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5  |  Nothing To Go Nuts Over...
Darryl B. , 5/22/2006 5:07:57 PM
Thought I'd use a different adjective there, eh? :)

Berzerk was a very different game when it was unleashed upon the arcades in the early 80s. Being one of the very first talking games ever -- where it reportedly cost a thousand dollars a word to accomplish; it would have almost been cheaper to hire a guy to speak into a microphone hooked up to the machines for a couple of weeks back then to provide the voices -- it really drew a crowd, and the gameplay elements were also pretty unique back then as well.

Nowadays, the concept of running around in a maze shooting things has been done to death, but it was still pretty new back then. Also different was the entire world of Berzerk being electrified: if you ran into a wall, you were zapped to death. If you got shot by a robot, you'd die that way too (of course). However, if you ran into a robot, you died as well; hell, even if you ran into a robot's explosion after shooting it you'd bite the dust (I'm surprised you didn't die if a robot just looked at you cross-eyed as well). And then there was Evil Otto, a smiling, indestructible bouncing ball of death that would emerge if you spent too much time in a maze, where he'd go straight for you, which you'd also die if he caught you.

However, that's what else made this game unique: no matter how the robots died, you would reap all the points for it. If two robots ran into each other, you'd get the points from them that way. If a robot shot another one, ka-ching. If a robot walked into a wall and zapped itself, tough luck. If Otto smacked into several robots in his self-obsessed drive to reach, and then bounce on you to death, you're racking up points all the way. Heck, if you could paint eyes and a smiley face on a beach ball and electrified it (somehow), then bounced it over the walls of the maze and have the robots stupidly bite the dust when the ball hit them, thinking it was just Otto (the robots were total morons), then that would have been pretty funny.

As far as the Vectrex version of this went, though, aside from lone Vectrex producer company GCE probably thinking that a port of this game would probably bring in the money, it was kind of a strange choice to bring to the machine: for one thing, the original was in raster scan graphics, and not vector that the machine produced. Granted, that didn't really matter, since another arcade port, Scramble, was a pretty close copy of the original, as it wasn't vector either. The game also relied on color, since whenever you entered a new maze and the robots' color had changed from the previous one, then that meant trouble, since that signaled that their difficulty level had increased. (Need I point out that the Vectrex doesn't have color?) And there was no speech synthesis here for the robots to taunt you, and Otto to announce that he was, once again, hot on your tail.

Granted, those were only minor problems. So how did the rest of the Berzerk elements emerge with this transition? Not so well, unfortunately: the action was slower, and you moved slower as a result (this was probably due to the machine not being able to handle a bunch of vectors being drawn at once). This wouldn't be too much of a problem either, but the game lost a bit of it's luster there, plus the collision detection problem of robots going halfway through a wall before being zapped was highway robbery as well. And then the game was a bit easier, which made it boring, as Evil Otto was pretty easy to escape from as well.

Sad to say, even though the graphics were a lot bigger than the original's (and therefore giving the port a more claustrophobic feel), no diagonal shooting from the robots, and it only had one player games, the Atari 2600 adaption was better than this one, as you could choose between no Evil Otto, a shootable one, and being able to choose how many extra lives you could accumulate during a game, etc. So it provided a better variety than this version did (just a few skill levels, and that was it).

About all that's left to do nowadays is either play the original on MAME, find a Berzerk machine, or hunt down one of the much more common Multicade cabinets that has Berzerk and it's lesser known (yet very excellent) sequel of Frenzy.

Plus those machines have tons of other old arcade faves included as well...plenty to go "berserk" over, indeed. 5/10

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