19/08/2016

BATTLANTIS (ARCADE)

Now we know what happened to the fabled city of Atlantis: an aggressive species of giant sentient bats invaded and claimed the city for their own, the former Atlanteans telling people that their home had sunk beneath the waves to avoid the embarrassment of explaining to people they were defeated by bats. Or the title of today’s game is a portmanteau of “battle” and “Atlantis,” if you’re really so afraid to access the wondrous powers of your imagination. Yes, it’s Konami’s 1987 arcade shooter Battlantis!


I’ll be honest, when I first looked at this title screen I thought those tendrils were the angel’s legs and they were rubbing their crotches all over the logo. Also, it looks like I’m already too late to save Atlantis. That rather takes the pressure off our hero, doesn’t it?


Battlantis doesn’t offer the player much in terms of plot. The title implies there’s some kind of battle involving Atlantis, and a bit of poking around informed me that the hero’s name is Cripeuss III and he’s out to stop the “Boss Enemy” Asmodeus. Aside from that, the game does give you a little information about the game’s enemies if you leave the attract mode scrolling for a while, which is something I always like to see. If I’m going to be killing these guys by the dozen then I should at least know their names, right?


So the game begins, but what kind of game is it? Well, it’s Space Invaders, with a pinch of Galaga. A single-screen shooter in which the player shoots rows of monsters as they descend towards their position. That seems like a very strange game to be making in 1987: Space Invaders was almost a decade old by that point, and at the speed videogame trends bloom and die it might as well have come out at the same time as the Magna Carta. Not one to thrill the player with its novelty, then, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a bad game. Maybe Konami have managed to put a fresh twist on the formula? Well, it doesn’t start out feeling that way. It starts out feeling, you know, like Space Invaders. You move left and right along the bottom of the screen, using your slow-firing weapon to pick off the monsters one at a time. There are a couple of barricades in front of you, barricades that can be destroyed by projectiles, that provide either cover or an irritating obstruction depending on the current monster situation. The fantasy setting makes it look a bit different, at least, although in this case the fantasy also includes modern firearms because if you look closely at Cripeuss’ sprite he appears to be carrying a double-barrelled shotgun. Now I’m disappointed that Battlantis isn’t an Army of Darkness tie-in. It would take very little effort to change Cripeuss in Ash and the monsters into Deadites, so someone please get on that. I can’t offer you money for your efforts, just the knowledge that you’re making the world a groovier place.


Shoot all the monsters and a boss of sorts appears, a slightly larger monster carrying a shield that requires multiple shots to destroy. Thankfully the miniboss tends to stand still, throwing easily-dodged Olympic torches at the player. Thus the fight devolves into little more than tapping the fire button and hearing the incredibly weedy plink-plink-plink sound effect of your bullets hitting his shield, occasionally sidestepping the boss’ attacks.


Stage two: The Devil’s Whack-A-Mole. No wonder Atlantis sank, it’s full of holes! Holes filled with winged demons, who attack by flying directly at Cripeuss rather than moving in the regimented downward movements of a traditional Space Invader. They only take one shot to kill, so there’s that, but they’re also quite fast and there’s a veritable swarm of the bloody things.


This leads me to the biggest problem with Battlantis, and that’s the utterly ruthless difficulty level. Now, it’s a well-documented fact (documented by my win/loss record on Street Fighter V, mostly) that I’m not great at videogames, and arcade games are usually more difficult than their console counterparts. However, I don’t often struggle to get past the second stage of any game, but it took me more than a few tries to clear this one. The standard one-hit-kills are in place, and when coupled with a basic weapon with all destructive power of a paper bag filled with the sneezes of tiny kittens, Battlantis is really stacking the odds against the player. Enemies are fast and numerous, many of them fire projectiles and what’s worse is that when they reach the bottom of the screen they can climb up to your castle’s battlements. I know the enemies reaching the bottom of the screen is a pretty standard way to lose a life in games like this, but it feels so much harsher in Battlantis because they’re right there at the side of you and you can’t do anything to stop them because apparently Cripeuss has such severe back problems that he can’t even rotate his goddamn torso. There is a weapon that shoots projectiles sideways, but to use it you have to collect two power-ups at once. That doesn’t sound too bad, but all the power-ups in this game are timed; you don’t get to keep them until you lose a life, you get to keep them for about ten seconds. You can’t hold the button down for continuous fire, so you're in a race to see whether your will to continue or your thumb gives up first. Oh, and you’re limited to five continues by default, so you can’t even credit-feed your way through the game. Just bear the punishing difficulty level in mind for the rest of the article, because I’m guessing it coloured my opinion of Battlantis. See if you can figure out where I gave up and started using cheats.


Stage three has a proper boss in it, and frankly it’s a relief to know that I don’t have to worry about him reaching my castle and attacking from the side. Cripeuss’ complete lack of peripheral vision is usually a real problem, but not against the game's big bosses, and I can concentrate on shooting this thing while avoiding the triple goo-balls it slings around the place. It’s just a shame that the boss isn’t more interesting to look at – its most notable features are the two massive thumb-prints on its shoulders, as though it was made of clay and the sculptor didn’t bother smoothing it off.


Battlantis isn’t much to look at all over, really. Lots of flat colours and basic animations, with few of the enemies having much character. That said, looking closer at the little guys in the red robes, they appear to be carrying rocket launchers. Shoulder-mounted anti-vehicle weaponry is a decent substitute for character, if you ask me.


I take it back. That’s too many rocket launchers. I’m only one man, one man with a double-barrelled shotgun that I very rarely get to power-up into a large crossbow that can pierce through multiple opponents. This is all too much for me.


Ah, this is more like it. Finally, Battlantis throws me a bone and gives me a break from the otherwise relentless tide of death by pitting me against a frog. A really angry-lookin’ frog, sure, but it’s still just a frog.


Then the frog gets hit by lightning and mutates into a monstrous behemoth of a frog, revealing a deep lack of understanding about how frogs work. Put fifty-thousand volts through a frog and all you’re going to get is a very unpleasant mess and an aroma that you’ll never forget. Please note I’m not speaking from experience here. How great would it be if that’s what happened in the game, though? The frog hops out, gets zapped and pops like an overfilled water balloon, Cripeuss moves on to the next stage with a slightly bemused look on his face.


And so Battlantis continues, with Cripeuss defending a castle in a land that I thought was covered in soapy lather at first, perhaps formed when the soap factories of ancient Atlantis began to sink. On closer inspection, I think it’s supposed to be snow. I also collected a power-up that lets Cripeuss throw extremely ugly-looking bottles at the monsters. The bottles explode when they land, allowing you to take multiple enemies out at once, assuming they're kind enough to stand in a clump. As well as this and the slightly more powerful crossbow weapon, you can also collect as speed-up icon and once that makes you invincible. The invincibility power provides the only time in the game you don’t feel like the “before” model from a fifties bodybuilding advert, because you can run into the enemies that scrabble up your parapet, if you’ll excuse the phrasing, to defeat them.


Oh look, a dragon. A dragon that spits pizzas! You don’t see that every day. Unless you work at Domino’s and that’s the dark secret to their success.


There’s a stage set in space, by the way. This sudden change in altitude is never explained. How would you explain it, anyway? The ancient Atlanteans really were spacemen and their city did not sink into the ocean but rather flew back into the cosmos that spawned them? That’s ridiculous, I’m sure no-one could believe that.


Battlantis’ level of difficulty continues to do unfortunate things to my blood pressure, but in the interests of full reportage I should say that at least there’s a consistency to it. The hit detection is a more than a little generous in favour of the enemies, but it’s not unpredictable. One thing that’ll make your life easier is learning the order that the monsters attack in, because there’s a surprising amount of... not strategy, exactly, but needing to know what comes next. In many of the stages, if you don’t defeat the enemies in the right order, you’ll be too far away to get across and deal with the next batch before they reach your castle, so learning attack patterns is almost mandatory if for some reason you’re desperate to see the end of the game. Speaking of which…


Here’s the final boss – Asmodeus himself, one assumes – and he’s a big, ugly lump. He feels very Konami-ish, that’s for sure: I could easily imagine him appearing in a Contra game. In fact, I’m not sure he didn’t. He also reminds me a bit of Smash TV’s bosses, especially because you can blow his eyeballs out. It’s a simple battle in concept – destroy the fleshy sacs on the side so they can’t spawn projectiles, pop his eyeballs and then finish the job by shooting his exposed brain. Is there any greater physical flaw than “an exposed brain”? Testicles so long and pendulous you risk standing on them whenever you walk, maybe, but that’s a weakness that unlikely to appear in a Konami arcade game, so instead it’s the brainmeats that take the punishment. A bloody good job, too: this fight is long enough, I dread to think how long it’d have dragged on if Asmodeus was in possession of a fully-formed and eminently sensible skull.
I get the impression that it’s a very difficult fight. Asmodeus puts a lot of projectiles into the air, including ghosts that can land on your castle. I can see how that would be a challenge. You know, if I wasn’t already deep into the “screw this, time for cheats” portion of my playthrough.


With Asmodeus defeated and Atlantis free to fall into the ocean in its own sweet time, Battlantis draws to a close. Your reward for suffering though it is a rather cute picture of the development team, which is nice. I’m not sure why they’re pictured kneeling in a flowerbed, but it goes to show that bizarre decisions at Konami are not a recent development.
There’s something else to note here. A message that read “more stages to go.” That’s right, Battlantis has a second loop. It’s fair to say I felt a lot of trepidation in hitting the start button, but I managed to summon up the courage somehow.


The backgrounds are the same as before but somehow, against all the odds, Konami managed to make the game even harder. More enemies, tougher enemies, multiple minibosses to be fought at the same time: grinding through it is an exercise in masochism that I would not recommend. It’s not as though there are any new bosses or anything.


There is a stage where the monsters are arranged in a swastika. Okay, so it’s the manjji symbol rather than a Nazi thing, but it still took me a back the first time I saw it. I expected the monsters to be evil, but not, like, Nazi evil.
Anyway, I played all the way through Battlantis again. You get a slightly different ending, and when I say “slightly” I mean in the way that having nine of your fingers ripped off in a terrible combine harvester accident is slightly better than having all your fingers ripped off. Would you like to see this one extra screen, the sum total of your reward for suffering through Battlantis two more times than anyone ever should?


Thanks, but I knew that already.
Battlantis, then. A game that’s not quite bad enough to hate, but one which feels lazily composed and with a difficulty level that sucks all the fun out of proceedings with the efficiency of your parents standing in the doorway and giving thumbs-up during your first romantic encounter. There’s nothing to thrill the imagination here, folks, and that means it’s not worth slogging through the hugely-outdated-even-in-1987 gameplay. On the plus side, the art on the arcade flyer is pretty rad, to use the parlance of the time.


Straight from a Dungeons and Dragons expansion, this one, with some great monster illustrations. However, things get a bit weird if you look at Cripeuss for too long. At first glance he appears to be wearing nothing but golden underpants that leave absolutely no room for any external genitalia, but on closer inspection you can see folds near his, erm, intersection. So, he’s either wearing trousers that match his skin tone or he has a very unfortunate skin condition. Then there’s his cape. Nothing wrong with the cape itself, it’s the fact that he’s attached it by clamping it directly onto his pecs that troubles me. He also has a shield. I wish I’d had a bloody shield in the game. Anything to make Battlantis a little easier would have helped to make it more enjoyable, but as it stands we’re left with the videogame equivalent of assembling flat-pack furniture in the dark: fiddly, not much fun and unnecessarily difficult.

12 comments:

  1. Apparently people were cool with you just admitting you were ripping off Space Invaders in Japan in the 80s; that rad poster actually mentions "Invader style gameplay" as a selling point.

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    Replies
    1. Haha, you've got to appreciate the honesty, at least.

      Delete
  2. Well, I decided to try to play through the game before reading this, but you weren't kidding about the difficulty: sometime round about the second level I decided, well, that's enough of that! What really makes it hard is that you can't just force your way through it by pumping enough quarters in; you have to start boss and mini-boss fights from the beginning when you die. Gah.

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad it's not just me that struggled with it, I always have the suspicion that other people won't find these kind of games nearly as difficult as I do.

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  3. "Then the frog gets hit by lightning and mutates into a monstrous behemoth of a frog, revealing a deep lack of understanding about how frogs work."

    Well, now Halle Berry's infamous line in X-Men makes a LOT more sense.

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    Replies
    1. This omment has made me realise that I remember absolutely nothing about the X-Men movies other than the casting.

      Delete
  4. If a baron is 5000 points, how many do you get for an earl?

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    Replies
    1. Earl is two steps up from Baron, so let's say 15,000.

      Delete
  5. Sadly there is no power up that prevents typos.

    you can also collect as speed-up icon and once that makes you invincible.

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    Replies
    1. Ah, the power up I could use the most. I did mention the invincibility, though!

      Delete
  6. They had this game at a swimming center in Jersey. EVERYONE knew you were playing this game when the DOO DO DODODOOS that play at the beginning of every music track. Speaking of music I think you neglected to mention that the music in this game is amazing. While the graphics don't provide that much character to the enemies, the game does employ some tricks that really up the feel of the game... things like the sound effects, and how bosses shake rapidly the less health they have.

    I thought I would never find out what this game was called until I remembered it had Atlantis in its title. Playing this game years ago was like a rite of passage.. I had to have been at like 7 at the time, and this game was the hardest thing ever. I remember giving someone my money just to watch him beat this game, which he did pretty effortlessly. That guy must've been a god or something because even though I'm 21 now this game still kicks my ass. Still haven't got to the final boss (which everyone called "the brain") yet but I'm slowly getting there.

    Apparently this cabinet is considered quite rare and valuable to collectors, even back when I played it (early 2000s) hopefully that swimming place didn't do anything dumb with the cabinet.

    ReplyDelete

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