One of the deep cuts available on the recent (and excellent) 50th Atari celebration package was the prototype arcade version of Mike Hally and Dave Ralston’s Akka Arrh. It may sound like the noise you make whilst trying to dislodge a piece of phlegm, but the oddball title stands for Also Known As Another Ralston Holly production.
It was originally conceived as a trackball affair with gameplay loosely reminiscent of Missile Command. There are pictures online of the proposed coin op cab design, and it looks totally badass, with a superb logo design. In an alternative universe it would be spoken about in the same tones as other vintage fare released in the early 1980s, but alas it was not to be.
There is a long and convoluted tale as to how it found its way back into the retro gaming world’s consciousness which I won’t go into here, however what happened next took the bare bones original into the psychedelic mitts of our very own Jeff Minter, who has completely Llamasoft-ed the concept from the ground up.
Akka Arrh begins in relatively simple fashion. You are tasked with defending your perimeter from a succession of enemies by dropping bombs that explode much like the warheads in the aforementioned Missile Command. When an explosion takes out a foe, they will cause their own explosion which can chain into another and so on if it envelops another baddie.
Things start out very quiet and slow paced, but as with nearly every Yak shooter, things ramp up and all kinds of mind-bending new trickery comes into play to keep you on your toes. Different types of weapons and enemies are introduced, including a more conventional gun that can be used to pick off certain foes in precision fashion, with a cooldown mechanic on usage. Jeff Minter has gone on record to describe the game as a tower defence, however you are the tower. I don’t think I could sum it up better.
Things really go bonkers when enemies penetrate your inner sanctum and perspective switches into a new zoomed in area where you have to mop up attackers in order to shift things back onto the conventional plane. Everything is held together with the kind of aesthetics we have come to expect from a Minter joint – crazed psychedelic visuals with explosions that put Guy Fawkes Night displays to shame, a thumping synthwave soundtrack, and of course the trademark irreverent, idiosyncratic humour. For those who may be susceptible to the perils of pulsating strobe effects there is even an option to tone things down for a less chaotic experience. There are 50 levels, but plenty of replay value due to the excellent combo potential and score attack compulsion.
It is heartwarming to see Minter and Atari working together after their historic beef – he has an undeniable knack of dragging old arcade concepts out of the abyss and recreating them for a modern audience. I have been lucky enough to experience and critique many of his latter day works, having first lived through his acid-trip psych-outs as a kid with my Commodore 64. He remains relevant, important, and a true British institution, and long may it continue. This is a super cool game which is impossible not to like, and very difficult to put down.
Superb reimagining of a long-lost concept
Looks and sounds ace
May be a little too out there for some tastes