Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Aetherbyte / Hurgle
Super CD-ROM

I'm very glad that Insanity exists. If my brother Alexei hadn't penned an Insanity review, I might still be unaware that he was a Kaypro player during his youth, just like I was during mine (we grew up in separate garrisons, you see). Ensuing upon our discovery of this commonality was a merry conversation on the greatness of Kaypro games ranging from the tricky platformer Ladder to the space-set stock-trader that neither of us could quite remember the title of (Star Traders!).

But while I wax nostalgic over my way-back-when Kaypro experiences, the truth is I have a very difficult time sitting down with most pre-16-bit-era titles. There are few NES games I can stomach at this point; go back even further in time and you're almost sure to disgust me. And being that I was never a big Berzerk fan, you can understand why I did not anticipate good times with its PCE descendant.

After just a few rounds of drone thrashing, I'd already compiled a sizable list of qualms I had with Insanity's gameplay. The action starts off terribly slowly, and the protagonist's lethargic gait had me wishing on many occasions that button I had been utilized for a dash function. (A sped-up version of the game can be accessed, though the almost-immediate mass robot suicide that takes place in many stages makes it more of a source of chuckles than a viable play option.) Once the pace picks up in the main mode, cheap deaths occur regularly, as the robots don't hesitate to level you with potshots as soon as a new room materializes onscreen.

Berzerk's premise and the manner in which it plays out haven't ever appealed to me, and the fact that it and its successor are so repetitive makes the respective experiences all the more vexatious. It's easy for me to play armchair programmer, so I will. I wish the walls periodically changed in color and in brand of construct. I wish the robotic voices were used sparingly so as to alleviate the Bravoman-esque aural pangs. I wish there were some sort of interlude prior to the appearance of each new wave of foes--if Berzerk's rudiments don't lend themselves to full-fledged cinemas, perhaps stills (a la Avenger) in the style of the title-screen and ending art would have served well. And I wish there were different kinds of enemies to evade or fend off (aside from the time's-up chaser and the big boss).

I know that Aetherbyte placed major importance on the notion of "staying true" to the original Berzerk. But the problem is that different people will have different ideas as to how far the concept could've been fleshed out while remaining faithful and tributary to the source material. If more variety would have increased the amount of enjoyment that many players would get out of the title and won over some of those averse to the concept in the first place, then perhaps more additions and amendments to the formula should have been explored. It bears mentioning that people who are in fact fans of Berzerk have often voiced the same criticisms of this game as those who were never thrilled with the template.

But what everyone does seem to be into is Insanity's music, particularly the PSG material. While not every tune works for me, I do think there's some pretty good stuff here. The main theme is a sticks-in-your-head sort of number, and the subdued melodies accompanying the end credits are quite nice. And as the adventure concludes on a positive note, so will this review: as unappealing as its foundation was to me from the start, and as many issues as I have with the approach taken by Aetherbyte, Insanity is certainly playable and has a soundtrack that may just achieve greatness in the ears of many. Even one with an eye that perceives the game as flawed and underdeveloped will likely acknowledge it worthy of a fair spin or two.

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