Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Top 30 Vertical Shooters for the Atari 2600 #8

River Raid II

This was a tough call.  Which is better, River Raid or River Raid II?  On the one hand, River Raid has the pure simplicity of a great shooter. On the other, River Raid II takes that simplicity and builds upon it an impressive feat for a VCS game.  This was seriously a difficult call.  I played both for a pretty long time to compare and contrast them and finally decided that I kept coming back to River Raid II over River Raid because there was more depth to the game play and the level of challenge was notably higher.

River Raid II excels because it takes the simple fun of the original and adds game play elements that flesh the game out and make it feel more like a VCS version of something like 1942 or Sky Shark, two NES titles that get a lot of play in my house.  You still have the basics, refueling mid-flight, the risk/reward of taking it slow vs. racing through, but now you can also change altitude.  This allows you to attack air and sea targets more realistically than in the original game.  You can swoop low to take out enemy aircraft carriers, and then gun it back up into the skies to take out enemy aircraft, or you can simply drop bombs onto ground and sea targets from the safety of the air.  Thanks to this feature you can also take the fight overland and take out ground targets as well! Zoom down the river, take out the bridge and your mission is complete.  Guide your plane back to the aircraft carrier, refuel and then take off again for another run! Sweet!  Oh and if you think that landing on that aircraft carrier at the end of the level is easy, think again.  Learning how to successfully land and take off could be an entire game itself!

In addition to a rich play screen, you also get an overview map to show your position on the river as well as speed, altitude and fuel gauges.  River Raid II might be one of Activision's best looking games.

The only thing I'm not ecstatic about is the flak hazards that poke out of the water.  They are infinitely tall and there is no way to destroy them so you just have to dodge.  I understand their placement in the game and their function, but I think there was probably a better way to achieve the same effect with a better game mechanic. Plus, they appear arbitrarily over land and sea which makes them seem less organic in the game play.

River Raid II is hard, harder than its predecessor for sure.  The action is faster, the river has a more challenging design and the fact that you can go overland doesn't necessary eliminate the danger of a collision as you will need be constantly aware of your altitude.  It takes a bit of time to get used to the idea that flying low also means flying fast while flying high slows you down.  This multiplies the risk/reward aspect of the game.  You'll have to factor altitude, speed, position on the river, and fuel all at the same time.  But when you finish that run and the bridge is in pieces behind you with that aircraft carrier in your sights, man, that is a great feeling!  That's another nice, small detail.  Bridges can appear at any point in the river, even while it is forked, so you must be ever vigilant!

River Raid II promises a top tier VCS shooter experience and delivers on that promise!

My Top River Raid II Score: 35,200 (pitiful, I know)

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