Friday, January 21, 2011


Aetherbyte - 2009 - U.S.A.
Super CD-ROM

Out of the depths of the Interwebs in 2009 sprang independent developer Aetherbyte Studios, bringing with them news of the first new TurboDuo game in five years. “New” here is subjective, however-- Aetherbyte’s Insanity is a port of the 30-year-old arcade/Atari “classic” Berzerk. As a kid growing up I was familiar with the game in the form of a port titled Clone Wars for the Kaypro IV running under CP/M. When my family got a PC running MS-DOS in 1991, I moved on to more advanced games and all but forgot about my two-shades-of-green monochrome childhood.

Only the color and speed of the robots differentiate one level from another.

To be honest, I was not expecting much from Insanity. I was not particularly excited about the game as even back in 1987 Clone Wars was only entertaining for so long. Expectations being as low as they were going in meant that I actually had some surprises in store for me. Gameplay is definitely faithful to the original, which is by far the game’s biggest detriment. Some enhancements to the gameplay would have worked wonders for Insanity; as it stands, the shoot-all-the-robots-in-a-room formula is dated and, let’s face it, boring. Room layouts are seemingly chosen at random from a pool, clearing a certain number of rooms advances you to the next “level.” Cheap deaths abound in Insanity as you’re often dropped into a room a few paces from an enemy who fires off a lethal shot before you’ve even had a chance to take a step. Levels are differentiated solely by the type (color) of robots roaming the premises, which brings up an important point: there is only one type of robot enemy in this game, palette-swapped from level to level. This is a prime example of an area just begging for improvement where a little initiative and creativity would’ve gone a long way. Also inexcusable is the lack of any sort of high score table. I mean, isn't the whole point of this type of game getting a high score?

Robot love?

Visually, Insanity is as its worst with the “room” graphics; these aren’t even palette-swapped from level to level. I find the color choices not very complimentary which gives the game a bit of a chintzy feel to it. As with the gameplay, a little variety here could have turned the general feel of the game upside down.

Spend too long destroying robots and you'll encounter a strange looking robotic face.

It might sound like I have nothing good to say about Insanity, but that’s just not the case. Starting a new game you’re given the choice of a PSG or CD soundtrack. Being the chiptune fanatic that I am, I eagerly selected PSG for my first Insanity run through. My
ears were met with an average sounding tune... that in mere seconds went from average to pretty damn good. New level, new tune, even better than the first. Before I knew it, I was honing my robot slaughtering skills so I could forge further just to he
ar the next tune. What Aetherbyte has done with the Turbo’s sound chip h
ere is impressive for what amounts to an independent developer’s first attempt; the tunes are catc
hy and seem to utilize good instrumentation. Insanity is no Batman or Dungeon Explorer aurally, but frankly doesn’t sound out of place next to the rest of the Turbo library. I find myself digging the chiptunes so much I haven’t spent a great deal of time with the enhanced CD soundtrack, although my handful of plays with it sounded good.

What Aetherbyte doesn’t provide in gameplay improvements they make up for with four different game modes. In addition to our standard mode, we’ve got Hyper mode, Arcade mode, and what is known as “Predator” mode. Of the other three, Predator mo
de proves most interesting while Arcade mode seems most superfluous.

Robots are invisible in Predator mode, only appearing as outlines every few seconds.

Arcade mode emulates the simplistic style of the arcade original.

I’d be lying if I claimed Insanity didn’t have a unique charm to it. Sadly, it’s difficult to get too excited about ports of 30-year-old games unless they’re really bringing something new to the table. That said, every developer has to start somewhere. With that in mind, Aetherbyte makes a promising debut with Insanity. You have to give them credit for the speed at which Insanity was developed: less than a year from concept to pressing. As of this writing they’ve already announced their next project-- a compilation of “enhanced” versions of more arcade “classics.” Unfortunately, the last thing the Duo needs at this stage of the game is more ports of three-decade-old snoozers. The Duo needs... DESERVES fresh blood. After sharpening their teeth on these musty old relics, I’d love to see what Aetherbyte could do with a fresh id

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