Io - Kinetic Designs/Firebird


Kinetic Designs/Firebird - Commodore 64 -1987

Reviewed by Alex Vormbrock (a.k.a. Herr Schatten).

I first read about this game in some computer magazine back in the late eighties. I remember the reviewer to be quite impressed. He only mentioned that the game was a bit difficult.

He wasn't mistaken there. Io is without a doubt the toughest shooter I've ever played. Do you play through Gradius without losing a single live? Well, then. You might probably be able to survive Level one of Io. This is no joke. My first experiences with the game were pretty frustrating. I started it and only seconds later my spaceship was blown to pieces. Yet, bit by bit, with every new attempt I slowly made progress, finally meeting the end boss of Level one. There I was stuck for a couple of days again. This painful procedure was repeated in every single one of the following three stages afterwards. You might think that four levels are not very much for a decent shooter, but actually I am glad that Io isn't longer. I had a hard time beating the game as it is.

The graphics are among the best I've ever seen on the C64. Bob Stevenson provided astonishing and stylish backgrounds. I still can't believe that this is done on Commodore's old bread box. Sure, there are games that are more colourful, but none of them can stand up against the pure beauty of Io. The four bosses look especially excellent, though you'll hardly have any time staring at them. The player's spaceship, however, looks a little boxy compared to the elegant R-9 or the Vic Viper.

The sound is not really worth mentioning. There's a title tune, but while it's technically well done, it sounds rather odd. There's no in-game music, just some sfx, which aren't too impressive either.

There's almost no extra weapons, so be warned. You can increase the frequency of your shots and get up to two options. And that's about it. No lasers, no spread shots, no shield, nothing.

The gameplay, however, is really good. Despite its insane level of difficulty Io means a lot of fun. It might get frustrating from time to time (especially because there are no continues), but to any expert player, Io offers quite a challenge and I highly recommend it to every shmupper out there.


Level one has everything your heart desires. Shiny metal surfaces, laser barriers, starting rockets (like in Scramble), turrets and loads of foes. Even the usual shooter snake makes a guest appearance.


At the end of level one, you'll meet this bugger. You've got to be quick, but he's relatively easy to take out. Just keep moving up and down.


Is this a jungle? Level two consists mostly of these strange flowers.

Btw, I'm very sorry for the lack of action in most of these screenshots, but the game is so hard I can only take pictures if there are no enemy ships around.


'Mom! That ugly green skull thing's in the garden again.'

'Don't worry, boy. Just embark your boxy little spaceship and shoot it to pieces.'


Level three reminds me a bit of Wizball. This is where the scenery really starts to get in your way, often leaving little room to dodge the hordes of enemies which, unexcitingly, are totally absent from this screenshot.


Enter Dr. Freud. I wonder what shortcomings the creator of this boss had to compensate by building this giant, ...err, gun.

Move up and down to shoot the glowing pods and avoid being hit by the occasional giant laser.


This is level four. Rather scary looking, isn't it?

Thankfully, there are not as many obstacles in your way as in the previous level, but this stage makes up for it by throwing loads of very fast enemies at you. Again, none of them can be seen in this particular screenshot, but I assure you they'll give you a hard time.


Back in the late eighties, it seemed quite fashionable to have an enormous embryo or some sort of mutated baby for an end game boss. This one puts up quite a fight. But before even thinking about attacking him, we have to take out this R-Type ring of doom.

The c64 is like an old, but very sexy and fun-filled girlfriend to me. I forget about it a lot while I fiddle with my new console tarts, but every so often I'm reminded of its charms. I distinctly remember buying IO with my pocket money all those years ago, and spending a happy weekend getting to know it better. I just rifled through my c64 collection and found the tape again - which cost a measly £2.99 at the time. Great logo too - looks just like a spaceship doesn't it! Thanks for the nostalgic wallow, Alex!! :) malc


shmups!   © 1997 - 2007  Malcolm Laurie