Tempest 2000 creator Jeff Minter reimagines a misplaced 80s coin-op for the fashionable period, with usually psychedelic outcomes.
We regularly criticise indie builders for giving their video games horrible names however that’s in no way a brand new phenomenon. Akka Arrh is known amongst Atari followers as being one in all a handful of misplaced coin-op arcade video games, which was accomplished however by no means launched – ostensibly as a result of it examined poorly. Though it does seem to be the identify would have put folks off lengthy earlier than you ever bought the gist of the way it performed.
The identify derives from an unfunny in-joke between its creators and is a quasi-acronym for ‘Additionally Recognized As One other Ralston Hally’ – a reference to the programmers Dave Ralston and Mike Hally. Its extra smart pseudonyms had been Goal Outpost and The Sentinel, however the unpronounceable one caught and the sport lastly made its public debut as a part of the Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration compilation last year.
The original is a good game, perhaps a bit too abstract for mainstream audiences but an interesting twist on the sort of gameplay found in fellow Atari coin-ops such as Missile Command and the more obscure Liberator. This is not the original Akka Arrh though, but instead a modern day reimagining by Jeff Minter – long-standing Atari fan and creator of previous homages such as Tempest 2000 and Llamatron.
If you’re familiar with Minter’s work then you’ll immediately recognise his hallmarks in Akka Arrh, in terms of the psychedelic graphics and obsession with ruminants. There’s no real gameplay connection with Tempest 2000 and its progeny though, as the set-up is very different, although you can see elements of Robotron: 2084 and future echoes of Tower Defence (if Akka Arrh had been released when originally intended, it would’ve come out in 1982).
The game has you sat in a turret in the middle of a small platform, firing bombs at enemies that, in typical Minter fashion, are just weird geometric shapes. The key gameplay addition for this remake is that hitting enemies creates a secondary explosion that also slowly expands out in a circle, allowing you to potentially keep a single set of explosions chaining across the screen for an entire stage.
That takes a considerable amount of skill and/or luck but it is hugely satisfying when it happens. Larger enemies cannot be destroyed by bombs, but instead you get a free bullet with every minor enemy you kill, and these can be used to take down the bigger ones.
Where the Tower Defence element comes in is that you’re not controlling the turret directly but a cursor aiming the bombs (the original coin-op would’ve used a trackball). The game area is slightly larger than a single screen, which adds to the scope, but it also means that it’s possible to miss something going on at the opposite end of the platform, which isn’t much fun when it’s something that messes up your chain combo.
The final complication is that the turret is actually at the top of a lift, which leads to a basement area where your health is kept. If enemies get in there it can quickly become game over, although when it gets to that point you’re allowed to let rip with a short range, rapid-fire gun. Despite what you might imagine this element was in the original, except it was explained as zooming in rather than moving downwards.
Although the core gameplay is set in stone, Minter does a good job of keep things varied, with different stages imposing their own limitations and special rules, changing the speed and range of weapons, modifying the behaviour of enemies, and altering the shape of explosions and the platform itself – whose symmetry affects how the explosions propagate.
There’s also power-ups that the game does a very poor job of explaining, which seems to be purposeful but doesn’t help when you’re trying to learn the ropes; even if they are mostly very useful, especially as they all set off a free bomb without resetting your combo.
Tempest takes most people only a few minutes to understand but the learning curve for Akka Arrh is much longer, to the point where there’s a surprisingly involved tutorial when you first start. Maybe it would’ve been tightened up once it got a wide release but the original coin-op is actually relatively easy for a game of the era and yet this reimaging is challenging right from the start.
Not only is this not as accessible as some of Minter’s previous work but it also doesn’t seem as tightly wound. Trying not to fire bombs and bullets is intrinsically less fun than going hog wild, with a niggling feeling that you’re always supposed to be pulling your punches because of a lack of ammo or a desire to get a high score.
Once you get into the later stages it all becomes extremely hectic anyway, with a literal kaleidoscope of colour and Minter’s customary use of random sound samples and very British humour. However, this can become disorientating and, unlike Tempest et al., you begin to wonder whether things have been taken just a bit too far.
Perhaps because it’s working with less refined raw materials, we can’t pretend this is our favourite of his games but it is still an excitingly unique arcade shooter, that’s far more tactical than it first seems. The flaws are real and yet we already can’t help but wonder what Akka Arrh 3000 might be like…
Akka Arrh review summary
In Short: A fascinating reimaging of an 80s classic that never quite existed, but as interestingly unique as it is, it lacks the elegant simplicity of its more famous stablemates.
Pros: The set-up is impressively original and getting a good combo can be hugely satisfying. Lots of variation from one stage to the next and the bizarre visuals and sounds are classic Jeff Minter.
Cons: A surprisingly long learning curve for a golden age coin-op and a cadence that often seems strangely subdued, despite the madness of the presentation.
Formats: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, and PlayStation 5
Release Date: 21st February 2023
Age Rating: 3
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