Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Shades of Resonance: Fond Reminiscence - Memory Log #28

Rampage

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.


Rampage was big, and it was loud, but more importantly it was the dream convergence of two of my favorite things: Video games and movie monsters. Though my interests skewed more toward the European-themed, Gothic-style monster movies starring Count Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, and the like, I was still a huge fan of science-fiction films where behemoths like King Kong and Godzilla tore through cities and battled equally colossal foes. King Kong and Godzilla in particular were monster-movie royalty to me and often starred in my monster-battle drawings, where they were sometimes matched up against each other but normally paired together for the purpose of tangling with titanic terrors like Rodan, Mothra, and the Kraken from Clash of the Titans.


Since I never got a chance to see the King Kong vs. Godzilla movie, which was quite elusive in the days of satellite TV and narrowly focused video-rental stores, I figured Rampage, which starred both a giant ape and a giant lizard, was the closest I'd get to seeing the two share the same screen. From that angle, I instantly took to Rampage, which boasted both a fantastic setting and a visceral energy that was worthy of the movies that inspired it. It really was unlike anything I'd ever played before. I mean, what other game allowed you to take control of a giant monster--the type that would normally appear as the conquering end boss in the average video game--and recklessly destroy buildings, snack on citizens and army folk alike, and punch out any fellow behemoth that got in your way? None that I could remember. In fact, until King of the Monsters arrived on the scene, Rampage was pretty much one of a kind.


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."


The monsters had a limited offensive repertoire--mainly four directional strikes--but I was surprised by how much mileage the designers got out of it. It wasn't that you were just pounding on the building right in front of you; no--you could flail your arm backwards and inflict damage to the frame of an adjacent building, or you could even extend your fist upward and punch holes in the building positioned behind the one you were currently climbing! For whatever reason, I considered the striking of background objects to be the product of some type of programming sorcery. The point was that you could potentially take out three buildings while perched in a single location, which I thought was amazing. Toss in two additional players of any skill and you could flatten a city in seconds.


That was the appeal of Rampage: You had to destroy everything in sight as quickly as possible if you hoped to survive the surrounding madness--the army response of bullets, grenades, and missiles and even the other monsters who would have no qualms about bouncing on your head, knocking you off buildings (which was more of a health-drain than taking a missile to the face, weirdly), and tauntingly munching down your defeated, unmutated human avatar. If you could get some friends or a couple of strangers to join in, it was likely to be the most fun you could have for the price of a single quarter.


Rampage wasn't near the top of my list of arcade favorites, but, like Superman and Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja, it ranked as obligatory--if you saw it, that is, you were compelled to play through at least one full credit. If its role was to supply short bursts of fun, satisfying action, it could be counted upon to reliably deliver.

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.


See--I had a really bad tendency to go out and buy NES conversions of my arcade favorites even though I was rightfully suspicious of their quality and knew that they could never match up well technologically. But I couldn't help myself and bought the NES version of Rampage only to discover what I suspected: Rampage was a game that belonged in arcades, where abbreviated sessions of destruction made the most sense; it didn't make for a particularly exciting console game and less so in a dumbed-down 8-bit form. My friends and I still considered it a competent conversion and enjoyed an occasional prolonged session of city-smashing, but its fun factor was too short-lived for us to consider letting it join the ranks of frequently played titles like Balloon Fight, Double Dragon II: The Revenge and Rygar; we'd usually get to somewhere around day 40 before the action would grow stale and our "hilarious" banter could no longer carry us onward. 


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.


"Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Uhn! Uhn! Uhn! Uhn! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Uhn! Uhn! Uhn! Uhn!"

Take that, California.

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