Title : Atomic Runner
Publisher : Treco / UPL
Genre : Side-Scrolling Shooter / Action
Players : 1 Player
Release Date : 1992
Estimated Value (as of today's date) : $40-$50
Before we get into the game itself, let's talk a little bit about the back story of this side-scrolling shooter. Atomic Runner, is actually not the complete title of this cult classic. It's actual name is ATOMIC RUNNER CHELNOV. Hmm...Chelnov...alright....are you thinking what I'm thinking?
The story behind this game is about a coal miner, who may as well be Russian considering there is a hammer and sickle in the opening of the game, is almost killed due to an atomic explosion. Chelnov....atomic explosion....okay......things are adding up, aren't they? And this is where the controversy begins.
Some believe that this game is actually a parody of the Chernobyl disaster. The similarities are there, yes, but was it at all connected to those events? Apparently, according to some of the old developers, they were. After doing a bit of research, I found out that the game was meant to be called something completely different, but after the disaster, they chose the name Chelnov. It was only the name though that was connected. The entire plot of the game was actually created before the disaster, and the game itself was released almost 2 years afterwards. Still, the question remains, was it too soon? And should the plot and name have been changed? It's too late now, but it's interesting to see a game that was released back in the 90s see so much controversy over an event that affected the world.
For now, disregard the controversy, and let's talk about the game itself. This was one of those games that you would have been lucky to have played when you were growing up. It was almost impossible to find back in the day when it was first released.
Compared to the original release, the genesis port actually has a lot of parts cut out, most in part due to the controversial nature. Besides the name change, the plot was also revamped. He wasn't a coal miner in the US release, but rather a guy in an atomic suit. A suit that makes him look a bit like Mega Man, but I digress. I guess they wanted to avoid any controversy at all regarding the nuclear disaster. Can't say I blame them.
While this game may be fueled by controversy, which obviously increases the value of it, just how well does the game play? Throw on your Atomic suit and find out.
Like most side-scrolling shooters, the game forcibly moves from left to right, despite the fact that you are running around instead of flying in a ship. Off the bat, I really didn't like it, because I'm seeing it as an action platformer if I'm primarily running on the ground, but it works. Sort of. It DOES make the game a hundred times harder. Still, I'd prefer to control my own pace, thank you very much. At least let me move faster, dammit.
The game plays a lot like Contra, if you discount the forced movement, but you'll be playing the same way otherwise. Kill enemies, collect powerups. Power ups will either enhance your weapon, your range, or your movement. You'll need these if you hope to survive the onslaught of enemies across seven dastardly levels.
Some of the powerups are quite entertaining. You can fill the screen with around two dozen boomerangs or flaming pinwheels. The enemies can have fun with that one. Not very atomic, but fun nonetheless.
Difficulty wise, the game has its ups and downs. Sometimes I find it hard because I'm constantly forced forward and end up running into enemies that I just happen to miss. Like I said, if I controlled my movement, the game would be a lot easier. Enemies swarm at moments just like other shooters, but you don't get overwhelmed until the later levels which is to be expected. The fact is, your avatar is so tiny compared to enemies they usually just end up missing you anyway.
Side note on the avatar. The animation of him running constantly gets on my nerves. You can just drop your controller and he'll continue to run in place.
As for the other visuals of this game, it's really a hit or miss. Some of the boss designs are pretty damn cool, and seem to be taken from historic relics of the past, but it makes me wonder where the hell it actually ties into the game. You'll end up in Egyptian temples, and Mayan strongholds, but I guess it all comes back around to the whole plot of Aliens creating the world and trying to take it back. Sometimes I think it would have been better to stick with the Chernobyl theme.
One problem I noticed is that the foreground and background tends to blend too much. The lack of color variation on levels ends up not even seeing where enemies are half the time. Spamming that fire button is your savior.
Despite the rarity of the game, it does leave you wanting. It's no different from the other shooters out there, and while some of the graphical choices, and musical aspects do give the game some sort of justice, it's just not different enough to let it stand out among its shooter competition.
This is one of those games that you should primarily get your hands on thanks to it's controversial past, as it does make for a nice conversation piece. Invite your friends over, pull out this game and tell them you have a story to share. Most of them will leave, because they just don't care, but hey, you may garnish some interest as a video game lore master.