Akka Arrh – PS5 Review

You have to hand it to Atari at the moment.  They’re celebrating 50 years in the industry and they’re doing a really good job of it.  Aside from revisiting a load of their back catalogue classics with their Recharged series, they also recently put out their Atari 50 compilation which added a whole heap of games as well as some never before released prototypes and emulated games.  Where Namco seem to be happy to keep putting out Pac-Man, Galaga and Dig Dug, Atari have genuinely mixed things up lately.

This release however, really does push the boat out in terms of being unique and unexpected.  Akka Arrh was a 1982 prototype that never quite managed to get through Atari’s market tests due to being all too difficult (which is odd as that didn’t seem to stop them with most of the rest of their games back then).   It was lost to history until somebody dumped the arcade ROM in 2019 and then it made it to the aforementioned Atari 50 release.  And, to be honest, you could see why the game never made it as far as the arcades back then.

The gameplay felt a bit like an in-the-round version of Missile Command (it was meant to be played with a trackball also) with the gimmick of zooming right in when enemies get too close.  However, the mix of the impenetrable gameplay and uninspiring visuals did it no favours and that’s why it was mostly forgotten.  However, legendary UK programmer Jeff Minter didn’t forget it and this new remake is his latest project, finally dragging him away from making Tempest style games but keeping his association with Atari going.  And, of course, he’s teamed up with long-term partner Ivan ‘Giles’ Zorzin.

Upon loading up Akka Arrh, the Minter influence is pretty apparent.  The psychedelic colour scheme, the random written messages and booming soundtrack all let you know this is a Minter/Giles joint.  However, in a career as long as theirs you start to see phases and this feels very much like their newer games with a starker visual style when compared to the neon madness of Tempest 2000 and Space Giraffe.

Getting started is a little bit odd.  We fired it up and tried to dive right in to the first level.  The game’s single button control scheme just didn’t seem to work for us, not allowing us to do anything apart from dive between the two play areas (using R2).  We were supposed to be able to bomb, but that just wasn’t working no matter what we did so we went into the options and went for a two button scheme (with X doing the bombing and O firing bullets, which is enabled a little later in the game).

So that was odd but once we got past that, the game started to make a little more sense.

Essentially this game is still a little bit like a 360 degree Missile Command but with a mechanic we’ve not really seen since the Every Extend Extra games.  In those games you’d fire a missile to create a blast zone.  Any enemies in that zone (or, crucially, dumb enough to fly into it) would then explode, keeping the blast zone moving.  One missile could ultimately take out dozens of enemies in a chain.

We mostly played Every Extend Extra Extreme which was the Xbox 360 release and while it was quite lovely to look at, the game felt like it was playing itself and was ultimately far too easy.  After all, it’s hard to claim great play when you’re destroying enemies that weren’t there when you fired the initial shot.  And, initially that’s the feeling here.  You’ll rack up lovely chains and even lovelier scores without too much in the way of resistance.

The game then introduces bullets.  Your way of destroying enemies without firing another bomb (which will cancel your existing chain).  This is the key to really maximising your scores and also protecting yourself.  After that the next thing is your base being attacked from below.  Here you’ll need to do that R2 dive where you’ll now have a faster gun to take out the enemies that are about to overrun you.

For a while it’s all reasonably easy but this is a Jeff Minter game and so you’ll not be able to coast for long without a little bit of savagery coming your way.  Once you get past the first “octave” (the first group of eight levels), things really ramp up.  A lot.  Enemies will now fly straight at you, level layouts will be broken up in such a way as to stop your bombs’ shockwaves from really travelling and those below the surface encounters will become a lot more tricky.

For us that’s where things stopped being fun.  The thing is, we love shoot ’em ups where you can get through them with reasonable difficulty but then require a lot more mastery to really maximise scores.  But with Akka Arrh, the difficulty really means that prioritising survival is the only option.  And survival is tough because of more than just enemy placement and behaviour.

One of the issues is the control system.  You aim by way of a cursor and that’s okay but not really optimal when compared to the trackball method.  To their credit Jeff and Giles do include a method that lets you use the touchpad (which isn’t entirely awful) but given the top down perspective and 360 degree field of play, we found ourselves wishing there was some sort of twin-stick set up included.  Especially in the sections under the surface.  Those bits are particularly awkward to play but also hard to read visually.  Locating the enemy while your pods are circling you (they represent your lives) and juggling with the motion of the cursor is a struggle that we never quite felt comfortable with.  The shift in perspective isn’t really accounted for.

Where the early levels flowed and encouraged score chasing, after a while it all just felt a little relentless.  The ‘in the zone’ feel began to resemble more of an assault and all the way through we were thinking ‘yeah, but is this fun?’ and we’re just not sure.  Especially as your bullets are limited by how many enemies you manage to kill with your bombs.  Any shoot ’em up that messes with your basic way of shooting is generally not something we generally get along with.

Ever since Space Giraffe, we’ve felt as though Jeff is just an amazingly good videogame player and that he’s pitching his game difficulty to his own level of skill without considering the familiarity he has with the games as he’s making them.  For all of the excitement that Akka Arrh can generate during its best moments, it’s frustrating to see that things would be so much more enjoyable if he compromised just a bit on difficulty and focused more on playtesting the games objectively (or hiring a few extra playtesters to make sure that things are fun and not just brutal).

And to be honest, while we’re ride or die Minter fans, visually this is one of his least appealing games.  The 2D field of play doesn’t give Jeff as much room to make things interesting.   We even jumped in the menus to select the option to make all the visuals a bit madder just because actually the game does feel a bit flat but that honestly might just be the corporate branding of Atari.  While the Recharged series has been mixed, in terms of gameplay, but with some hits in there, the visual style of all the games has been kind of drab.

As ever though, if you can stay in the zone and put the time into learning to beat the harder parts of the game, Akka Arrh can be fun.  And the ‘best game’ system means that you can restart from whatever levels you’ve beaten but with the amount of lives you reached them with.  Minter tends to do that with all his games, but it does help with progression and its nice to not have to start from scratch every time.

Not every game in a developer’s career can be a success and it’s even harder if you’re going to take on obscure projects based on, let’s face it, failed properties from forty years ago.  And so, much like the original 1982, Akka Arrh works best as an interesting curio but we can’t see it winning itself a generation of new fans with this remake.


Akka Arrh
5 Overall
+ A unique take on the top-down shooter
+ Pretty good sound
+ Unmistakably a Jeff Minter game
+ A brave attempt at resurrecting a forgotten IP
+ Fits in well with the Atari 50 year celebrations
- Difficulty gets pretty savage
- Controls aren't ever comfortable
- Visually a bit messy and unappealing
- Zoomed in bits are disorientating
A remaster of a forgotten, and failed, Atari IP from 1982 is a tough undertaking even for a veteran like Jeff Minter. There are ideas here that could work but with these controls, visuals and difficulty spikes, Akka Arrh is a tough sell for all but the most die-hard of llama lovers out there.

About Richie

Rich is the editor of PlayStation Country. He likes his games lemony and low-budget with a lot of charm. This isn't his photo. That'll be Rik Mayall.

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