Homebreviews - part 45: Arcade Assault, Vol. 2
Video Game Reviews
Bob DeCrescenzo continues to bring your own personal arcade a few steps closer to reality with more classics for the 7800. This time: two games from Cinematronics and three from Stern. (Okay... Scramble was only licensed to Stern. But a link is a link. )
Armor Attack II
Armor Attack is the classic vector arcade game by Cinematronics in which you control a Jeep with a gun mounted on it, and your mission is to take out as many enemy tanks as possible. It will take two shots to do it - your first shot only disables a tank, but leaves its turret free to track and fire at you. It will eventually self-destruct on its own, but you don't get any points for that. For full points, you need to make both shots count. Complicating things are enemy helicopters that will fly overhead and make strafing runs at you. Fortunately, you can take those out with just a single shot. Take down five copters, and you earn an extra Jeep. Run out of Jeeps, and your game's over.
Armor Attack II is Bob DeCrescenzo's 7800 sequel to Armor Attack. All of the original gameplay is there, but Bob also added different terrain layouts to the game, adding much more variety. You get a different layout at random each time you start the game, and after completing a certain number of rounds, you move on to a different layout. While the extra layouts are great, I wish they were numbered so you could more easily choose a favorite. Another change is that more tanks will come after you - the arcade game topped out at just three (although that was plenty once they got moving fast). Graphics are decent, although I would've liked to have seen an attempt at mimicking the original's vector graphics. Sound is adequate, although to be fair, there's not much sound in the original either (although I do miss the "squeaking" of the tank treads). Tanks are less forgiving in the 7800 version in that they're fatal if you touch them at all with your Jeep. In the arcade version, you can bump them from behind or the sides without issue. But I suppose since this is a sequel, you would expect the tanks to up their game a little bit.
Armor Attack has always been a favorite of mine, and Armor Attack II nicely builds upon the original. While a solid single player game in its own right, where both versions really shine is in two-player mode. Cooperative games are often more fun than their single-player counterparts, and Armor Attack II is no exception. I'd highly recommend that you use proper five-button controllers (like a Starplex), since that's really the best way to play a game like this. My only real complaint about Armor Attack II is that I wish the Jeeps had more than 16 angles of rotation. I'll often find myself bracketing an enemy tank on either side with my shots, forcing me to move out of a safe spot in order to hit my target. For a sprite as small as the Jeep, it's difficult to make unique-looking shapes for each position. However, less important is the appearance of the sprite itself, than where the shots are going. So even if no intermediate sprites could be drawn for additional positions, the angle of where you're firing could still change in finer increments.
Armor Attack II is a worthy successor to the arcade classic, especially with a second player. The additional terrain layouts add a tremendous amount of replay value to the game, as you have to formulate different strategies for each one. Highly recommended.
Armor Attack II gets a 5/5 (4.5 on a half-point scale)
Rip Off is a classic vector arcade game by Cinematronics where you must protect some triangular fuel cells in the center of the screen. Enemy tanks will come out and try to steal the fuel, and you must use your own tank's cannon to stop them. The enemies will fight back though, as they have short-range pulse lasers that will destroy your tank in a flash. You have unlimited tanks, but once the fuel cells are all gone, the game is over. If you add a second player, you can team up to fight the fuel thieves together.
I always felt that Rip Off was built to rip off quarters from arcade players. In single player mode it's a pretty brutal game, accelerating rapidly in difficulty. The enemies get smarter, faster, and more accurate within just a few attack waves. Without a second player, you don't stand much of a chance. With a second player, the game becomes much more playable because the odds are improved, plus you're less likely to have both players die at the same time. About the only two suggestions I have for a single player game are: when new tanks are about to appear, rotate in a circle while rapid-firing shots around you - you might just hit something by accident; and if you're having trouble shooting an enemy tank - ram him! Sometimes you can shoot one tank while ramming another, and if they're the last two in a wave, your new tank will appear before the next enemies do.
Bob DeCrescenzo's 7800 port of Rip Off is about as close to the arcade game as you could hope for. The pseudo-vector graphics mimic those of the arcade nicely, making each type of tank distinct and recognizable. As an added plus, the graphics are in color. Sounds are minimal, as they are in the arcade game. The only minor gameplay difference I noticed was that in the arcade version, running over the fuel cells causes your tank to slide around, and in the 7800 version it doesn't. Rip Off's weak point is that you can't rotate or aim precisely. The arcade version had effectively limitless angles of rotation, but the 7800 version is limited to only 16. As it is now, I often have trouble zeroing in on an enemy tank when firing at it, and it gets progressively worse as distances increase.
While having to defend something adds a unique twist to the "thrust, rotate and fire" genre (rather than just blowing stuff up), as a single-player game Rip Off doesn't offer a lot of replay value. The gameplay is pretty shallow and wears out its welcome quickly. However, as a two-player game, Rip Off is transformed and comes alive. A much-welcomed "Easy" setting helps novice players adapt to the difficulty of the game. As with other games that use a similar control scheme, a five-button controller (like a Starplex) is an absolute must.
If Rip Off were a single-player only game, I wouldn't have much to recommend about it. But if you can find a second person to team up with, it's worth checking out.
Rip Off gets a 4/5 (3.5 on a half-point scale)
Frenzy is the sequel to Stern's arcade hit Berzerk. In both games, you start out in a maze of rooms and your goal is to fight your way past enemy robots and escape to the next set of rooms. The robots will fire lasers at you and move in your direction, closing in on you. If you linger too long in a set of rooms, Evil Otto - a bouncing smiley face - will come out and chase you down.
Berzerk and Frenzy are effectively the same in terms of gameplay, but Frenzy changes things up by adding: different robots, walls that reflect shots back at you, walls that can be destroyed (and escaped through), an Evil Otto that can be stopped temporarily, and four special maze rooms each with a unique gameplay element.
Bob DeCrescenzo brought both Frenzy and Berzerk to the 7800 in a single cart, which makes this a terrific value. All of the gameplay elements from the arcade games are here, including the games' distinctive sound effects and digitized voices. Berzerk was one of the earliest arcade games with voices, and the 7800 version just wouldn't feel complete without it shouting "Chicken! Fight like a robot!" as you escaped from a room. The graphics are spot-on recreations from the arcade games, although a little less colorful. Both games play so much like the originals, that my best scores on the 7800 and arcade versions are effectively identical. The only significant knock I could find with Frenzy and Berzerk is that whenever the digitized voices play, the game action pauses briefly. To minimize the disruptiveness of this, the voices are restricted to those that happen near the end of a level.
Welcomed additions to both games are two-player cooperative and competitive modes. This lets two players either take on the robots as a team, or take each other out for extra bonus points (the arcade versions only had turn-based two-player games). Missing from the game are different difficulty settings, so novice players may feel frustrated without an Easy option to learn the game, and expert players may find themselves wishing for a Hard option to really challenge their skills.
Frenzy for the 7800 contains two excellent arcade conversions in one. Minor shortcomings aside, Frenzy is highly recommended for any 7800 owner looking for some arcade action.
Frenzy gets a 5/5 (4.5 on a half-point scale)
Scramble is Konami's classic side-scrolling shooter where you fly a spaceship over different terrains and through tunnels, destroying ground targets, avoiding enemy missiles, and shooting down enemy saucers. Along the way are bonus targets to take out for extra points, and fuel tanks that you'll need to destroy in order to replenish your own dwindling fuel supply. Get through all five stages and you'll enter the enemy base. If you can destroy it, your reward is a quick congratulatory message before getting sent right back out to do the whole thing all over again at a higher difficulty. The more bases you destroy, the faster the enemies will be, the faster you'll fly - giving you less time to react, and the faster you'll use your fuel up. If you run out of fuel, crash, or get hit by an enemy, you'll lose a ship. Lose all of your ships, and your game is over.
Bob DeCrescenzo's 7800 version of Scramble is a near-perfect rendition of the original. All of the terrain and objects are replicated exactly, and the game plays exactly like the arcade game down to the smallest detail. The sound effects and opening music sound like they were lifted right out of the arcade game. The only minor differences is that there aren't quite as many colors used for the graphics, and along the left and right edge of the screen the terrain "pulses" as it enters and exits the screen. However, that's quickly and easily ignored as soon as you start playing the game. The game offers three difficulty settings for players of different skills.
Scramble is as good as arcade ports get. If you're a fan of the original or just want a good, fun shooter for the 7800, this is must-have.
Scramble gets a 5/5
Up next: the 2600 strikes back in Arcade Assault, Vol. 3
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