Game Name: Rampage (1986)
Developer: Bally Midway (Mortal Kombat, Cruis’n USA, Spy Hunter)
Platform: Arcade, Sega Master System, NES, Atari Lynx, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, C64, Amiga, Atari ST, Atari 260 (reviewed on an NES emulator)
Categories: Arcade Port, 2D Side View, No Scrolling, Giant Monsters, Button Masher, City Smasher, Tank Trasher, High Scores, Infinite Lives, Multiplayer (co-op/competitive hybrid), 100+ Levels, No Saves, Great Localization, Bad Ending
May Appeal To: Godzilla fans…. excuse me “Gojira” fans, King Kongers, social gamers, digital marathoners, Americana tourists, home-grown 80’s nostalgic terrorists.
May Repulse: PETA, irresponsible corporations, challenge seekers, soloists, arcade diehards, cartographers, city planners, and members of the organized armed forces.
Comparable To: an early proof-of-concept for Smash Brothers, baby’s first Primal Rage, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters but with expressive characterizations. Lastly, let’s throw in GTA’s wanton abandonment of social mores in a city setting.
Learning Curve: mere seconds
Game Length: 2+ hours for a solo run-through
Difficulty: None, just a relatively long endurance trial
Mastery: Avoiding being eaten by a compatriot is a watermark. Though the true mantle of mastery is bestowed when a shiver doesn’t run up your spine at the emergence of a slow-rolling military tank. Avoiding the projectile’s arc and frequency takes precision.
Story: In traditional NES fashion, the player is dumped straight into the action at the press of the START button. A simple character select screen is all the backstory that Rampage can muster. (pictured below)
What more motivation is needed to Hulk smash a path across all 50 states in America? In foregoing our neighbors to the north, the once-human mutants prove to be Canadian sympathizers hell-bent on the most violent road trip imaginable though even a PDF of the game’s manual didn’t loan clues as to what the wiki refers to as the “real” antagonist: Scumlabs, some sort of irresponsible pharmaceutical bogeyman serving as this game’s Umbrella Corp. But let’s be real – we were the monsters all along.
Newspaper clippings double as intermission frames to break up the continuous drive for leveling buildings and further hint at comedic ramifications of the sustained, unstoppable onslaught 9 year old boys inflicted on their country of origin.
“Your AD here, call NOW 1-800-ZOO keep”
“Lab foul up. Film at 11”
“Ex-Mutant is arrested for streaking.”
“Still at large…. very large”
Presentation: One of the things I typically notice with arcade ports are the down-scaling of the graphics in resolution, color range, design, and animations. However, the NES version does a solid job of converting the original’s bedlam to manageable levels for the lesser hardware. What is worthy of accolade is that the framerate is consistent and the sprite blinking is at a minimum despite flurries of mayhem as multiple sources of tracer fire from helicopters, tanks, and scores of infantry choke the screen.
You’d expect the throng of mobilized military units to elicit more noise than the audio broadcasts but the game runs surprisingly quiet with only a cheeky ‘deet’ or ‘doot’ to punctuate the meandering background music. The most prevalent sound effects are soon recognized as the monster’s heartbeat -which accelerates closer to death- and the ‘blams’ and subsequent white noise as brick walls become open-air windows and the compromised structure comes crashing down. The only audio that truly grabs the player’s attention is when a rousing percussion riff erupts upon displaying a map of the United States, an analogue of Lizzie descending to punch the ground until America’s ill-defined states are black and blue – but mostly black.
The graphics are bright, colorful, and contrast well enough so as to capture the comedic lens that eating humans and deliberate, systematic destruction needs to be framed through. Sprites appear in freshly punched holes and express general edibility through bold and broad designs. Cacti, safes, showers, dynamite, skulls, and light bulbs are all limited in their time on screen though are readable as negative or neutral things to your monster’s health. Since all items occupy the same amount of pixel real estate, they end up displayed as the same size and it would be quite easy to mistake a cup of tea for the sideview of a toilet – one resulting in the monster spraying spittle in a look of disgust and [typically] a mark against their health bar. Some hors d’oeuvres, like the red hamburger/dentures sprite, escape initial identification though are easily classified in the “eat this” category, of which exist many, many other nouns.
Seeing sizable rubble shed off a building with each thunderous hit and the subsequent dust cloud erupting underneath as the edifice’s floors pancake until the foundation’s slab is all that remains is extremely satisfying to trigger and witness.
Unique Features: You play the bad guy! 128 levels is an appreciable amount of content to conquer and the perverse curiosity of seeing the USA map “progress bar” filled is compelling. The simultaneously competitive and cooperative multiplayer is unique.
Gameplay: Punch enough holes in a building to make it collapse -usually done with the destruction of an entire side. Collapse all the buildings on a level to progress to the next. Your monster can leap from any height and has a different attack depending on which of the cardinal directions the player directs. A downward attack compacts cars and scoops up fast snacks while a left, right, or upwards punch can smash a building tile, grab food, or pluck a helicopter from the sky. Scaling a tower’s edge and punching in front of the character is the most common way to demolish it, though opportunities exist to bridge the gap between two buildings and punch forward and back, followed by a quick scoot to the following floor to repeat the sequence. Same for punching upwards from a foreground building, the only way to destroy non-perimeter tiles actually.
Despite hits not always registering, once a hole is carved an item exists for a limited time in which it must be eaten, skipped, or avoided before it disappears. These will be either boons to boost health or traps meant to decrease HP, knock the character off the building, or pose a danger to passing pedestrians as your attack causes it to careen towards the ground below.
Your rampage is certainly opposed though even the trained military gets lumped in with the targets: trolleys, trucks, flying manhole covers, cars, helicopters, and infantry half-hanging from windows to take pot shots. Nothing a few jabs and grabs won’t obliterate or consume. Only tanks grumbling onto the scene have any sort of disruptive effect on the gleeful spree and even then, the newcomer can be circumvented or thwarted with minimal challenge. See, the player’s health can be withered with the constant barrage of explosive bee stings and the mutant slowly regresses into a naked human looking to scuttle their way off the map. But…. simply mashing the attack button brings them right back to full size thus negating any tension. Ironically, the only danger to your incarnation is a player-controlled monster looking to push you off a roof or to scoop you up like another morsel, prompting a new iteration of the devoured monster to fly in via blimp.
All in all, there’s very little encouragement to dodge fire, and losing health merely delays the deliberate annihilation of 128 cities. Impediments don’t matter and continuous lives function as an IV drip for the carnage. Although score points skyrocket, they don’t really have meaning unless competitive players decide to record or compare higher numbers. Even then, you can only achieve a real end to the experience by blanketing the US map in a shroud and the word “Congratulations!” gets thrust at you. Weirdly, inaction during levels results in a green demolitions expert running up to plant rolls of dynamite at a building’s base. After a minute, the thing explodes and brings buildings to their granite, despite having insufficient craters from your fists.
This little terrorist can actually clear every level given enough time. And if the player diverts focus to mashing buttons in preventing their monster from shuffling off screen while holding their genitals, no bestial damage to wreck a city is needed to beat a level at all. This begs the question, “Is Rampage a smokescreen for some secret government agenda?!”
Additional Comments: The NES version is a solid port and rare instance when it boasts features over its source: namely, a background musical track and an actual ending to the killing spree in the form of a Congratulations screen and credits. (The arcade merely resets to Day 1 on the 769th city, reportedly.) An actual US map denotes progress when there is barely any semblance of a terminus in the arcade version.
However, the NES sacrifices a noticeable level of detail in character sprites and property damage, the superior arcade showcasing entire swathes of tower missing when it gets chewed up by mutant forces instead of a determinedly grid-based pattern. Enemies move slower on the NES, the framerate dips, and arcade instances sport a 3rd character that is absent in my version: Ralph the wolfman.
What I Liked: The continuous action of stomping about the cityscapes and engorging on tasty victuals to offset the quasi-bullet hell being absorbed is quite fun. There is a wide and varied moveset for an NES title, giving credibility and ease of slipping into the mindset of a bloodthirsty beast exerting their powers like a toddler throwing a tantrum. The news bulletins and presentations are humorous, the animations are smooth. Good graphics, great localization via correctly-spelled city names (albeit funky state lines). A slew of edibles exist to test my memory, it has unique multiplayer interactions, and the awesomeness of leaping from a building and popping human snacks while grabbing a helicopter out of the air is undeniably bad-ass. And I just love that state-beatdown tune.
What I Disliked: The battle music is forgettable; most sound effects sound lonesome; tanks are brutal to deal with. And yet, the game lacks any sort of challenge due to unlimited lives and a score that never resets without the player’s intention. In fact, this game is arguably not worth playing alone since conquering passive cities with little resistance can get boring quickly. It needs that multiplayer element to spice it up, especially since the lack of save points mean you’ll be pausing a lot or stringing victories together marathon-style. Items appear in the windows a second too late occasionally, causing me to scramble back to the building’s open sore. And even punching can be hit or miss -literally- due to some jankiness in the frames or building alignment. In any case, I found that holding the punch button for a split-second longer helped ensure better consistency and double-tapping was sporadically useful.
There’s a missed opportunity involving location landmarks or additional one-off challenges like punching a series of targets into the dirt faster than your opponent.
Glitches Experienced: Emulated; nothing beyond normal NES stuff. The weirdness of California and the Iowa map regions remaining brown until you beat them twice appears to be hard-coded into the game.
Hours I Played: ~14 across multiple sequels and iterations (arcade, NES, N64)
My Personal Reaction: I flashed back to my youth when re-playing this one. Though experience and age yields a perspective critical of imperfections, the enjoyment level was still there. Whereas games of the era had a length of 20 minutes if one only had the experience to execute a perfect run, Rampage provides a virtual platform to connect with players of any background and have some good ol’ fun with the promise of completion with enough dedication.
The cooperative goal of leveling a city could easily give way to a “whoops, I punched your monster in the face” slap fight with hilarious results. That always-present competition of squabbling over the health boost or shoving one another into the on-coming tank was a big draw for me back in the day. Although the continuation mechanics might be more challenging with quarters at stake, the low-stress catharsis of leaving a trail of flattened cities in your wake is a huge “mission accomplished” for a game seeking to have silly fun centered around Godzilla-scale beasts, as seen on tv.
Noob Tips: Bring a friend – it increases the entertainment significantly. Holding the attack button decreases the likelihood of failed interactions. Punch at a downwards angle to kill a cornerstone and work your way up a single building side to fell the artifice to mankind swiftly and efficiently. When a tank’s engine becomes audible, scale the nearest tower and leap forth to deliver the killing backstab. Always pose at level’s end!
Depth and Replayability: Low depth, High replayability with a group
Suggested Value: $1, $15 for a physical cartridge
Where to Buy: eBay, local classic gaming store
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