Title: Akka Arrh
Developer: Llamasoft Ltd.
Release Date: February 21, 2023
Reviewed On: Switch
In an episode of the sitcom Friends, “The One With the Baby Shower,” Joey is auditioning to be the host of a game show called “Bamboozled,” except he doesn’t quite understand the rules. Chandler and Ross don’t really get the rules either, but it turns out they were so into this completely made-up points system that they couldn’t help but find some enjoyment in the insanity of it all. Anyway, when Joey turns up to the audition, he learns that the rules were completely scrapped for being far too confusing. The point is, that’s exactly what Akka Arrh feels like, which is the latest release from Atari, a game that is both new and yet also a revival of a once abandoned project from the company’s archives.
It’s quite literally the video game version of Bamboozled, one where the mechanics and scoring systems largely feel made up out of thin air, and even when things start to make a little sense, the title throws a whole bunch of new rules and systems to make the gameplay progressively more confusing and unpredictable. Confusion is the crux of the whole experience, and while some may find the process of deciphering rewarding in its own right, most will likely struggle to get into it. Arcade games tend to become second nature almost instantaneously, yet this one just doesn’t.
In fact, the game had the exact same problem in its original guise nearly three decades earlier in 1982, when it failed a focus group test as the sample of consumers simply found the experience too confusing. Back then, Atari was smashing out hits like Asteroids, Centipede, and Missile Command, and the original Akka Arrh lacked the same appeal. The original version only remained a prototype inside Atari’s vault, and it wasn’t until the recent 50th Anniversary collection that players got to try the build for themselves.
In hindsight, the company made the right call, and whether it is the 1982 prototype or this current 2023 revival, Akka Arrh is a confusing title lacking intuitive playability. The 2023 version has creative input from Jeff Minter, best known for the Atari classic Tempest 2000. Even so, his involvement only adds layers of convoluted play mechanics to a game that was already lacking in pick-up and play appeal, to begin with.
So, the core idea seems simple enough, involving taking control of a turret to fire projectiles at enemies, which some might even compare with Black Widow (the Atari arcade release, not the Marvel movie). Unfortunately, the execution is where the perplexity sets in. The basic idea is to detonate a bomb which starts a chain reaction of explosions, and so the score multiplier is driven by the number of enemies which fall into the blast radius. Once an explosion is detonated, there’s really not much else to do except sit back and watch as detonating another bomb breaks the existing chain and score multiplier.
There’s more to it; the turret can later use a rapid-fire shot , giving players a bit more control over the action. There are all sorts of power-ups too. Over the course of the 50 or so levels the game offers, it constantly throws new mechanics and systems, and at some point, it becomes all too much to keep up with. There’s also a system involving pods that serve as health in a way, and firing a certain number of bullets will restore a pod, but you can only have around 17 pods at any one time. And if you don’t restore any pods, then you get bonus points. Yeah, Joey, we don’t get it either.
Photosensitive seizure warnings in video games are a standard industry practice, but in this case, most players will want to take heed. This one is a visual explosion of colors and particle effects, with a confusing HUD and a ton of text in varying colors and font sizes. This is a psychedelic light show in every sense. Most of the mechanics get explained in flashing text, which is difficult to keep up with. Visually, it’s as brain-melting as Polybius. Proceed with caution.
On the one hand, it’s cool to see Atari try to create something new out of one of their rejected prototypes, but it’s clear why the concept itself was rejected back in the day. The 50th-anniversary collection was only recently released, and honestly, this 2023 rendition of Akka Arrh should have just been part of the selection of games alongside the 1982 prototype. It just doesn’t make sense to sell it as a standalone title; it really could have just been part of a DLC add-on for the anniversary collection.
For what it’s worth, Akka Arrh exists as a functional arcade shooter that tries far too many ideas for its own good. This is one for the Atari enthusiast and historian. Everyone else is better off checking out the publisher’s extensive back catalog instead.
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