Crash and burn.
Continuing Microsoft's recent splurge of classic arcade content on Live Arcade, last week saw the slightly overdue release of Konami's 1981 celebrated side-scrolling shooter - to the surprise of no-one. Retroactively considered to be the first game in the long-running Gradius series, its place in gaming history is forever assured, but does it deserve a place among the Live Arcade elite, or is it destined to derided for being yet more overpriced retro fodder?
As is typical of game in this treasured era, the concept is beautifully simple, and one that continues to be refined to this day. Controlling a spacecraft across a scrolling landscape, the idea was simply to blast everything in the vicinity for as long as possible and also avoid crashing into the ground. Equipped with a basic cannon, you could either shoot straight ahead or drop bombs; which also served as a means of refuelling as you aimed them at the fuel tanks below.
Set across six contrasting (but short-lived) levels, the premise is to eventually take out the enemy base while avoiding a meteor shower, flying saucers, and a whole fleet of rockets that try to time their launch with your passing. And at the end of it all, the game warps back to the beginning and tasks you to do the whole thing again - only with harder, faster enemies.
Unlike the numerous side scrolling shooters that followed, there were no power-ups, definitely no continues, and only a few different types of enemies. Within no time, you've pretty much seen all there is to see in Scramble - and in the pixel perfect Live Arcade version, even the achievements are pretty easy to unlock. Of course, the main draw for the veterans will be to prove their worth on the worldwide leaderboards, and claim bragging rights among fellow campaigners. But the rest of you should definitely consider grabbing the free trial version before you part with any points - because it's not one of those arcade classics that stands up to a great deal of repeat play.
Of course, the audio and visuals have been given a cursory overhaul (as Konami has recently also applied to Frogger and Time Pilot), but it's a monumental rush job that's literally nothing more than a simple re-skin that gives Microsoft an excuse to talk about it being in high def. In truth, going back to the old garish style is preferable - at least it feels like Scramble, as opposed to someone's homebrew port.
Anyone out there?
And just like Konami's other arcade ports, the presence of online co-op is fairly worthless, when it appears to require luck or organisational skills to find like-minded souls online to even get a game going. Still, we can't knock the fact that it's there, so as long as you've got an online friend to call upon, or don't mind waiting around in lobbies, you can have some basic fun - with side by side 'best score wins' versus mode or simultaneous co-op where the scores are added up. A little pointless, but there you go.
As ever, the question of whether it's worth 400 Microsoft points for the privilege of playing through an ancient relic is one only you can answer.
We could tell you that we think it's not worth it (true) and that Microsoft needs to stop overcharging for these (ditto), but if you're a long-term fan who played it in the arcade when you were 10, you'll get it anyway. Nostalgia's blind, and you don't want to hear anyone telling you off for shelling out on something that costs less than the average drink down the pub.
All things considered, Scramble's still a lovely little game for about 15 minutes. But, in 2006 its place is as museum piece to be respected for what it gave to the world, or as part of a value compilation. It's really not that engaging a game in 2006 once you've got over the initial reaquaintence, and certainly not deserving of a standalone release on Live Arcade when there are so many more worthwhile games to download. On the other hand, it is an extremely faithful port (as long as you turn off the visual 'enhancement'), so if that's what you want, you'll be happy enough.
If you want a real twitch blaster worth the dough, buy Geometry Wars, or try out the Mutant Storm Reloaded trial. But please, don't encourage Microsoft to believe that what Live Arcade needs in more overpriced retro 'classics'.