C64 Retro-Gaming: Anarchy

Game: Anarchy
Made by: Rack-It (1987)
Genre: Puzzle, Shoot'em up
Did I have this? No, I think it was on a tape cassette, and I started with a floppy disk drive

What Is It?
Essentially a puzzle game where you use a tank to explode explodable blocks in various mazes while avoiding enemy robot things (or turning them into unexplodable blocks for a limited time) until either time runs out, or you complete the level and activate an Exit to the next level. Get there quickly without the benefit of weapons or the 'bots will get you! (It appears to be based on the arcade game Raider5, if you know that one.)

Gameplay
It's pretty simple in concept, but a little hard to master (in a good way). Your tank can only move in the four cardinal directions and necessarily on a grid, no incremental distances between objects. It's very fluid so the danger is crashing headlong into an enemy drone as you move. You can fire a steady stream of bullets at a pretty good range, but blocks cannot be destroyed at point-blank range (drones, yes, thankfully). You need one block's distance between you and the block, which is why I call this primarily a puzzle game. Each of the 16 levels (I managed, like, 4) has its own layout difficulties, and I've read later ones have blocks that respawn, the bastards. Shooting a drone freezes it (turns it into a special block that can be pushed but not destroyed, though later levels have different enemies that CAN be destroyed), and that's part of the puzzle. If you freeze them and they block your access to another part of the maze, you have to wait it out. And once you've destroyed all the explodable blocks, the exit appears and you have to escape, but your gun no longer works! Let's just say I've fallen prey to those damn drones just short of the exit. You have a small number of lives, and start the level over after you respawn.

In terms of difficulty, you always have 2 minutes to clear a level and escape. You can play Easy, Intermediate and Expert, but it doesn't change the amount of time you have. On Easy, the drones are less vicious, kind of randomly rolling around instead of being attracted to your tank pheromones. At Expert, I didn't think they were any MORE vicious than an Intermediate, but your tank is a little faster, making you more prone to mistakes. Anyway, Intermediate is the "proper" game, but Easy might be useful to teach you the mazes with less interference so you can better plan out where to go on the medium settings.

Graphics and Sounds
The graphics are functional, as you'd expect from a puzzle game. I don't really need much except clarity when it comes to this kind of thing, and that's what I get, plus a pang of nostalgia for Atari's Combat. The scrolling (levels, early ones anyway, are about twice the width of your screen) is very fluid and you don't notice it happening, nor does it hide enemies so they can get the jump on you. They're chaotic enough without help! When the exit opens, the floor seems to speed by like crazy, which at first made me believe we were just transitioning to the next screen, and I let the clock run out like an idiot. Don't be fooled.

Sound-wise, there's no music beyond the title screen, but it's still a musical game. When you destroy a block, it strikes a chord, and you're sort of making like Beethoven in there. Your gun sounds like you're tapping on a wind chime. You may not think that's on-model for the premise, but it makes for a more relaxing experience despite the tension inherent to the mechanics. Well, I don't know HOW relaxing. There's also a worrying plink when the first minute is up, and some countdown sounds in the last 10 seconds.

The World
I can't track down the back of the box, but the game's official description tells us you've been chosen to break into a security complex of the rebels who have taken over the planet Sentinel 4 (I figure named after designer Michael Sentinella), and your mission is to destroy the rebels' supplies with the help of your A.C.E. Mk2 Interceptor unit. The pictures fit the story, though if the sort of metal "tents" are the supplies, and the garden-variety blocks just walls, why does the game require you to clear all the walls before the exit pops up? Also, I would have thought gamers were brain-trained to side with the rebels in any given story. 1980s orthodoxy, I guess.

Bottom Line
Puzzle games have aged a lot better than other game types of the era, because graphics and control fluidity aren't as important. Your mind is still engaged, and the simple game play means remote control difficulties are less pronounced. In this case, there's an action element as well, and the thrill of a countdown clock. Good thing the C64 Mini has a Save function because starting over from the very beginning is a little frustrating. But this is one I can revisit every once in a while, try my hand at a level or two, then walk away with my heart pumping and hopefully, a sense of accomplishment.

What about you? Do you remember Anarchy (or Raider5)?

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