Armagideon Time

Growing Up 2600: A perfect storm

February 27th, 2010

One of the great things about putting together these “Growing Up 2600” posts is that my researches have unearthed a number of long-forgotten artifacts from my childhood. Again and again, sale I find myself rediscovering games I played obsessively back in the day, prescription but had since fallen entirely out of conscious memory — games like 20th Century Fox’s 1982 shooter Turmoil

Hardware limitations may have prevented Atari’s arcade hit Tempest from getting ported to the VCS (though not for lack of trying), but Fox’s stable of programmers managed to step away from coding licensed drek long enough to assemble an acceptable Tempest substitute.

Since there was no way the 2600 was going to be able to render a single-point perspective vector tunnel, the folks behind Turmoil chose to flatten out the playfield into a series of horizontal rows bisected a central vertical trench in which the player’s ship is situated.

The gameplay is elegantly simple; an odd assortment of enemies pours from the ends of the rows and your mission is to blast the bejeezus out out of them while avoiding death from a fatal collision.  Mixed in with the waves of varable-speed cannon fodder are a number of atypical enemies that require a modicum of tactical thinking to deal with  — such as tanks that can only be destroyed when shot from behind and indestuctable objects meant to disrupt the player’s flow.  

In addition, flickering globes  occasionally materialize at the ends of corridors…

…and can be scooped up by the player for a sizable chunk of bonus points, providing he or she is willing and able to navigate the tight confines of the corridor before the sphere goes “active” and turns into a fast-moving superball of death. (On the other hand, not chancing a pickup means that the player’s ability to navigate the trench will be hindered by sphere’s non-stop movement.)

While a significant proportion of the games I’ve discussed in Growing Up 2600 and SMS Saturdays have either been dated (if not outright lousy) efforts occasionally given a pass because of nostalgia, Turmoil is a game that has retained its entertainment value it its own right. It’s a straighforward and accessible “twitch” shooter capable of drawing players into entering a zen-like “zone” where quick reflexes and high scores are the sole metrics of success and $60 million budgets and high-res particle effects are irrelevant extravagances.

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