When I stumbled upon that Rampage arcade machine one random day in the mid-80s, I gauged the content of the noisy unit's artwork and thought to myself, "Now here's a game that's right up my alley." That's how the average arcade-goer's first impression of a newly appearing arcade game was usually formed: There was no build-up to its arrival, no pre-release hype, and no grand unveiling, so you just turned a corner one day and saw it standing there in place of the reliably present Arknoid or Out Run machine, its intriguing cabinet aesthetics and the intensity of its acoustical reverberance suddenly washing over you and forever framing your mental image of the game.
Now, I had a lot of fun experimenting with the basic tactics (climbing the sides of buildings and chopping them down piece by piece, jump-grabbing and eating the people who were hanging out of the many windows, and racing to be the first to pummel trains, boats, and tanks), but what I liked most about Rampage--what I thought cemented it as a next-level arcade game--was the sheer amount of activity going on at a single time. You were in a literal war zone, with buildings collapsing and blowing up all around you, army helicopters flying in from all angles, storms of bullets and grenades filling the screen, panicked civilians dropping from windows and fleeing in terror, and general devastation occurring everywhere your eyes could focus. Being enveloped in such a scene was both exciting and concerning, since the game's chaotic nature invited joyously reckless play but made it difficult to conserve health by that measure. "So this is what it's like to be the clueless bad guy."
I have no specific memories of Rampage past that initial encounter, but I remember that I gave equal time to George and Lizzie, the obvious analogs for King Kong and Godzilla, while mostly avoiding Ralph, who as best I could tell was a giant werewolf; he didn't carry with him the established mythos of the other two, since I couldn't recall any giant wolfmen in monster-movie history, so I never had any interest in playing as him. Really, it was common that I'd forget he was even in the game, and you could point to a single culprit for that lapse of memory.
There were times when we'd drag out the experience and play Rampage beyond its welcome, but that was only because we wanted to find out what happened when the entirety of the U.S. map had been punched out, reduced to a black void. Though, by the time we'd get to Texas, we'd already have fully exhausted the game's entertainment value to where progressing any further just didn't feel worth it. Truth be told, we did finish it one time, on a day when my friend Mike and I were so bored that we decided to play through the entire campaign, all 128 stages, hoping that the final obliteration of California would entail a reward exciting enough to justify the effort. There was absolutely nothing waiting for us--no cut-scene, no epilogue, and not even a token "Thank you for playing!" There was only a mute credits sequence, and then the game continued on as if nothing had happened. We were pretty pissed about it considering we'd spent over two hours dredging through a game that was meant to be played in five-minutes bursts.
I don't believe we ever returned to it in following, preferring to stick the arcade version when we could find it. That's where Rampage continued to be at its best.
Still, there were certain things about our experiences with Rampage that remained true no matter which version were playing: We'd have some fun. Share some laughs. Get a kick out of messing with each other. But above all, it was paramount that we always hold to our oath of celebrating the destruction of any city with the boastful, spirit-raising Head-Nod of Happiness.
Take that, California.