Saturday, May 5, 2012

Rampart (SNES)



Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Somewhat unique, playing against a friend is great
Cons: Annoying sound, plain graphics; single-player is boring if you play very long at once

Rampart is a simple but fun little strategy/puzzle/tower defense game from Atari Games that was licensed by Electronic Arts and ported to the SNES in 1992. It contains both a regular and a super mode for the single-player game with multiple difficulty settings, as well as a two-player mode where you can play against a friend.
 
The gameplay consists of three phases; a build/repair phase, cannon placing phase, and a battle phase. In the build phase, you take randomized Tetris-like wall pieces and surround one of the castles on the land mass. During the cannon placing phase, you can place cannons inside the walls you have created, the number of cannons you get depends on how much damage you've done, how much land mass you've boxed in, etc. When the battle phase starts, you use those cannons to shoot at enemy ships in the water to destroy them; once you've done so, you win the level and move on to the next one.
 
While it's simple enough in premise, it's often challenging in execution. For one thing, there are a few different types of ships, and they shoot cannon balls at your walls to destroy them. If you can't box in a castle during a build phase then you lose, and if you don't box in enough area for your cannons then you can't fight back. One type of ship just shoots and dies in a few hits, another shoots flaming cannon balls that prevent you from rebuilding your walls in the flaming spots for a few turns, and the other type drops off little ground troops that march on your castles to destroy them.

Some ships sit still and fire while you fire back, but many of them sail around. This makes timing your shots and leading the enemy ships by just the right amount the keys to victory. Also choosing which type of ship is most dangerous to you and destroying them first. Even where to build, as ground troops can't land on a wall; so if you place walls directly on the shore where the troop ship is heading it will make things easier on you.
 
The super game mode seems to have bigger land masses to start with, along with some interesting levels thrown in to keep things fresh. One level was some type of bonus level where I received only giant W shaped pieces and was tasked with building walls around as large of an area as possible within the time limit. Another level had me shooting at a giant barge loaded with cannons instead of at individual ships. It's a nice inclusion, though the extra land mass made it hard to move the cursor across the map to where I wanted it when I wanted it there. The super mode also includes a couple of extra weapons (a flaming super cannon and an enemy-converting balloon) as well as some larger, different shaped wall pieces.
 
In the two-player mode, you each wall off part of a land mass that is separated by water and fire on each other's castles instead of NPC ships. While the single-player mode is amusing for a little while, it's this multiplayer mode where the game shines. There's just nothing like taking over castles and blasting your friends to smithereens with a pile of cannons.
 
The graphics are really plain and simple; in fact, there are many regular NES games that look much better. Everything is just made of basic blocky tiles with limited animation. It's enough to tell what's going on and see where everything is on the map, but that's about the extent of the quality. The whole game uses a top-down perspective with simple 2D graphics, though in the super game mode you do get a sort of quasi-3D map through the use of the Super Nintendo's Mode 7. This was common in SNES games to try and simulate a 3D-ish look, and was used in titles like Final Fantasy VI (III), F-Zero and 7th Saga.
 
The sound isn't much better, with some basic synthesized sound effects and only a couple different pieces of background music that are both a little high pitched and obnoxious. Rampart tries to sound good, it really does, but it just falls short and leaves me muting the television. There's some drum sounds and fanfare to build anticipation or celebrate a win, but it's always just too obnoxious and repeated just a little too often. Not "bad" per se, but I could have done without the music entirely or at least toned it down a little bit so it was mellow instead of grating.
 
It contains somewhere around 50 different levels, though I've never managed to get anywhere near the end. After winning a level, you're given a password that you can punch in at the start of the game to bring you back to where you left off. The problem is that since I play this game for 20 minutes here and 30 minutes there, by time I pick it back up again a couple of months later I need to go back through a couple of earlier to levels to get the hang of it again, so I never end up gaining much ground.
 
Overall Rampart is an average game, but it's somewhat unique and was among the predecessors of the tower defense genre. It's somewhat fun to casually play through a few levels, and a little more fun to pound away at with a friend. It is a game that I do recommend, as I still play it periodically and think others may enjoy it as well. On the other hand it's a little expensive ($15+ or so online currently), and since Rampart was ported to a lot of different systems over the years you may be better off picking it up for another system (on the PlayStation Network, or as part of Midway Arcade Treasures for the Xbox or PSP).

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