Tag Archives: arcade

My Favorite Sports Game Is From 1978

I’ve never been one for sports, at least not mainstream ones. After playing every sport under the sun as a kid I migrated towards individual sports like swimming in high school and fencing in college. I’m not much of a sports “watcher” either. I watch the occasional football game, go to a basketball game every once in awhile and have been watching the World Cup off and on like many, but keeping up with the sports world has never been a priority.

You can imagine then that modern sport video games don’t do much for me. I love more arcadey titles like NBA Jam or Mario Tennis, but games like Madden or Fifa have never appealed to me. They lack the physical aspect of actually playing sports, and combine it with the visuals and audio of watching a sports broadcast. I just find it…boring.

It’s amazing then that a sports video game has quickly become one of my favorite arcade titles. When I went to my local arcade a few weeks back with a friend, I found a strange new cabinet that wasn’t around during my previous visit. It looked like a table with a screen in the middle. Two stools sat on the ends, right in front of a trackball and two buttons, alongside some scribbling I didn’t immediately understand. Older readers may know the game I’m talking about, but I was completely unaware.

Curious, me and my friend took a seat on each side of the table and started to play. It is football, plain and simple. Players are identified with Xs and Os, and each player gets four offensive and four defensive plays to choose from. Though it took a little figuring out, the game is basically glorified rock, paper, scissors. You try to get first downs and score touchdowns. Like I said, it’s football.

Atari Football to be exact, and there isn’t anything fancy or flashy about it, especially in 2014. There isn’t any color. No character models. Yet what I found was that this game from 1978 more perfectly captured the physicality and excitement of a real sport far better than Madden ever has.

It all boils down to great, simple gameplay. If you are on offense and your opponent can correctly guess your play, they can easily counter it by picking the corresponding defensive play. It all becomes mind games, trying to think like your opponent in order to succeed. While this could be fun by itself, it would be nothing with Atari Football’s main attraction — the trackball.

Thanks to the trackball, playing this game is physically exhausting. You always control the player with the ball, and rather than using a joystick you use the trackball to run and juke your way to the end zone. That means using your palm to rotate the ball as fast as you can to make your character run, rolling it rapidly to the left to sidestep, then rolling it back to the right and then forward as you make a mad dash for the touchdown. Your opponent is doing the same on defense, making their ball spin as fast as it can as they try to chase you down and tackle you. After just a few minutes of playing your arm is aching and your palms are sore, but it is so much fun you don’t want to quit. You know a game has done something right when I am in physical pain but want to keep playing.

That physicality is really the secret ingredient to why I think Atari Football is so great. Actually “running”, so to speak, gives the game a rush of excitement that modern sport titles really lack. The smaller number of plays and the simplicity of it all boils football down to its essence and allows for even non-football fans like me to really enjoy what the sport is all about. Maybe that is part of the reason Wii Sports found so much success — there is just something about actually being active in a sports game that makes it more enjoyable.

Whatever the reason, for 20 minutes me and my friend were cheering and yelling as we furiously spun that trackball as fast as we could. In the end our hands couldn’t take any more. Me and my friend stepped away from the table and returned to our old favorites like Gauntlet, Smash TV, and Galaga, exhausted but happily surprised that a game so old, and a sports game no less, could capture and hold our attention like few games can. It’s for that reason that Atari Football, a 36-year-old video game from a long gone era, is my new favorite sports game. Unless Madden 2016 comes with a trackball, I expect it will stay that way.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Luftrausers Review: Flying High

You blast off into the sky in your high-speed super weapon, ripping enemy planes apart with ease. You dive, roll, and boost circles around enemy fighters, but before long the battle intensifies. Battleships fire streams of anti-air rounds, and you do everything in your power to evade. Instinct takes over, and before long your aircraft is performing a deadly aerial waltz. A storm of bullets comes your way, and you see no other option than to dive straight into the depths of the ocean to escape. This would be suicide for any normal aircraft, but you aren’t piloting any old plane — this is a Luftrauser, a deadly piece of war engineering that can be customized with a variety of experimental weapons and engines. When you emerge from the sea you show no mercy, but for every enemy you defeat three more take its place. You die in a hail of bullets. Thankfully, you have an ace up your sleeve. Your craft goes nuclear, taking out any and all enemies in the surrounding area.

You check your score: 20,000. Not bad, but you can do better. You launch your Luftrauser once again, and the battle begins anew. That’s Luftrausers in a nutshell, a frantically fast paced game that looks and plays like it’s straight out of an old arcade cabinet. That’s part of it’s charm.

With one battlefield, one mode, and a few plane customization options that you can mix and match to craft your perfect flying machine, Luftrausers doesn’t sound like much, and it isn’t. But it doesn’t need to be. Like the classic arcade games of old, Luftrausers is all about the score. Killing enemies in succession builds up your combo meter, with each kill granting you increasingly more points until it maxes out at 20. Keeping your combo up is the key to posting big numbers, but the way the game is structured means you can rarely keep it up for long. With every kill and second that passes on the clock, Luftrausers becomes more and more difficult as it spawns deadly new enemy types, ranging from dangerous battleships to enemy aces that maneuver in ways similar to a real player. The game reaches its climax once the massive and heavily armed blimps begin to appear, flying fortresses that only the most skilled pilots will be able to defeat and live to tell the tale.

As you can probably guess, Luftrausers is hard. Really hard, and even harder when you turn on the games unlockable bonus mode. It’s classic bullet-hell, but rather than confining you to a box in which to maneuver like other games in the genre, Luftrausers gives you a freedom of movement that essential if you want to survive. Players manually use the boost on their craft to propel their plane, allowing for some fancy aerial acrobatics as you let off the boost and tumble through the air, rotating to shoot an enemy plane behind you before hitting the throttle again and ascending to the heavens.

Even if Lufrausers only featured one plane to choose from it would still be replayable due to its score focused nature, but I couldn’t imagine myself logging in more than a few hours. The inclusion of multiple engines, weapons, and aircraft bodies that unlock as you play changes that entirely. Parts can be mixed and matched, adding a great deal of replayability. As a result I’ve logged in way more time than I ever imagined I would. After dying I would almost always head back to the hanger to make a new plane combination. Trying to find the perfect aircraft for your playstyle is a game in itself, with my personal favorites being a plane that could dive into the ocean without taking damage and fire massive cannonballs or one whose entire strategy is to kamikaze ram enemy units thanks to it making you immune to collision damage. Each plane variation comes with various challenges to be completed, adding goals to strive towards every time you take off in your Luftrauser.in to ascend skyward. Watching a good Luftrausers player is awe-inspiring, as they flip and roll with ease between streams of bullets and enemy planes.

What really sells Luftrausers though is its visuals and soundtrack. The 8-Bit sepia tone look creates a 1950s vibe that invokes a post-Word War II world where aerial supremacy meant everything and new and experimental weapons were becoming reality. Adding to the package is an amazing soundtrack unlike any other I’ve experienced in a game. It’s really only one core track, which can be listened to here, but becomes modified and transformed according to which parts you choose for your craft. What begins as a triumphant military march becomes a sci-fi space battle as electronic sounds begin to blend into the familiar theme, and there are literally dozens of unique versions, each one the perfect background music to accompany your aerial achievements.

There has been some controversy surrounding Luftrausers — its art is clearly inspired by that of Nazi Germany, leading many to criticize the games creators. I can see where they are coming from. Luftrausers definitely glorifies the idea of aerial dogfighting, and with the inclusion of all the eagles, crosses, and character portraits like the ones seen above, it’s hard not to draw the comparison. The developers were clearly looking for an alternate history that would fit in with the the game they wanted to make. What they landed on was a unnamed country reminiscent of Nazi Germany that emerges victorious from World War II and in turn is able to implement many of its fabled “super weapons” that never saw the light of day. It’s important to note that none of this is ever explicitly stated. Being an arcade game at heart, Luftrausers has no real story. Kill planes, get score, test your Luftrauser, rinse and repeat.

Minor controversy aside, Luftrausers is a great fun. For me it conjures up memories of hour long 1942 sessions at a local arcade trying to beat my previous score, entering a trance-like state as the pounding military march that is the games music blares into my ears. If you love bullet-hell shooters, a great challenge, or want to feel like an aerial ace for a few hours, Luftrausers is more than worth the $10 it will cost you.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,