One of the most popular genres on Xbox Live Arcade is the twin-stick shooter. Unlike first-person shooters which require co-ordinating a cumbersome control scheme, twin-stick shooters keep things simple. The view is overhead, you move with one stick, and you shoot in any direction with the other stick. Geometry Wars was the most successful game during the Xbox 360 launch window, and many more twin-stick shooters became downloadable on XBLA, from the arcade classic Robotron 2084 to the newest Halo: Spartan Assault.
However, that style of shooter is actually older than the PSOne's Dual Shock (the first controller with two thumbsticks). I had already mentioned Robotron, but even that wasn't playable as intended outside the arcade until the Playstation era. On the console scene, the true grandpappy of the twin-stick shooter was Tron: Deadly Discs.
Based on the Disney movie that most people only remember for the lightcycles, Tron: Deadly Discs, like most movie games of the era, takes its inspiration from one moment in the film. It's the short scene when the title character is fending off the Master Control Program's troops with a datadisc, which is basically a glowing, killer Frisbee. A moment that took up less than a minute of the movie got extended into a full game, and it was actually done decently.
I've mentioned in my Pinball review that the Intellivision hardware outmatched the Atari 2600 when it came to technical muscle. However, that isn't too apparent from looking at this game. The arena is gray with a black grid on the floor and black walls. The doors from which the MCP's troops enter are just blue squares on the walls, and the discs are just lines that become squares when returning to the thrower. In the plus column, the animation for all the characters is very fluid. Granted the only animation in the game comes from the characters running and the eye of the Recognizer (the huge bipedal robot), but it still manages to be more fluid than many NES games. Also the effect for de-rezzing (killing) the enemies is pretty slick for the time.
Tron: Deadly Discs is one of the few games in which the numeric key pad on the controller is the primary control whereas it usually provides secondary functions. The 5 button shifts stances between blocking and throwing the disc, and the eight buttons surrounding the 5 button allow you to throw or block in any one of the eight cardinal directions. The control is decent for its time, but I have two issues with it. First, when in the throwing stance, you can't throw while moving. You have to stop and plant your feet to throw. With modern twin-stick shooters, being able to move and fire independently at the same time made the games enjoyable. Here I see no reason to require stopping to throw. You can move immediately after throwing, and the disc will always come back to you. The second issue is that blocking is functionally useless. You can't move while in the blocking stance, and you still have to aim the disc in the right direction to block incoming attacks. It's better to avoid the block button and just run.
There are also a couple of issues with the game mechanics in general. When your disc hits the wall, it comes back to you; however, it won't hurt any enemies it touches while returning. Rebound hits would've added a welcome strategic element to the game. Also, while well-animated, the game as a whole is a bit on the slow side, especially when compared to M Network's port on the Atari 2600.
Tron: Deadly Discs may not be as fast-paced or slick as Geometry Wars, but it did set the blueprint for handling a twin-stick shooter on a console. However, even without the historical context, I found it to be a fun little title on the Intellivision that still holds up reasonably well. It may not be worth buying an Intellivision for this game, but it's a good title to get if you already have the system. It's one program worth logging into.