Review: Akka Arrh
Are Llamasoft's big ideas still Minter fresh?
It's probably best to frontload this review with an absolute insistence that this may not be a game for you. I'm still not sure if it's a game for me, and I've played it to what I hope is a reasonable extent. Thing is, there's quite a lot going on here that doesn't match what games of its type usually deign to offer - it's a score attack sort of thing, yes, but it's surprisingly hard to die, so the scoring in question becomes absolutely paramount.
And at first, you're playing it and you're dropping bombs and watching their explosion radius destroy enemies which creates another explosion which hits another enemy and you're like, yes, right, Every Extend did this a long time ago, this is Jeff Minter's take on the classic freeware game, got it. But no. There's another wrinkle. See, you can also shoot bullets at enemies by holding the button down (this can be modified in the options), and some enemies can only be defeated in this way. Additionally, while launching a bomb resets your current combo chain, firing a bullet doesn't, though it does produce another explosion. You need to carefully balance the two forms of assault - bombs and bullets - in order to, in the game's own words, "rinse" each level of its points.
It's a little complex for sure, but you sorta get it now, right? Use bombs, then try to stick to bullets; while you have limited ammo, it's refilled when an enemy is killed by one of your explosions - which is almost constantly happening. You're good! You're in the zone. But you're not done - there's more still to learn. See, not only can enemies fire back ala Gradius when destroyed, but if they reach you they go beneath you, attacking your precious pods. I'd say no, it's not a testicles joke, but the fact is... it's almost certainly a testicles joke. Hitting the right trigger sends you down below, letting you tackle the invading enemies with more basic shooting. When it's all-clear, you'll be thrown back to the surface, hopefully not having missed anything important, such as one of the power-ups that make shooting that much simpler.
Christ, though, the aesthetic! It's peak Llamasoft, this, and I can vouch for the fact that playing the game will put you into "the zone", into a trance; focusing on the ever-expanding explosions, the changing patterns, the space-psychedelic background - it's all absolutely perfect, and the thumping soundtrack and brilliantly-composed effects feed into the whole fugue state nature of it all. Minter's famous sense of humour is all present and correct, too, with amusing messages snaking their way across the screen at every opportunity.
It's all enormous fun, but it's really rather an acquired taste; even if you have previously enjoyed Jeff Minter titles, this isn't particularly similar to any of the ones I have personaly played before, and its sheer number of interlaced mechanics could be intimidating. Gamers who play for progress rather than high scores may also be disappointed at how hard it is to actually die, but they'd be missing the point. Akka Arrh is clearly a labour of love and those who click with it are going to have the time of their lives - especially if they play it with a few enhancements, if you catch my drift. Drugs. I mean drugs. Alright, cheers.
This is a bold reinvention of an old, cancelled Atari game, and one that not only embraces the Llamasoft feel but actively enhances it. I can say without exaggeration that it's the trippiest game I've ever played, and it's going to be a total Marmite situation when it comes to finding an audience. I suggest you give it some time, because unlike most Minter titles you don't get thrown in at the deep end, with an extensive tutorial being your first port of call. A great game, but a difficult one.