Atomic Runner
by Polly

I received this oddball title on a birthday from my grandmother back in the day. Now, you don't see it on the MegaDrive boxart (because I can't find North American boxart ANYWHERE and I don't have a scanner), but this game was released by god damn Data East. One of those companies where you see the logo on the box and should be instructed to quickly RUN THE FUCK AWAY. Their record is sort of akin to Acclaim in that they have a few decent console releases, but you should stay far away from any of the other shit they shoveled onto the market.

Alright, I guess we gotta start somewhere, so let's have a look at the game's story shall we? You go ahead play with that little Flash video over there and read all that. I'll wait.

First of all, this game just takes itself way too god damn seriously. At least the amazingly stupid storyline they tried to give it. Can you believe, back in 1993, an action platformer that simply involved obliterating alien scum into space dust needed a story that's fucking SCREEEEEENS OF TEXT long? Not only is it long, drawn out, and completely unnecessary, but it's amazing that they needed this much text to tell a story this fucking stupid and simple. Considering the original arcade game's story was a lot simpler (though still pretty fucking stupid and attemping to cash in on the Chernobyl disaster) I don't even get how this rubbish even made it to the table.

Alright, so the game takes itself way too seriously (DEATHARIANS!!!) and the story is probably one of the stupidest ever dreamt up, but how about the rest of the game? Can it possibly get worse, or do things only get better?

Well, okay, Atomic Runner isn't the most visually appealing game out there, but it does get points for having a whole hell of a lot of variety. All of the game's stages take place in a variety of decently detailed areas and every stage has you running through multiple seamlessly transitioning smaller areas. For instance, the first stage starts you off in a lab, which gradually transitions outside to the nuclear wasted area complete with a pretty red sky, which slowly leads into an ancient'ish temple. Other areas of the game can get just as varied and the themes of each stage are mixed and matched nicely, so Atomic Runner is really never boring to look at. Sprite work is decent, with Chelnov (supposed "cousin" of Karnov.....ugh) getting the best work obviously. HE RUNS NICE!

Tunes and sound effects fit everything nicely. The tunes are upbeat and action-oriented, always complementing the action on screen. Bonus points for the various influences one with a trained ear might hear in there and some decently hooky melodies. Sound effects are par for the course for this kind of title. You know what to expect by now.

Judging just from the screenshots, one might believe Atomic Runner to be a simple action-platformer. This is not the case. Atomic Runner is actually an interesting hybrid between run-n'-gun action-platformers like Contra and traditional on-rails shmups. It's almost one of those ideas that screams "WHY DIDN't WE THINK OF THIS BEFORE?" and "THIS COULD GET UGLY...DATA EAST? ALHAGLHAGLUGLHGLHGLUGLHGLHG...."

The results are surprisingly satisfying and work quite well. You move Chelnov around with the D-pad...sorta. All you can really do with the D-pad is adjust the aim of your shot, move to the right, and duck. There is no running to the left (except during boss fights) as the stage is constantly auto-scrolling you forward. Instead, when you press left you actually stop in place and when you do this shots fired with left held down fire much faster. It's only a tad quirky at first and very easy to settle into. Firing via the default control scheme is a pain in the ass and I don't recommend it to anybody. I suggest the first thing you should do when you load up the game is to go into the options menu and select one of the Type 3 Trigger types. With this control mode, your A button fires left, C button fires right, and B button jumps. Why this wasn't the default setup is beyond me, but loldataeast is all I can think.

Once you come to grips with the controls the game feels great. Weaving through enemy fire, jumping over pits, and annihilating the DEATHARIANS (WOOOOOO!) is a breeze when at the controls. Another cool mechanic taken from most Mario-inspired rip-offs is the ability to hop on top of your enemies in order to damage or get over them. This can actually be used fairly strategically when dealing with hordes of enemies as you can continue bouncing from one enemy to the next to avoid any dangers that may be on the ground.

The stages get progressively difficult as you'll find yourself dealing with more and more action on screen having to continually switch back and forth to take care of threats coming from all sides. Every stage presents new challenges and bosses that can be tough as nails. There are a few wonky instances of broken hit detection where you'll end up losing lives (particularly against some bosses), but I've never found it to be TOO frustrating. You're offered a generous amount of lives and continues to make it through the game and checkpoints are frequent. The three difficulty levels are adequately balanced and never feel too easy or nearly impossible. The game also doesn't suffer from the dreaded "Gradius Syndrome" so even after you die, there's no reason to give up because power-ups are always appearing hand over fist to keep you well supplied and in good condition.

Atomic Runner is great fun and a really neat idea. It's sadly overlooked by gamers most likely because of both the company involved in its creation and the Genesis' library of clearly superior titles. Definitely one fans of Contra and any shmup should check out though.

To give a better idea of what the game looks like, I also recorded a quick playthrough of the first stage and inserted some [REDACTED]ed subtitle commentary!


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