If I only had one sentence to describe the video game Space Slalom, it would be that space slalom is a Toaplan shoot ’em up for pacifists. And what I mean by that is that Space Slalom has all the mechanics of a shoot em up without any shooting. You only navigate the ship through obstacles.
Moreover, Space Slalom is developed by a company called Orca that would later become Toaplan. Orca is one of those footnote companies. It only made a few games, but in all honestly, the history of Orca is much more interesting than any game it developed. You can see the beginnings of what Toaplan would make in these early Orca games. Space Slalom included. However, it is just the beginnings. Space Slalom has a long way to go to compete with the future games like Truxton.
The goal of Space Slalom is to navigate your ship a given distance within a certain time limit. To accomplish this goal, you can steer left or right. You can also speed up or down with the up or down directions. You lose time if you don’t make it through the gates. You also can run into what seem to be meteors that slow you down. And honestly, those seem to be the only mechanics of the game.
Even by 1983 standards, this seems fairly minimalistic. It plays more like a tech demo than a full game. This is even more disappointing since it plays like a really good tech demo. It is one of the best controlling games I’ve played on the SG-1000. The ship sprite is also one of the best looking sprites. The game feels fantastic. There just isn’t much to do.
I do think this unfinished feel has a bit to do with ORCA’s fate in 1983. Space Slalom was released in what seems like late 1983, which would be right around when the company was shut down. So, let’s look a little bit into ORCA.
\There is little information on the web and what is there doesn’t seem 100% reliable. The company seems to be mainly an arcade company and have got its start in Arcades with a game called Congrilla which is less of a donkey kong clone as a donkey kong ripoff. This was in 1981. However, by 1983, they closed their doors. Most of the information on the internet points toward them being closed down suddenly by the yakuza. Now, this isn’t as ridiculous as it first sounds. The Yakuza were more involved than you might think in Japanese video games. Much like the history of arcades in the United States, arcades were viewed in similar terms as gambling. And thus, regulated under similar rules. Since the regulations were similar, video games were an easy side business when already dabbling in the gambling industry.
However, most stories seem to paint the picture that a member of the yakuza burst in one day wanting to speak with the boss and forced the company to close in a very sudden manner.Whether this event happened doesn’t seem to really matter for the company closing. In actuality, Orca closing seemed anything but unexpected. An interview with Tatsuya Uemura, an employee at the time who continued to Toaplan, shows that the company was probably bankrupt before he was even hired. He mentions how the company name was being removed from the building’s lobby his first week with the company.
Up until now, I’ve been describing Space Slalom as a polished tech demo. Another description for Space Slalom is that it is a high score centric game without a risk vs reward dynamic. The only option you really have for risk taking is potentially going too fast. It is missing the other things arcade games had at the time. The risk vs reward of the double ship in Galaga, The fruits or eating ghosts in Pac-man. All of these is what made the high score based games great.
Worse of all, Space Slalom seems to be the most expensive SG-1000 game. It rarely comes up for auction. I’m not sure if this is due to Orca’s quick closure or just because the game was not good. My suspicion is that it was due to Orca’s closure. After all, I would rather play this than Safari Hunt for example. Most of the value in this game comes from the rarity. Making this another example of how holy grail collector games are more often than not, not very good games.