Submitted by: peter maris
River Raid was released 28 years ago in 1982 and created by Activision. River Raid is one of the most in-depth games I have yet to play on the Atari 2600. The player controls an airplane from the top down perspective and flies it in the fashion of a vertical scroller along the path of a, wait for it, river. The game boasts a great variety of different pathways the river can take and though the level design is nonrandom I can never seem to remember the exact layout of the terrain I have previously covered.
As you fly along this river you will encounter a variety of enemies including boats, helicopters and other planes. The boats and helicopters generally behave the same way, with the only difference being that the helicopters are a smaller target than the boats, in that they all appear stationary until the player nears the same horizontal plane as the enemy. Upon entering this “zone” one of two things will happen. Either “A”, the enemy will remain stationary granting you the ability to fly by unscathed or earn an easy set of points, or “B” the enemy will travel in the direction it is facing until bumping into the edge of the river and traveling in the opposite direction. This can lead to quite some cautious flying as the player never knows whether or not the boat or helicopter in question is going to start moving. This actually can be a problem because these targets start moving only when you get really close, and since you are only limited to horizontal movement dodging these assailants can be quite challenging. The planes on the other hand are in my opinion the hardest enemies to dodge. They fly from off screen at random intervals and travel horizontally until they move off the screen on the other side. When forced to pick a path due to a fork in the river I suggest picking the side that the planes are exiting from although that is subject to change as you move down the path. With the randomness of the “AI” and the challenging enemy planes, River Raid can lead to some pretty intense shooting fun.
One of the most defining aspects of River Raid is the fuel gauge located at the bottom of the screen. As you fly down the river it consumes fuel which is reflected in the fuel gauge. Fuel levels are not affected by speeding up or slowing down so treat the amount of fuel like a timer rather than an actual fuel gauge. Besides the various enemies located in or above the water there are also fueling stations which you must fly over in order to refuel your plane and prevent it from crashing. Interestingly if your plane is very low on fuel one pass over a single fueling station will not completely fill the tank so occasionally two fuel station will be necessary. These fuel station can also be used as cannon fodder to rack up your points since you can shoot them, so watch your fire and think twice about blowing up a fuel station because you never know when the next one is going to appear.
Instead of being given the ability to move up and down on the screen the up and down buttons instead allow you to speed up and slow down to avoid the enemy onslaught. The speed boost and slow down is however not instantaneous and the plane actually accelerates and decelerates to the set speed. Left and right on the control stick banks your plane, the animation does show the plane banking, left and right. The button fires, and an important thing to note is that you can only have one bullet on the screen at once, so aim accurately. The control is great and responsive and really makes the game enjoyable.
Graphically River Raid is very impressive it boasts a nice colorful environment with clearly defined boundaries. The enemies are easily distinguishable from one another and very clear. The animation is very fluid and the fuel gauge is represented nicely with a smooth moving bar to help keep track of fuel. When one destroys a bridge, which is then used as a spawn point, the screen flashes red to signify a large explosions. Smaller enemy explosions appear as just yellow particles. The player controlled plane does indeed look like a plant. The projectile the plane shoots is just a yellow bar but effective nonetheless.
River Raid also seems to have a sound effect for everything in the game. There’s a sound effect for shooting, refueling, default flying, speeding up, slowing down, exploding and even a warning siren when the fuel gauge nears empty. This leads to a truly immersive gameplay experience that you don’t usually find in an Atari 2600 game.
Overall River Raid is a great game that brings a lot to the table. The game offers fast paced top down shooting action with resource management and tight controls. The occasional cheap kills by the enemy AI is easily overshadowed by the amount of fun one is having while playing. If you don’t already own this game be sure to pick it up