency to get through the level as quickly as possible.
The goal in each level is to kill the boss, collect the key the boss drops, and make your way to the exit. It is possible to just jump and shoot your way through each level, but the best strategy is to find the jet pack and hover around enemies, shooting only those you need to progress. Enemies reappear so frequently that, unless you’re going for a large score, it’s not worth it to try to shoot them all. The jet pack is doubly important because many of the boss battles take place against creatures who can fly or maneuver very quickly around their designated area. If you don’t have a jet pack and you’re trying to shoot airborne bosses on foot, you’ll get frustrated and likely die very quickly.
It’s Quartet‘s quirks that endear me to it, though. For example, I like that neither Mary nor Edgar have life bars, but they can each get hit several times before they die. Usually, if a character doesn’t have a life bar in a game, it means they get killed in one hit. Quartet, like Lindsey Buckingham, goes its own way. Sega’s visual commitment to the game’s generic story is commendable, as well. The deeper you move into the base, the more cold and lifeless the level designs become, as if the robots are taking it over from the inside out. There’s also secret stars that you can find in each level as added replay value. While I’m not sure what happens when you collect them all, stars in later levels are surprisingly well-hidden, so I’m sure the game rewards you in some fashion.
While there’s nothing significantly special about Quartet, the game has enough of a soul to keep one interested throughout the game’s entirety. Its fast pace, catchy tunes, and bizarre ambience kick off 1987 in style.