Rampage: arcade vs. Atari 2600 vs. NES

If I was the type of super-ambitious, SEOd to the max kind of blogger, I would have written this comparison post on Rampage last weekend when the movie came out. But what the heck – second weekends count too and there’s never an inappropriate to talk about a game as awesome as Rampage. For this one, we’re going to compare the original arcade version of Rampage to its NES and Atari 2600 ports. Please note that versions of the game also appeared on Atari 7800, Atari Lynx, Atari ST, Sega Master System, Commodore 64 and a host of others.

The arcade original


Arcade Rampage

Rampage was released in arcades by Bally Midway in 1986 and proved to be a rare post-Crash hit for the company. And why not? After so many years of games requiring you to fight monsters, Rampage finally allowed you to BE the monster: eating people for energy, smashing buildings, cars, tanks and helicopters. Perhaps best of all, it was a co-op game which allowed up to three players to take on the roles of George the gorilla, Lizzy the giant lizard and Ralph the werewolf.

In my original review of the Atari 2600 port, I misremembered the arcade game as being easy. Having just played it for the first time in nearly three decades on MAME, I realize now that I was full of crap. There’s nothing easy about Rampage – you’re basically in a full-on war zone and your opponents are super-equipped with all manner of weaponry. Even though you can eat the soldiers or punch the tanks and helicopters, their sheer numbers can easily get the edge on you. I realize now that the only reason I remembered the game as easy is because I pumped quarter after quarter into the machine to continue the game.

Despite its subject matter, Rampage’s tone never comes across as malicious. It’s a humour-filled tribute to the monster movies of old, and at the time was a breath of fresh air in a late-‘80s video game environment that had become increasingly macho and militaristic with games such as Ikari Warriors and Contra.

As far as rankings, I’m doing things a little different this time. Games will be judged on three metrics: similarity to the arcade game, challenge and fun factor. The arcade game will default to “10” in each of these categories (particularly in the similarities department because it IS the arcade game). In situations where a port beats the original in some category, I will add a number or two.

As usual, I will not include cross-platform comparisons of graphics and sound. If a particular graphic or sound factor in a port makes a difference to my enjoyment of the game, I will rank it in fun factor.

  • Similarity to arcade game 10
  • Challenge 10
  • Fun factor 10
  • Total 30

The NES port


NES Rampage

Released by Data East in 1988, the NES version of Rampage has all of the essential ingredients of the coin-op except for – by necessity – three-player co-op. The one-player experience, however, is remarkably true to the original except that there isn’t as much going on on-screen at the same time (for the most part this means fewer soldiers). There are plenty of energy power-ups in the form of humans, food, TVs and other goodies.

Graphically, Data East really emphasized the cartoonish nature of the game (George’s facial expression when he falls from a crumbling building is just priceless) to the point where I actually prefer the visuals on display here to the arcade. It is no doubt easier than the coin-op, but it’s no lightweight either; I usually wind up having to hit “continue” by the second city. The game features a funky score that I’m not sure was in the original (a disclaimer: my ROM of arcade Rampage warns that it might not be 100 per cent accurate) but really adds to the flavour of the piece. My only complaint is that even a minor fall from a crumbling building can cost some major energy points. Otherwise, a fine port.

  • Similarity to arcade game 8
  • Challenge 7
  • Fun factor 11
  • Total 26

The Atari 2600 port


Atari 2600 Rampage

I regret to report that Activision’s 1988 port of Rampage for the Atari 2600 comes up the big loser here. For one thing, it’s just too easy. This game has been one of AtariAge’s 2600 High Score Club games for the past two weeks; as of this writing, six participants have achieved “rollage” of 200,000 points. I’m unaware of the exact policy, but generally the moderator doesn’t set limits on scoring unless the game is one that a particularly-skilled player could score millions on with time and patience. Even myself, as a not-so-skilled player, ranks ninth with a score of 62,400.

That’s not to say the port isn’t challenging in its own way – just not in a good way. Energy power-ups are extremely rare and it’s almost impossible to differentiate one item in the buildings from another. Activision’s chintzy manual is absolutely no help in this respect. This makes the game an endurance test; shots fired from tanks, helicopters and police cars are predictable but will land occasionally. This damage eventually all adds up until you lose one of your three lives.

What’s most frustrating about 2600 Rampage is that Activision did a wonderful job with the title screen and the pre- and inter-game dot-matrix illustrations. There’s even an attempt to capture the lost in translation jokes from the original. The 2600 doesn’t have a native character set so I imagine these messages had to be put together just like regular graphics. All those resources could have been used to make the translation of the game itself more accurate. Some might argue that we were lucky to get a version of Rampage for the 2600 at all; I would respond that if Activision was unable to create a more faithful version of the game within the system’s limitations, they really shouldn’t have bothered.

  • Similarity to arcade game 4
  • Challenge 3
  • Fun factor 4
  • Total 11

Click here for my original review of Rampage.






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