Hot on the heels of those Two Crude Dudes comes Data East's latest release - Atomic Runner, aka "Chelnov". To set the scene, aliens are invading our beloved planet and, to make matters worse, they reckon that they were here first. Yes, apparently this is the second visit of the spookily-named "Deatharians". Thousands of years ago, they were responsible for much of the ancient Egyptian architecture and they claim that their history on Earth dates back to before the dawn of man. Or so they say...
Chelnov is our hero whose father, a gifted scientist, is fatally injured during the remorseless alien assault. He directs his son to a chest that contains a suit of extraordinary power that was left behind by the gormless extra-terrestrials inside one of the pyramids. This fabled garment endows the wearer with super-human powers that enable them to become the infamous "Atomic Runner" of the title. To top it all, Chelnov's sister was kidnapped by the Deatharians too. So our hero dons the mystical outfit and sets out on his desperate quest. However, all is not lost because there are numerous useful weapons left lying around the place by the opposition. A thin plot it might be, but Data East may just have released one of the most exciting titles for Sega's beleaguered 16-bitter this year. Interested? Read on...
Atomic Runner was originally released as a coin-op in the mid Eighties called Chelnov.
Guide Chelnov through a forced scrolling platform environment to kill Deatharians.
The start of the game has the most extraordinarily long introduction. Giving you the full history of how Chelnov actually because the Atomic Runner, how his father died, how his sister got kidnapped, how Chelnov was all ready to save us all but in the end gets kidnapped himself... and all at the apendages of the Deatharians.
Chelnov's weaponry is not just limited to his standard laser, with its restricted firing range and power. No, his arsenal is inordinately capacious indeed. Just take a gander at some of these babies:
The range of this weapon is slightly limited but is rapid firing, very powerful and simple to use.
Very difficult to miss with this one once you have it fully powered up. It has a wide attack area so you don't need to be a world champion marksman to get results. Beware though, because it's hopeless when unpowered.
This is a sad weapon if ever there was one! It is extremely useless in its basic form and isn't much better when fully powered up. Avoid, you fools, avoid!
This seems to be the same whatever your power level. It is impossible to miss with this one so long as you're pointing in the right direction. Its destructive power is weak though, which often results in problems of the screen-full-of-Deatharians and-nowhere-to-hide kind. Gnnnh!
According to the instructions, these are the strongest and fastest of all weapons. Which may be true. But, because of their incredibly short range, these turn out to be almost as embarrassing as the morning star.
Atomic Runner boasts a variety of interesting, mythical-type mid-level guardians. More impressive still are the end-of-level bosses. The first one that you come across is a fabulous Wall Dragon resembling the traditional Chinese festival dragons. Of course, this one is a lot less friendly.
Awaiting Chelnov at the end of stage two is a bug-eyed brass idol that tries to stomp all over his head, thus much running and dodging about is required. Stage three's dropship is a ferocious firing vehicle of destruction and desolation.
Having your jumping ability powered up to full works wonders here. About half-way through the game you come across a large brass idol which looks suspiciously like the large brass idol you met in stage two. However, all is not as it seems. Why? Well, that would be telling, wouldn't it?
Not content with his ability to blow anything away with only a few well-aimed blasts from his large weapon, our man Chelnov has the potential to spin in the air as he jumps, sending out multi-directional death when he fires simultaneously. A good way out of potentially tricky situations.
Atomic Runner breathes new life into the runny-jumpy-shooty genre on all fronts. The graphics are nothing short of stunning, the sprites are gorgeous, although some of them are a bit small, the backgrounds are breathtaking and some of the guardians are truly amazing.
The sound is great too, the effects are smart and the tunes are some of the best yet seen on the Megadrive. Gameplay-wise, once you've got the hang of the awkward controls it's pretty hard to fault. There are loads of things to shoot at in all directions, and things often get pretty frenetic as you blast at several targets at once whilst simultaneously avoiding various hazards and crevasses.
Although there are a few new and original features in Atomic Runner, what makes it such a classic is its flawless implementation, including a challenge hefty enough to maintain the appeal of the game for ages. This is really how shoot-'em-ups should be.
I had been hoping that this game would live up to the very fine screenshots that have been circulating throughout the industry over the past few months. Happily, Atomic Runner has more than done them justice. The game is just what the Megadrive needed to raise it above the quagmire of mediocre titles that have dogged the machine of late.
Those of you who have been longing for a game to keep you up into the early hours may have the answer to their prayers here. The graphics are astoundingly well-detailed, with some of the strangest bosses I've seen in a long time - take for example the granite serpent on level two.
The action is non-stop, which means that you are irresistibly glued to the screen. Also, because the screen is scrolling constantly, regardless of whether you want it to or not, there is an additional urgency to your task.
This forced scrolling effect also lends itself to a rather different style of play than other platform games. At first the controls seem a little odd but, with a little practice, you soon have people gasping in awe of your skill.
The only real fault with Atomic Runner is that everything is so small. This is the factor which has attracted the most comment, yet this doesn't detract anything from the gameplay in my opinion. Atomic Runner is a worthwhile contender for any serious shoot-'em-up or platform maniac's collection, so if that's you, what are you waiting for?
P. Extensive introduction screen that seems to go on forever. Animated title screen and between stage map add to the game's appeal.
N. There are no real minus points, honest!
P. Evident in both the main sprites and backgrounds - both of which are well animated.
N. It's a shame that everything is so small though.
P. Exciting music enhances the frantic gameplay. Many decent spot effects.
N. But there are some whiffy ones in there too.
P. The controls are quite fiddly at first but, once you get the hang of things, they become almost instinctive.
N. This may initially put some people off playing the game.
P. Data East themselves suggest that this game packs quite a challenge - it does.
N. Once you have finished the game, you may not feel like returning to it.
A welcome challenge after so many games that have been just too easy. The only thing to really moan about in this title is its miniaturised graphical style, but even that doesn't affect the gameplay at all, and the end result is a superb blaster.