By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
* Also available on the
PlayStation4 and Xbox One.
Sooner or later, the game to which I took my nickname from, had to be reviewed. Back in the 80’s with the huge arcade game boom, Atari’s Tempest was the game I fell in love with. Enter 2018, the 4K upgrade is here! I’m not talking about video resolution, but instead, how pumped this latest imagining is. It’s wild and crazy in how tough it gets after six levels from the start. Even after weeks of playing, I’m not completely proficient. The main problem is that no proper controller exists to play the game like it was originally designed.
Back in the early days, I sought out nearly all the ports for either the home console or PC to play. Of course, the version for the Atari 2600 was permanently stuck in the slot holder and (flash forward to last year) finding the Vectrex version reignited my interest. I played Tempest 2000 on the PC instead of the Atari Jaguar version. They are reasonable facsimiles and the number of joysticks I broke; I do not even want to count! Not even a touch screen or PlayStation style controller convinced me the port works. The mobile versions, Atari Classics for iOS and the PSP were even paler in comparison.
I bought an Xbox controller and survived longer than usual. It’s not the perfect interface, as I hoped where the thumbstick was positioned would indicate where I am on the grid. Instead, all it offered was left and right movements and a quicker way to hit the super-zapper. I really want a dial controller for the PC. Griffin Technology did manufacture one once, but whether it’s compatible with this game is questionable.
The original game had no end. Players are in control of a spaceship known as “Crawler” as it walks, if not runs, around one side of a geometrically shaped platform. As you progress through many levels, the intensity simply became faster. Various alien entities—Flipper, Spikes, and Pulsars (to name a few)—emerged from the opposite end and climbed up this “web.”
No story exists for this work (nor did many exist for other games from this era save for Donkey Kong), but I imagine a tale about surviving the descent into a black hole could be one. The wormhole analogy works better, but they are not gravity wells. As long as the path is made clear, the ride is safe. Had this work borrowed from Star Trek, I imagine the Tholians are the perfect villains, and all their spaceships moving through the grids they lay out in space very easily.
The original game did not have a lot of visual distractions. Jeff designed a clean game. He also programmed Missile Command, another favourite of mine, and with one quarter, I was often able to beat at least six levels before it got too tough. I had available multiple super-zappers which would accrue for each level that I passed. They were needed to survive the crazy storm. With this new game, Jeff Minter crafted an upgrade that’s far more challenging, visually stimulating and tough to level up.
The added elements include a techno-pop soundtrack and trippy backdrops. It is tough not to be awestruck. In between levels, players have to navigate through gates ala Starfox 64. It seems to play by itself and I did very little to guide my craft.
A VR version is supposedly in the works, and I can only imagine how crazy that’s going to feel. Sadly, that means having a proper desktop PC so I can upgrade the parts as needed. Or I buy a console, but why would I want that when the PS5 is on the horizon?
3½ Crawlers out of 5