Retro Review: Rampage (Arcade)


Release Date: 1986

Developer: Bally Midway Manufacturing Co., Inc.

Publisher: Bally Midway Manufacturing Co., Inc.

Every time Hollywood decides to adapt a video game into a movie, I cringe. The track record for video game movies is littered with horrible adaptations. There are more sincere efforts that failed to strike a chord like Super Mario Bros. and Doom. There’s the Resident Evil series, which strayed well away from its source material and became an excuse for W.S. Anderson to have his wife, Mila Jovovich, vamp around with guns in her hands. And then there’s the cinematic apocalypse that is Uwe Boll, infamous for horrible movies that are very loose adaptations of games like Bloodrayne and Alone in the Dark.

And the less we talk about Pixels, the better humanity will be for it.

Warner Bros., New Line Cinema, and San Andreas director Brad Peyton feel they can succeed where the others failed. They’re working on Rampage, a movie based on the 1986 Bally Midway arcade game of the same name. Its cast includes heavyweights like Dwayne Johnson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Ackerman, and Joe Manganiello. They even released a trailer for it, which I forgot to cover on the site. Since I’m going to talk about the arcade game anyway, let’s tackle the trailer first:

How do I feel about the trailer? Well, for one thing, it’s not following the game’s premise all that well.

The movie casts Johnson as Davis Okoye, an animal handler who has a soft spot for an albino gorilla named George. One day, a clichéd “alien object” lands near his patch of land, and touching it makes George grow and become angrier. George is not the only animal to be affected. Joe Manganiello’s Burke is in the forest being chased by a 30-foot wolf. And at the end of the trailer, a giant crocodile joins the fray. By design or happenstance, the three mutated animals descend on Chicago. Destruction ensues.

The Rampage game’s story has some elements translated into the movie. There are monsters, and they are attacking Chicago. But the game focuses on three humans: George, Lizzy, and Ralph. After an equally clichéd “experiment gone wrong”, they are turned into a gorilla, lizard woman, and werewolf, respectively. Being red-blooded ‘Muricans, they decide the best course of action is to go downtown and destroy buildings. The game allows up to three simultaneous players to smash things up monster-style.

The gameplay centers on the three kaiju scaling buildings and causing damage. Punching the buildings while climbing leaves big, satisfying holes in them. Punch enough holes in them, and they come crumbling down. Tenants in the buildings will be looking to escape the mayhem. You can chomp on them for more points. While down there, punching and stomping on passing vehicles give even more points.

The Rampage arcade game is cathartic for players, letting them wreck buildings with aplomb. George being a gorilla gives players the King Kong vibe. You can sorta imagine Godzilla with Lizzie, assuming Godzilla climbs buildings rather than just running over them. As for Ralph? Well, try to imagine a 30-foot Jacob from Twilight, only cool and not whiny.

Of course, players won’t rack up points and destruction unopposed. Some building tenants will try to take you on with rifle fire. Soon enough, the military will eventually show up to spoil the fun. Knocking their helicopters out of the sky will grant you more points. But taking too much damage from them will revert you to your human form, removing you from the carnage. Players get only one life, so devolving means game over for that player.

The upcoming movie deviates from the game with the adversaries as well. Whereas the military is a nuisance in the game, the movie casts them as the saviors. Granted, I get the decision. Although the movie frames Okoye’s concern for George as a way to sympathize with the ape, I’m guessing we’re not supposed to root for the kaiju all that much. But I kind of want to root for the kaiju.

Clearing the area of buildings in the game will move players to another level, signified by a newspaper dividing the levels into days. Like all arcade games, the number of buildings – and hindrances – ramp up. The idea is to rack up as high a score as possible before you lose your life.

There is something very visceral about maneuvering your monster up and down a building, taking out chunks of its façade as you go. It’s mad fun, more so with friends. Teaming up with a pal to ping-pong a passing trolley car into dust is great. And it’s satisfying to see the dust billowing out of the base of a building prior to having it crumble to the ground.

The fun in Rampage the game does become a bit diluted when playing solo. This is one of those games that invites co-op play. You can still get plenty of thrills playing alone, but something is lost. The trolley cars, for example, take multiple hits to destroy. Since they scamper away after one hit, a single player will have to chase it if they want to crush it. Of course, the trolley car isn’t the entire gameplay experience. But the fun of smashing two separate buildings with a pal beats the single-player demolition easily.

The thrill is also in the gameplay only; there is no accompanying soundtrack. The only sounds consist of bashing sounds, crumbling noises, occasional grunts, and the added sounds of the vehicles and gunfire. Between levels, the only sound audible is a telegraph machine spitting out Morse code. There’s no iconic jingle a la Pac-Man to be found here.

Graphically, the game is simplistic but effective. The bulk of the attention went into designing and animating the kaiju. They have more than their fair share of animations, from eating people to cringing when a building crumbles and they’re still on it. Eating pedestrians seem to give them heartburn because the kaiju spit fire afterward. The vehicle and people animations are sparse and contain just enough animation to properly show their actions.

In the end, the sparse music and graphics do not detract from Rampage the game. It’s loads of fun to play. The controls are tight, the gameplay is simple but satisfying, and the urge to pop in a few more quarters and keep going is strong. The lack of catchy tunes or eye-popping visuals will not matter. Once you climb buildings and smash holes in them, nothing else matters.

Does it still hold up? Hell yes! Who doesn’t love wanton destruction? Playing with friends ups the destruction, which ups the fun. Add the competitive element of chasing the highest score and you have a terrific co-op game.

Rampage the game was ported to just about every system of the era. If you have a second- or third-generation console or home computer of that era, there is a port of Rampage for you. Even the Atari Lynx got a port, the only handheld system to receive one. There was an arcade sequel, Rampage World Tour, which upped the visuals and gameplay. It saw ports for the Nintendo 64, Sony PlayStation, SEGA Saturn, Nintendo Game Boy Color, and Windows PC.  Rampage 2: Universal Tour for the Game Boy Color, N64, and PlayStation increased the kaiju count to seven, sharpened the graphics further, and added power moves and bonus rounds. Any of those game will give you the same visceral thrill of wrecking cities as a monster.

(Funnily enough, the gameplay of the original game is emulated in the Retro Wreckage level of LEGO Dimensions. In that game, the player assembles and places different old-school cabinets and places them within a coin-op arcade. The player then plays some of that game to beat score challenges. Rampage is there along with other games like Spy HunterRobotron 2084, and Joust.

Damn, I love Robotron 2084. Maybe I’ll do a Retro Review of that game soon.)

As for the movie, we shall see. My initial impressions aren’t favorable, not helped by the reworking of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.” I’ve railed against Hollywood’s trend of including popular songs with trailers for a while now. I even bitched when Thor: Ragnarok’s first trailer bellowed Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” in the background. You know, before I came to my senses.

That doesn’t ultimately color my judgment of the movie. I’m more focused on George and company. Ultimately, we sympathized with King Kong and cheered Godzilla’s destruction in their respective movies. Rampage the movie looks to do the same, with Johnson’s Okoye seeming to make George a sympathetic figure. But what about the huge wolf and crocodile? And will I be able to separate the movie from the game whose source material was used? Time will tell.

Good: Great gameplay; more fun with friends; graphics do their job well

Bad: No soundtrack; fun diminishes in solo play

Final score: 9/10

He has been playing video games for longer than he would like to admit, and is passionate about all retro games and systems. He also goes to bars with an NES controller hoping that entering the Konami code will give him thirty chances with the drunk chick at the bar. His interests include vodka, old-school games, women, vodka, and women gamers who drink vodka.

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