The Laser Guide to Video Games - Review - Tempest Elite (Atari 800 & co.)









In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Laser Guide to Video Games

Tempest Elite (Atari 800 & co. - Video 61 - 2018)

Converting the Jaguar classic Tempest 2000, itself derived from Atari's legendary arcade game, to the Atari 800/XL/XE of machines is an impressive technical achievement in itself. Doing so with a measure of style while maintaining a unique feel is something else entirely. Such is the case wtih Tempest Elite, the second and more fulfilling version of the translation. The original release, Tempest Xtreem, was an excellent attempt at the game but the new version adds trickier level designs, support for additonal controllers and fixing and refining the game to make for an absolutely stunning translation. This version, again programmed by Peter J. Meyer and Lance Ringquist, brings a few refinements to the game, which enhances its overall appeal singificantly.

As in previous iterations, Tempest Elite puts you in control of a spinner that runs along the outside rim of a series of geometric levels. Across these levels, you can move either left or right, along a series of segmented lanes. You can move across these quickly by circling its circumference while trying to blast anything that comes up from the center of the screen. There are two main types of levels, which consist of open stages where you can go in either direction endlessly and closed circuits where there's a defined endpoint that serves as a block that you can't move beyond. These definied endpoint stages are a litle bit harder and requier more strategy since you can escape getting blocked-in by spinning out of the foes' path. Avoiding their shots while shooting them is the primary objective early on, but things quickly become more complicated and frenetic.

You'll face an armada of relentless enemies with the majority attacking ceaseless from the moment they appear onscreen. Fortunately, most can be dispatched with one or two shots at most, requiring mostly skilled positioning and good timing. A majority of them spend their time moving around the center the the level but there are a few trickier foes. The most numerous of these are the red opponents who look like X's. They run up towards your position and when they reach the edge, begin to scale around it and move along the edges, threating your ship with each move closer.

They're hard to avoid coming into contact with but you can manuever your ship. One way to keep them at bay is to go to the other side of the screen, wait for them to get near you and then suddenly jump over them. This can be extremely effective when you get the timing and postioning corrrect. Otherwise, it can lead to distaster. Eliminating them takes precise timing and concentration but it can be accomplished with some practice. This is easier during the earlier stages when you only face off against one at a time, but becomes much harder when you're facing multiple opponents at the same time later on. These attacks require near-flawless timing and dexterous movement in order to defeat. Additional opponents include zappers who can electrify an entire lane with deadly electric force and enemies that can quickly materialize, giving you little time to react to their assaults.

Getting yourself through a level long enough to reach the end is tough enough, but there;s one more nasty surprise awaiting you. Throughout each level, there's a series of spikes that are gradually building up, extedning ever farther up the screen. You can eliminate these by shooting them down until they disappear entirely. You have to avoid coming into contact with them when you warp to the next level which isn't as easy as it sounds when you reach the more congested stages later on, where locating an open lane can be tricky but doesn't get any easier when you get deeper into the game.

Subsequent levels require additional skill and faster reflexes, each one building on the previous stage with more numerous and aggresive foes that become increasingly difficult to defeat. Fortunately, there are power-ups that you can collect to help you in battle. These are in the form of power-surges that come up a single lane, contacting these unleashed their power. The most important of these is the Particle Laser. This dramatically increases the power and effectiveness of your standard shots, making it much easier to sweep through clusters of enemies. Other power-ups give the player extra points and pods that can be collected to unlock warp stages.

Collecting three warp pods allows the player to challenge one of the Warp stages. THese take a completely different approach. You're switched to a first-person perspective and have to fly through a series of rings. It'a simple enough at first, and you can chain through a few of these easily. As you progress, the rings come at you at ever-increasing velocity and are spaced farther apart. This makes them harder to collect, and score points. Missing a single ring ends the stage so there's little room for mistakes, but completing the stage and collecting all the rings gives you a significant point bonus and warps you ahead three levels, which gives you a strong motivation to beat the stage.

Supplanting the action in term is a good idea, and gives you a pleasant break from the intensive action that dominates the remainder of the game. Its arcade-mechanics and controls are expertly tuned with repsonsive controls, balanced enemy formations and attack waves that keep the action exciting throuhgout. Beginning with the second or so dozen stages. Tempest Elite ratchets up its difficulty significantly, giving you less room for error. These throw tons of enemies at you and they become harder to defeat or avoid, with ever more dangerous and threatening attack patterns and moves that are harder to anticipate and counter.
Learning their techniques and mastering the art of timing your super-zapper attacks are the keys to surviving Tempest Elite's latter areas, which can become absolutely unforgiving. Its harder to progress as the speed and pacing gests faster. An effective strategy is to concentrate your firepower in specific lanes or sections, clearing out one area at a time instead of trying to beat everything all at once. Its hard not to get distracted by all that's going on, but once you're able to do this, advancing and beating the stages becomes much easier.

The basics are covered effectively with a good selection of options and settings. Like the previous edition, you can use a standard joystick controller, but Tempest Elite adds support for trackballs, paddle and driving controllers. The performance depends largely on the quality of your controller, but a standard controller should do fine in a pinch. Using a trackball felt a bit odd, but the gameplay really shines if you use a paddle or the legendaray driving controller with allows for complete 360 degree rotation like the original arcade game. The added aurhenticity of using a true 'spinner' control justifies purchasing this updated version, if you own the older version.

This method gives Elite a truer arcade-style interface that brings out the intensity and ferocity of the gameplay. There's little in the way of a learning curve, you simply move left and right, fire your weapon or press up or down witht the joystick to unleash the superzapper. Tempest Elite's gameplay flows incredibly smoothly throughout. There's little to complain about with terrifically fast-responsiveness and smooth movement that relies on your own skill to bring things to the table in a consistently satisfying experience. Playing quality may vary depending on the controller you're using, but that's not a function of the game itself.

One of the more impressive aspects of Tempest Elite that hasn't changed with this edition are the fantastic visuals and its superlative soundtrack. Using extensive voice and music samples, the game gives a surprising rendition of many of the classic tracks and speech. Its music tracks are surprisingly lengthy and deep, delivering a satisfying compliment to the action. If you get bored of the music, or simply find it too distracting, it can be turned off, which is a welcome feaure for older ears, or those tired of hearing the soundtrack once too often over th years.

Tempest Elite's visuals successfully bridge the gap between the original arcade and 2000 version, falling somewhere in-between. Mimicing the look and feel of the Jaguar game is no easy feat, especially on a system two generations removed, but Elite manages to do this successfully with minimal loss of quality. Its a little blockier and lacks many of the more elaborate special lighting effects of the Jaguar edtion, but this simpler approach looks better overall, with a more accessible look and feel that's more appealing.

The geometric designs of each level in the game are more elaborate and interesting than the first game, resembling the arcades' Tempest Tubes with intricate and complicated layouts that make things more challenging and interesting this time around. You can choose to play either a preset series of levels in Elite mode or choose to play through the stages randomly, to keep things unpredictable. In-game visuals are fast and slick, with consistent frame-rates and smooth animation that successfully brings the pacing and intensity if the Jaguar game to the 8-bit computer line. Its surprisingly fast and intense, with no slow-down or lag to get in the way.

Surprisingly, the game's best aspect is hidden beneath the flashy visuals and power-ups. Stripping away some of the visual excess of the Jaguar edition allows players to focus on the action, which remains appealing and challenging after all these years. Its fluid control make manuevering the lanes fairly straightforward. Learning the timing and conflicting styles of the different enemies takes some practice but once you get into the pacing, things become less daunting. You'll need plenty of skill and practice to progress, especially at the harder levels.
However, its excellent play mechanics and superb balance of challenge and skill means there's plenty of helpful power-ups and opportunities for extra lives that should keep you motivated throughout.

Your skills and reflexes will definitely be put to the test, but its usually a fair fight. Once you've lost all your lives, that isn't really the end. Provided you've reached a plateau stage, you can restart the game from a relatively recent save-point at the beginning of a recent stage, which furher helps you along the way. Its fairly impressive from a techical standpoint, its speed and detail are impressive by 800/XL/XE standards, offering one of the smoothest playing and satisfying releases on the platform Its beautiful and flashy visuals are cool bur don't detract from the soiidly engaging play mechanics. Tempest Elite lives up to its surname, marking it as easily one of the best arcade-style titles on the plarform and carries a strong recommedation, delivering exceptionally entertaining gameplay with consistently superlative qualities.

- Michael Palisano