Atomic Runner (Gen) Review

Back in the days of antiquity, every piece of hardware had it’s own distinctive vibe to it. This is something that’s almost completely nonexistent now that CD and DVD-based game consoles are the norm. It would be virtually impossible, without cheating, to simply look at a bit of gameplay footage, or listen to a music track, and know that it was for Playstation 3 rather than Xbox 360. Or Gamecube rather than Wii.

Now if you were to perform the same test with two cartridge-based consoles, it would be relatively easy to differentiate between, say, an NES and a Master system, or a Turbografx and a Super Nintendo, provided you had some degree of familiarity with said consoles. But more than can be said for any other system, Genesis games seem like Genesis games.

This thought occurred to me during my first few moments of playing Atomic Runner. It looks, sounds and feels so precisely like a Genesis game that it almost made me teary-eyed. But I would never cry in front of my Genesis, and it certainly would have been unwise to show any form of weakness in front of Atomic Runner, which would almost certainly have spent the rest of the school year mercilessly picking on me.

AR exists somewhere between run-and-gun and scrolling shoot-em-up, and if that statement sounds incomprehensible, the game is probably going to have it’s way with you. This is a game so hardcore that I doubt anyone had ever referred to a game as “hardcore” before it’s creation. Picture Contra where the screen autoscrolls to the right, and your character automatically runs forward. Turning to face enemies coming from behind you requires the press of a “turn” button, and it’s impossible to move to the left of the screen to pick up that powerup an inch behind you. It certainly takes a fair bit of getting used to (as does the fact that you can’t shoot directly up), but the controls are otherwise pretty tight, and before long you’ll be bouncing off enemies’ heads (yeah, you can do that) and dodging enemy fire left and right.

Standard chest-beating about “hardcoreness” notwithstanding, AR isn’t as frustrating or unforgiving as it’s pedigree might imply. Checkpoints abound, and you’ll start from them even when you continue, so you won’t be forced to repeat the same sections needlessly – not that anyone would mind spending some quality time in these surprisingly well-designed and effects-laden levels. The game is also pretty thoughtful in the fact that it will give you the best power-up when you repeatedly die on the same section.

The game has a theme of “ancient meets future” which colors all the levels, adding a splash of cohesiveness most games like this lack. You’ll atomically run past all sorts of temples, statuary and pyramids (lots of pyramids), which have had wires and metal parts added to better suit the fashion sensibilities of the villains, who sometimes manifest themselves as Chinese dragons or Mayan gods. The story at the beginning of the game tries to add depth to “avenge your father and rescue your girlfriend” by stretching it out over 150 words, but anybody who needs an excuse to run around shooting boomerang guns and heat-seeking missiles by punching the air in front of them would probably be happier reading a book anyway.

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~ by Krooze L-Roy on October 26, 2008.

One Response to “Atomic Runner (Gen) Review”

  1. Ah yes, Atomic Runner Chelnov. I consider it part of a trilogy with Karnov and Bad Dudes. The story I have made up in my own head to link the three should be told someday.

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