It will surprise no one that Activision has so many games in the upper rankings of this list. River Raid is no exception. One of the best known and loved games in the Activision catalog, River Raid is an exceptional vertical shooter that still presents gamers with immense challenge and lots of replay value.
River Raid takes the classic vertical shooting formula and adds some elements that improve game play, add difficulty and dramatically increase the complexity and amount of fun in the game. It would be enough to fly over a river and shoot the many different targets that get in your way (some games in this list achieve the equivalent of that and nothing else). River Raid adds a fuel gauge that must regularly be refilled, a river that is constantly forcing you to think on the fly, and bridges that block your path and must be destroyed to continue on your way.
River Raid is a big risk/reward game. You can blaze down the river at full speed, but you run the risk of colliding with targets, the canyon walls and burning through your fuel without a steady resupply. You can alternately take your time and plod down the river, but you run the risk of being a sitting duck for fast shooting enemies and running out of fuel. The moderate path seems like the safe route and early in the game it might be, but as the difficulty ramps you will find times where speeding up or slowing down are your only options. Sometimes the river narrows and you must navigate tight gaps that are usually blocked by enemy targets. Other times you will need to throttle up in order to find a fuel tank before you crash and burn. Then there is the risk/reward of shooting fuel tanks for points instead of refueling. It can be very tempting, particularly early on when fuel tanks are plentiful, but late in the game you never know where the next tank will show up, so shoot at your own peril.
Needless to say, being an Activision title, River Raid features smooth, brightly colored graphics and great looking sprites.
The only real drawback to River Raid is that the difficulty will eventually top off and you'll see most of what the game has to offer relatively early in the game. The game becomes an endurance test after that and while it is more enjoyable than other games lower on the list, it still loses a bit of flavor once you can reach that point reliably. This causes replayability to take a slight hit, but it does not make River Raid a bore. As a matter of fact, when I get on a River Raid tear, I can play it for hours.
My Top River Raid Score: 63,040