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River Raid (Atari 2600) artwork

River Raid (Atari 2600) review

"River Raid is a piece of shooter ecstacy. You take the role of a pilot flying down a river shooting up a bunch of bad guys. Why? Because they're evil! Why else? The manual doesn't give you a backstory. Nothing's a better waste of government money or ammunition than blowing evil to smithereens. It has been proven time and time again in many of these shooters."

The further time progresses, the more inclined we are to forget the games that set new standards. When you pop that quarter into the Marvel vs. Capcom game, do you even stop to think about games like Street Fighter 2 or Fatal Fury? Our golden oldies get lost over time. A new breed of willing gamers will ask for some recommendations for older games, and then like the living dead, our oldies come back to warmth of another generation. Many are so quick to dismiss Atari as ''low quality graphics and corny sounds.'' They don't realize without games like River Raid, you wouldn't be playing some of today's scrolling shooters. It is not necessary to like the oldies, but to keep them in mind and think of them as the wise old sages of video games.

River Raid is a piece of shooter ecstacy. You take the role of a pilot flying down a river shooting up a bunch of bad guys. Why? Because they're evil! Why else? The manual doesn't give you a backstory. Nothing's a better waste of government money or ammunition than blowing evil to smithereens. It has been proven time and time again in many of these shooters.

Going down the river will cause you to bump into more and more enemies, represented by single colored little objects like helicopters and huge boats. Destroying them not only gets them out of your way, but increases your score. The higher your score, the studlier your are! This is science, and you can't argue against that.

Just like pimpin', flying ain't easy. The controls work surprisingly well, but the real kicker is the fuel. Not only do you have to destroy enemies and make your way through a vast number of levels, but you also must mind a fuel gauge. You'll bump into a fuel platform in the river which can supply you with the much needed petrol-based drugs that your aircraft so rightfully needs. The trick is not to accidentally destroy them, fly into the walls while trying to get to one, or fly into enemies after fueling. All of the listed could result in death, which is ultimately hazardous to your playing experience.

The game gets harder and requires you to shoot more, dodge more, and fuel up more. Just the way any action game should be: Fast and progressively harder. What could complement senseless destruction of evil forces more than great sound effects? No, there's no music in the game, but you do get to hear the authentic sound that a jet in midair makes; that breath-taking whir. One is almost reminded of Captain Skyhawk. There aren't too many other sound effects to complement the game, but there are a few. This mainly consists of your usual explosive sounds and the high pitched tones of refueling. That may not sound like much, but if you think about how many Atari 2600 games have awful and irritating sound effects, hearing these makes one very thankful.

Activision seemed to have done better in the Atari era than in any other era. Their games of old are classics. Then, something went wrong. Games like Alundra 2 began to seep from Activision's development teams. While they still make fantastic games occasionally, we still have to put up with more not-so-stellar titles from what was once a titanic company.

River Raid is forever etched as a classic shoot 'em up. Its descendants come in many forms with many replacements for the jet (i.e. dragons, angelic beings, people on flying carpets, etc). No matter what you put in place of it, it's the same elements that guide you down that long path to either completion or game over. The only thing standing in the way of perfection is repetition River Raid helped create a genre that would be popular in arcades and even popular at home. The 2D shooter isn't as plentiful these days, but even with the creation of games like Ikaruga, it's still enjoyed and revered.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (November 07, 2010)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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Felix_Arabia posted November 07, 2010:

Thanks for writing this. The game brings back old memories as one of the first games of consequence that I ever had the opportunity to play. I remember, or at least have altered to remember, the twisting river ways that narrow over the horizon, the limited fuel barrels and their wily aero-guardians, and that harrowing sense of urgency that the plane was fulfilling the mother of all missions, but its chance for success remaining aloof no matter what prior level progression bore. Good stuff.
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sashanan posted November 08, 2010:

Lovely game, this. Couple of bits of pointless trivia:

- One of the first well known games to have been programmed by a woman.
- There is a theoretically infinite number of levels. Rather than fit these into the Atari's limited memory, the game actually runs an algorhythm that calculates what the level should look like, gradually adding rougher terrain, more enemies and less fuel tanks as the levels progress. But since there is no random factor in the algorhythm, the levels actually look the same each time and give the illusion of conscious design. (First X levels might actually have it, not sure.)
- Hilarious in hindsight: this game was refused classifiation and thus effectively banned in Germany for its excessive violence. Yeah.
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honestgamer posted November 08, 2010:

Isn't it conscious design if someone develops an algorithm to define the levels and there's no random factor? What's the practical difference between a level that has 2 enemies and a level that has 1 enemy plus 1 enemy?
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aschultz posted November 08, 2010:

Err...nothing, the way you state it. I think you didn't quite mean what you meant to mean. Hope this is not logical quibbling.

I think something can be quasi-random but still doable, and I think that's useful if people are trying to learn patterns, or if you want to give credit for rewarding patterns so nothing TOO unfair happens when you put random stuff together, e.g. if you had no way out after having to shoot a bunch of enemies because it took too long before refueling.

I suppose you could also have, say, a sequence of 1000000 random numbers, subject to the first 100 being from 1 to 100, up to 1000 being 1 to 90, up to 10000 being 1 to 80, and so forth. This would still be random, but repetitive, to allow for pattern recognition etc.

level 1 = 1st 5
level 2 = 1st 10 (as opposed to 6-10)
level 3 = 1st 15 (as opposed to 11-15)
...and so forth.

It would still be random, but a bit hedged. In either case, we could claim conscious design. Just in one case, we would deliberately want to repeat, and in the other, we would not.

Hope I'm making sense.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted November 10, 2010:

Haha! Banned for excessive violence. That's great!
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sashanan posted November 10, 2010:

Well, what I meant to say is, level 38 is always the same level 38, but it wasn't drawn out on paper and playtested and enemies added and removed until it felt just right.

Of course, who knows how often that algorhythm was tweaked before the game in general felt "just right", so I suppose that too is a form of conscious design, just on a different level.

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