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River Raid

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Released: 1982

Genre: Shoot-’em-up

Format reviewed: Atari 2600

Publisher: Activision

Developer: Carol Shaw

Submitted by: Darran Jones

Every gamer has a favourite genre. Some love the depth of a good beat-’em-up, while others prefer the long love affair that comes from finding a truly excellent RPG. Others prefer puzzlers, and then you’ll get those that are mad for platformers. For me, it’s an unhealthy obsession with shoot-’em-ups. Rather than bore you with how I think they’re gaming in one of its purest forms, I’ll simply mention where my frightful habit stemmed from: Activision’s River Raid.

While the world and his dog were going mad for the likes of Space Invaders and Pac-Man, all my spare time was focused on a tiny jet fighter and getting it to progress up as river as far as I possibly could. Like many Activision titles, River Raid really showed off the Atari 2600’s power and delivered a title that blew me away with its smooth scrolling, detailed visuals and raucous sound effects.

As with many others before me, I had already cut my teeth on shooters such as Space Invaders, but River Raid was a totally different experience. Watching the slowly changing landscape was mesmerising, almost to the point where I’d forget to shoot down those pesky helicopters. What really made River Raid for me though was its perfect balance of knowing exactly when to fire. Fuel canisters were dotted throughout the constantly moving river and gave you two choices; did you take them out for extra points, or use them in order to progress that little bit further? As the game progressed, the barrels began to pop up with less regularity; so earlier decisions made in the game would normally come back to haunt you at the most inopportune of moments. Score mechanics have always played an important part in shoot-’em-ups over the years, and while the simple introduction in River Raid comes nowhere near the complicated strategies seen in the likes of Ikaruga or Mushihimesama, it was fascinating to witness at the time.

It may not feature the sort of frenetic blasting that’s become part and parcel of many of today’s shooters, but River Raid remains a true classic. Now where are my old Atari paddles?