Akka Arrh review

Even after playing the original Akka Arrh – present on the recent Atari 50 collection – I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from this Jeff Minter makeover. It’s a trippy, twin-stick ‘protect the tower’ style shooter with a ‘90s-style trance soundtrack, right? Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. To quote my high school textbooks: “Please see me after class.”

What we have here is a remake of a cancelled, now extraordinarily rare, Atari arcade game. Following a disappointing test run in 1982, only three cabinets are known to exist. It’s easy to see why a full release never happened – it isn’t exactly pick-up and play; something that likely left players frustrated as it ate their quarters. However, and as the recent Atari 50 re-release revealed, its hidden depths are now a virtue. Akka Arrh feels fresh when compared to other arcade staples – something that wasn’t particularly obvious to arcade-goers in the ‘80s.  

Breaking down my expectations, Akka Arrh has a psychedelic colour scheme with a penchant for pinks and purples, while a slow-moving star field provides a backdrop in lieu of an abstract light show. This helps make the action easy to read – once you learn what the hazards are. Instead of a twin-stick set-up, aiming is handled by a single analogue stick, guided by a cursor. Pressing ‘A’ fires bullets, holding it launches a bomb. Or alternatively, bomb flinging can be assigned to a separate button – something I’d recommend. As for the soundtrack, it mostly relies on soundbites and sound effects – many of which are unique to each stage. Every stage ends with a few moments of silence, broken by a tuneful breakdown of your progress and remaining health.

Your objective is to repel an assault on a top-down, two-story, tower. The bottom floor houses your 16 life pods, and if intruders appear, you’ll need to drop down and deal with them. When doing so, it eradicates incoming bullets on the top floor – although it’s at the risk of becoming overrun and losing your score multiplier.

To get a multiplier chain going to begin with, you’ll need to drop a bomb – which are in infinite supply. The blast radius kills any incoming enemies, which likewise generate a radius to keep the chain going. Some earlier rounds (stages 1-4 act as step-by-step tutorials) can even be beaten by a single proficient bomb deployment. Dropping a new bomb ends the chain. If you played Every Extra Extend, you may notice similarities.    

Every enemy killed adds a bullet to your arsenal. That’s to say, stages begin without a single bullet to your name. If you’re out of bullets, you’ll need to start dropping bombs and hope that no homing projectiles are incoming. If a stage ends with 100 bullets in your stockade, a health pod is replenished. Power-ups feature too, including electric shocks, along with the occasional score boost – with this of course being a score chaser, even tracking past and personal bests for each stage.

While this may sound straightforward – expect, perhaps, for the whole ‘no bullets’ thing – every stage in Akka Arrh is unique in some way, either featuring a different symmetry, new enemy types, excessive incoming projectiles, or more aggressive downstairs intruders. In fact, some stages feature no intruders at all, allowing you to blast and bomb away. Smaller stages see blast radius fizzle out quickly, while larger stages see a single bomb go a long way.

You’re bound to hit several blocks while trying to beat each stage, gradually discovering why one stage is suddenly harder than the last. This can make progress slow, forcing you to retry stages several times over. I hit a hurdle earlier on, deploying bombs to build up a chain and tackling intruders, but was losing health pods rapidly. After a few retries, I finally realised that I was being hit with three projectiles at once and needed to be more adept at shooting projectile-firing enemy types when they appeared.

Instances like this are pretty common. Akka Arrh is, on the whole, a very tricky balancing act. It teaches you to play one way, then forces you to scrap that way of thinking and play differently. Some people are going to love this. Others, probably not so much. I found myself having to take a break between retries before returning with a renewed approach. It’s a tough egg to crack.

Thankfully, and in typical Minter blueprint fashion, it’s possible to continue where you left off – remaining health pods and all. This means you may have to rewind back a couple of stages and find a stage where pods were plentiful. Pure Mode sees you start from the beginning, tutorials and all.

Minter has left his stamp elsewhere: British idioms, familiar sound effects and robot voices, references to curry and Basingstoke, and bovine imagery – including the central turret, which resembles a bull. It is, unmistakably, a Jeff Minter production despite the original blueprint dating back to the early ‘80s.

While I don’t feel that this is one of his strongest titles – it isn’t as moreish as Moose Life or as intense as Polybius, while TxK and Tempest 4000 benefit from being simpler – this is still an easy game to admire, being a completely different breed of shooter. Not quite pure enough to be considered a thoroughbred, but unique all the same.

Published by Atari, Akka Arrh is out now on all formats. Developed by Llamasoft.


Matt Gander

Matt is Games Asylum's most prolific writer, having produced a non-stop stream of articles since 2001. A retro collector and bargain hunter, his knowledge has been found in the pages of tree-based publication Retro Gamer.

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