Scramble (Xbox 360) review
"Itís one thing to fly through the numerous regions unscathed. Itís another to destroy most of your enemies. As noble as those enterprises are, though, they come to naught if you canít keep your fuel supply in sufficient order. You do this by shooting tanks that line the landscape. Oftentimes, they are fairly well guarded."
When I first played Scramble, it wasnít called that. Its name was Nemoís Revenge and it was on the Apple IIe computer. After that, I looked a long time to try to locate the game again, even going so far as to search emulation sites to see if anyone but me even remembered it existed. My quest proved fruitless until at last I found it on Xbox Live Arcade, not exactly as I remembered it but close enough that I came to a horrifying realization: Nemoís Revenge was nothing but a copycat title. Scramble is the real thing.
In Scramble, you are placed in control of a jet that is flying over the face of some alien planet. There are a total of six stages you must fly through, connected intimately with no obvious divider between them except their differing focus.
The first stage is a mountainous region with a lot of launch pads lower on the screen. As you fly to the right, youíll have to avoid those and also the peaks that will dash your computer to bits if you collide.
Stage two finds you piloting your way through a cavern while aliens swarm around you in simplistic patterns that you have to either avoid or disrupt. The launch pads below are still present, but inactive.
Then thereís the third stage, a steady stream of meteors streaking directly toward you. Your only concern is avoiding contact with them, which is easier said than done. They move quite quickly and if youíre too late by even a half-second, youíre toast. Again, the launch pads below are inactive.
The game goes on, but Iíll spare you a description of each individual stage. Things get more difficult, naturally, and you have less room to maneuver as you find yourself flying through narrow corridors and forced to memorize level layout, lest you get trapped by the scrolling screen. Really, there are many ways in which Scramble was ahead of its time.
One way it jumped past its competitors was the inclusion of a fuel gauge you must constantly monitor. Itís one thing to fly through the numerous regions unscathed. Itís another to destroy most of your enemies. As noble as those enterprises are, though, they come to naught if you canít keep your fuel supply in sufficient order. You do this by shooting tanks that line the landscape. Oftentimes, they are fairly well guarded. Your ship has two weapon types. One is a straight-forward shot, while the other is a peripheral weapon that drops in a forward-moving arc.
The latter of those shots is what youíll rely on the most, but it has an irritating tendency to fall just short of your target fuel tanks, or just beyond them because of the scrolling screen. Even if it doesnít, there might be a launch pad just before your target, and it may fly upward just in time to take the shot and ruin your chances of scoring some fuel. That precise scenario plays out nearly every game.
The need to monitor your fuel is frustrating, but gives the game a sense of urgency that its rather lazy early stages wouldnít otherwise possess. You might play perfectly but still run out of fuel unless youíre constantly swooping down low, taking risks that could easily find your ship erupting amidst a fiery inferno. And if youíre worried about your score, things only get that much tenser. Just shooting enemies wonít get you where you need to go. Youíll need to take out enemy bases for massive points!
Because Scramble is now an Xbox Live Arcade experience, the developer kept that in mind. There are leader boards where you can easily compare your own performance to that of your friends and players worldwide. Thatís par for the course when it comes to the virtual arcade the Microsoft built, and so are numerous achievements that reward you for beating each of the levels, and also for trying things like defeating thirty enemies using only your peripheral bombs. Such diversions add a lot to the gameís longevity.
Ultimately, though, Scramble is an older game with sensibilities appropriate for the time when it was developed. That means it does have a hard time remaining as addictive as something like Geometry Wars that was developed with todayís audience in mind. Itís easy enough to recommend Scramble to people who played it back in the day, or to those who are curious from a historical perspective, but itís a different thing entirely to suggest that you buy it if youíre looking for the next great thing from Xbox Live. This isnít it.
Staff review by Jason Venter (September 16, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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