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CoMotion (Arcade) artwork

CoMotion (Arcade) review

"What's all the CoMotion?"

CoMotion is the official four-player counterpart to Blockade, the first snake video game. Developed by the San Diego-based Gremlin Industries, both games were released in October of 1976, indicating that they were both in production at the same time. The premise of CoMotion is very similar to the Light Cycles scene in Disney’s Tron, and may or may not have had an influence on the film. Each of the four players controls an arrow that constantly moves in the direction it’s pointing, and they can change its path by tapping one of the four directional buttons on their side of the control panel. The arrows leave brick walls behind them as they travel around the screen. The objective is to force the other players’ arrows to crash into the walls through any means necessary, and be the last player standing. While the two-player Blockade was originally released in a traditional upright arcade cabinet, CoMotion is encased in a cocktail-style cabinet, so that all four players can sit or stand comfortably around the screen.

For the most part, the core gameplay in CoMotion is just like Blockade, apart from the aforementioned addition of four-player multiplayer. As with the original game, computer opponents are not available. Before starting the game, players are prompted to insert either one quarter for a two-player game, or two quarters for a four-player game. At the beginning of a game session, each player starts at a specific point near one of the four borders of the playfield. Arrow icons representing the players’ remaining lives are embedded in the borders near their respective starting points. During a two-player game, the arrows that would normally be controlled by Players 3 and 4 remain stationary, serving as minor obstacles.

While Blockade had players competing for a target score of six points by making their enemies crash into walls six times, CoMotion uses a lives/elimination system. On the default settings, each player begins with four lives. When a player crashes, they lose a life, and any walls they created will disappear from the playfield. When one player remains on the screen, their wall is removed, and all players that still have extra lives are returned to their starting positions to begin a new round. The last player to have any remaining lives will be declared the winner of the game, as the word “WINNER” flashes on the screen.

CoMotion features a greater level of challenge than its precursor, thanks to the addition of four-player gameplay. With four players moving around the screen at once, forming entire mazes of brick walls, there’s a lot more action to focus on. The game starts out slow, but it speeds up slightly whenever a player disappears from the screen. While the enhanced challenge factor does make CoMotion slightly superior to Blockade, the fact that both games were built on the same hardware engine and were in development at the same time means they unfortunately share the same multitude of problems.

For example, CoMotion retains Blockade’s short gameplay sessions. Regardless of whether you choose the two-player mode or the four-player mode, you only get one match per credit. In the two-player mode, this flaw is exacerbated by the fact that players can only crash four times instead of six. The game is also lacking in variety when it comes to game modes and options, which caused it to quickly become outclassed by the deluge of Blockade clones that began to flood the market in the late seventies. In particular, variations for home platforms made Gremlin’s games obsolete by offering infinite free plays. Even though four-player gameplay was still uncommon for home video games at the time, the simple fact that consumers could now play snake games at home meant that Gremlin and other designers of video arcade games would eventually have to put more effort into their products to stay competitive.

The presentation in CoMotion is nearly identical to that of Blockade, which makes sense, considering their concurrent development cycles. Both games feature the same monochrome graphics, with white objects on a black background, enhanced slightly by a bright green overlay on the monitor. Every wall is visualized in the form of a thick white line with tiny black rectangles inside, representing bricks. The small but readable font for displaying in-game messages is also recycled from Blockade. Sound effects consist of alternating beeps accompanying players’ movements and sampled explosions for crashes. If you have played or seen gameplay footage of Blockade, you should know exactly what to expect here.

As was the case with its two-player precursor, CoMotion doesn’t hold up well today. The challenge is there, and a home version certainly would’ve made for a decent party game if it existed, but as an arcade game, the short gameplay sessions simply cannot be ignored. Plus, it didn’t take long for rival games to improve on CoMotion’s concept. Ramtek made their own blatant knockoff called Barricade, and Gremlin threatened them with legal action unless they at least changed the title, so that it wouldn’t sound too similar to Blockade. Barricade has very few differences from CoMotion aside from graphics and sound, but one CoMotion copycat that’s definitely worth your time is Midway’s Checkmate. The arcade version still limits players to one round per credit, but a home port is available for the Bally Astrocade console as one of its built-in games. Checkmate also allows you to play against up to three computer opponents if you don’t have enough human players. Blockade and CoMotion deserve credit for starting a popular and influential video game genre, but they’re best left to the history books.


Midcore's avatar
Community review by Midcore (August 09, 2018)

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JoeTheDestroyer posted August 14, 2018:

I like this review. It reminded me of cocktail cabinets and I kinda miss those.

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