Thanks to Atari for the review code
Title: AKKA ARRH
Release Date: 02/24/2022
In the Atari 50 collection, and even noted in an interview I had conducted leading up to that compilation, one of the interesting inclusions of that set was a game called Akka Arrh, a weird, turret-based arcade game that got canceled after a poor public showing. Crazy rumors of an undercover ROM dump led to the game being made available for all, and thus it got on that set, showing people like me the interesting promise the game had: shifting between two perspectives, using a trackball to aim around carefully, and defending your base.
Well, to my pleasant surprise, Akka Arrh wasn’t just included in Atari 50 to be labeled as a curio and left as is, since Jeff Minter of Tempest 2000 fame ended up working on his own, modern take of this turret game, pretty much revamping the entire game to be his own thing while maintaining a couple of the original aspects, finally letting this game feel fleshed out and given his usual flashy, musical focus. Obviously, this game lacks a plot, so that backstory is pretty much as interesting of a lore as you’re going to get.
Akka Arrh in its original Arcade form, was a very flat looking game, with a few colors and some interesting effects, but otherwise incredibly basic and dull, with only the gimmick of a zoom-in to defend your inner base as the most graphically impressive aspect. So what happens when you give this basic game to a man who makes some of the most flashy, super wild and fun looking takes on modern arcade games?
You get stages with wavy colors, and more! Now your turret is represented by a pointy head thingy, and is placed on a platform that changes shape depending on the current stage. This stage pulsates and changes colors and patterns as you play, in time with the action, and the enemies that are thrown at you are rather abstract, weird looking shapes that I can’t even describe properly: just think of like, the weirdest floating eyeball without an eye ever that also looks like a starfish and you have one example of an enemy that will give you trouble.
The coolest part of these stages is that when using a bomb that leads to a chain reaction, those explosions lead to their own fun pulsating shockwaves, making each stage a visual treat, at least when played on a normal computer. Unfortunately, the one difficulty that I had when reviewing this game comes from how all those fun stage effects are somehow disabled on the Steam Deck, leaving to the game still controlling just fine with enemies and your animal head looking normal, but with those stage assets and pulsing colors replaced by a white texture. Thus, I shifted between laptop and deck to get good experience with both platforms for the sake of this review, and for most people, my laptop experience of pulsing colorful joy will be your typical experience, for the Steam Deck bugs are due to optimizations for Deck Verification not being made yet.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a recent Minter game without some fun with audio, and that’s what Akka Arrh provides in droves. The music kicks in when stages ramp up, and the score is fairly minimalist, but still packed with wacky rhythm. Strange, trippy voice clips will play during stages, encouraging you as you go on or warning you when in danger, and an airhorn will blare when you clear out your personal space of enemies; this game is weird, but the good kind of weird, and when a super long chain reaction is taking place, it feels exciting! Luckily if this is too much for you, you are able to tone down the colorful effects of the stage, and lower the tune volume if some audial aspects start to drive you nuts. Nevertheless, this is a far superior presentation than the original game, and does to Arcade Akka Arrh what Tempest 2000 did to Tempest.
Just like the original, Akka Arrh tasks the player with defending their base from enemies and projectiles, clearing out waves of enemies without having your resources attacked. But where as the Arcade game was very basic and was honestly even a bit too easy, this 2023 revamp ups the ante, putting a big focus on chains and combos, leading to a far more engrossing gameplay loop.
Starting things off with a series of tutorial levels, you slowly learn the basics to defending yourself, beginning with basic bombs that go off with a single button press, to normal shots that require holding down the button to fire. Certain enemies can only be defeated by specific attacks, which may seem daunting at first as launching a bomb will reset your chain; when an enemy is defeated, they unleash a similar shockwave that can destroy other enemies in the vicinity, which in turn will lead to wild chain reactions. Each defeated enemy will add a bullet to your normal shot count, and normal shots don’t reset the chain, thus meaning you can shoot foes and make their detonations chain into oncoming traffic to keep that chain going for the entire stage!
However, it wouldn’t be a Minter game without some sort of tension, and sure enough, Akka Arrh ups the ante rather quickly once the tutorial stages end, with enemies getting faster and more aggressive, and more complex stage layouts for you to defend. If an enemy ends up coming up close to you, then they’ll enter the bottom layer of your base, where they’ll immediately try to attack the orbs surrounding the floor, and you must stop the enemies before they break them. If all of them are broken and you take damage, then the game’s over, so some later stages can be swift chases of going up and down to shoot speedy hazards while also kicking out intruders, and this is all while trying to keep a high chain for a good score.
Luckily, if you hold your fire and build up extra bullets by not using them, those can be used to replace orbs, which is especially handy if you start a session on a later stage, which gives you less orbs to start out with and essentially pits you in a OHKO situation that can become very, very difficult. Luckily there are the occasional powerups to help you along the way, along with stages having memorizable enemy positions that make even surviving a latter stage without damage doable with practice and swift aiming, and makes those recovery runs oh-so satisfying!
All of that does mean that if you just go bombs away and ditch the idea of chaining to focus on defense, you can survive longer and save more bullets for orbs, but at the expense of a ton of points, and well, being that this is a scorechaser, getting those risky chains is the ultimate goal, and that’s where this game really, really shines with an addictive loop. See, while the original arcade concept was fine, the problem was that it was incredibly easy and dull, and sessions took forever with little of interest happening, but upon being left to your own devices on stage 4 of this version, Akka Arrh becomes a thrilling, colorful experience that ramps up remarkably fast, leaving you on guard and having fun every step of the way, while also being a good gameplay loop for shorter play sessions. With online leaderboards and tricky achievements to go after, there’s a lot to challenge yourself with, and that’s not even counting trying to beat all of the stages, which get nightmarishly complex the further in you get, just as Minter is known for.
Just like the original game, a trackball/mouse setup is the most fun way of controlling your reticle, and here on the Steam version I managed to do so just fine with my laptop mouse and my Steam Deck mousepad; and yes, you heard that right, despite my prior notes of the visuals being broken on Steam Deck, I had so much fun with this game from dabbling with it on my Laptop, that I pretty much took the glitched white void as an extra challenge and went to town playing more stages and runs on my Steam Deck; since the enemies show up fine, it is barely playable, but you really do miss the colorful effects, so if you have the means to play this on a proper computer (especially if you have a USB Trackball lying around) then don’t hesitate to take advantage of the colorful scene! Add all this together, and you have the original concept given a very addictive repair job that ends up succeeding the original in every possible way.
Overall, Akka Arrh definitely fits in nicely with the Jeff Minter style, and works great as an expanded, modern take on the arcade original. The biggest problem from that original machine, was the lack of a real challenge or “hook”, which Minter’s Akka Arrh brings out in huge stride: addicting chain reaction focused gameplay, rhythmic sound design, and a control scheme that just feels so, so good however you decide to play it, leading to a great scorechaser to nab up right away!
Make no mistake, this reimagining is easily the definitive take on Akka Arrh, especially if you compare this modern entry to the original in Atari 50 and see just how much Minter was able to evolve the concept test marketed all those decades ago, and finally realizing it in an addictive fashion that modernizes the game a while also adding great scorechasing elements, just like he did with Tempest before. The only real bummer for me is the lack of proper Steam Deck support, but even on a laptop, or on my deck with the bugged graphics, playing with a mousepad just feels so, so good, and this is a trance you absolutely need to fall into, especially if you just want to push yourself for one more go. Even for the higher pricepoint here, I feel the loop is just so great for scoring that it’s honestly worth picking up just for the inevitable, addictive feel.
I give Akka Arrh an 8 out of 10.