(Is That a Joystick in Your Pocket Part 2)
This is part of a series I’m writing about classic video games from the Atari era.
Berserk: an ancient Norse term. It refers to certain Vikings that would become animalistic in combat. Today we call it, “Going Postal.” Since they didn’t have mail carriers back then, the Vikings improvised. They wore bear skins instead of blue uniforms. And they had long boats instead of little white trucks. What does this have to do with Atari’s Berserk? The answer to that is, “Absolutely nothing!”
Berserk pits a human champion against robotic gladiators in a series of mazes. You are the last survivor of a group of astronauts exploring the planet Mazeon. Your ship crashes, people croak, and you have to pick up the pieces. Robots are gunning for your pixilated hide! And you have to fight your way out to survive! It has action, 80’s tropes, and neon graphics. Needless to say, I love this game. It’s one that I didn’t play as a kid, but took to as an adult. And since downloading the emulator (hey, we have to get the fix anyway we can) it has become a minor obsession. I’ve practiced for many hours to try and boost my score. And while dodging laser blasts fired by peeved mechanoids, I’ve discovered two things. One, this game is highly addictive. Two, it holds up to repeated play. I’ve also developed some serious questions as well. Such as, “Can I mainline this with A/V cables inserted into my wrist?”
The game play is simple enough. You are The Dude. Not Lebowski, just The Dude. Your little man, woman, non-gender specified video counterpart is fighting for their life. You have unlimited ammo, which is good. You will fire off hundreds of rounds of, to quote Rocksteady, “Laser electric death!” But on the downside the robots that stalk you also have hundreds of rounds. They also have different personalities.
First up, you have the Green Meanies. They are the most aggressive of the bunch. They will actively pursue you like the paperboy did John Cusack. Then, you have the Pink Prissies. They aren’t as aggressive as the Green Meanies. But if you get too close, they will scratch your eyes out, bitch! There’s also the Banana Barbarians; so named for their color, aggressiveness, and high potassium content.
Those are the basic robots in most of the modes of this game. But there’s also the Smiling Jag-Off, I mean--Otto, who shows up to taunt you in some of the higher modes. He’s the sort of dweeb that crashes the party after everyone has left. Truly, we shows up after you’ve cleaned a maze full of droids. And he doesn’t offer to pick up empty bottles. He’s the worst kind of party guest ever!
Contrary to the game’s title, actually going berserk is a sure fire way to lose the game. One must use cunning, patience, and a gallon jug of ice tea to survive this one. A good defense is the best offence. Use the walls to your advantage. But don’t hug those walls like an inflatable love partner. They are painted electric blue for a reason! They are shocking, simply shocking, even in this day and age.
For those of you who are fans of HALO, you’ll recognize the game play. The 2600 version of Master Chief’s exploits were patterned after Berserk; minus the bug-zapper walls.
It has been a fun challenge playing this game; one that I have met with great determination, stamina, and much swearing. It’s a fun evening’s playtime that doesn’t involve expensive utensils. It’s a satisfying injection for retro gaming fever. As Kerouac would say, “I’m an old tea head of nostalgia.” I have both feet in the future, while I cast my gaze to the past. Playing a game like this is the closest I’ll get to time travel.
If you want to take a retro step in the right direction, here’s how to find Berserk online. Direct your browsers to: http://www.atariage.com to download The Stella Emulator (the one that screams like Brando) and then download a copy of Berserk.
And no, I wasn’t paid to say any of this (slides an A/V cable into wrist).
I give Berserk: Five out of Five Spacemen.
Berserk was programmed by Dan Hitchens
Year of release: 1982.
End of Line.