Back in 1994, Atari were in need of a flagship game for their latest console, the Jaguar. The launch titles they had released for the console weren’t doing the trick in moving systems out the retailer’s doors. Thankfully, Jeff Minter had been designing a game that would finally make Jaguar owners proud of their purchase. That game was Tempest 2000.
Has there ever been a movie that you either ignored or it went completely unnoticed by you upon release? Then, years later, a re-boot was made that everyone was buzzing about, and you vaguely remember there was an original you didn’t see. So you watch the new film, which thankfully doesn’t depend on the first one, and it totally blows you away. You then feel compelled to seek out the original to get a sense for the source material for your new favorite movie. You watch the original and it’s good, even somehow great, but not the same as the new version and that’s ok. My relationship with Tempest/Tempest 2000 is analogous to this. The original Tempest was a game I either didn’t play when I saw it or it just wasn’t prevalent in the arcades I frequented. I knew it existed but had very little concept of what the gameplay was like. When I finally purchased my Atari Jaguar in 2002, Tempest 2000 was one of the games that seemed to be on everyone’s list of best titles for the console, so I picked up a copy with few expectations.
I was instantly impressed with the presentation, the music, and most of all the fast-paced and frantic gameplay. I found Tempest 2000 challenging yet addictive like any good arcade-based game should be. When I went back to the original from 1981 at a local retro arcade, I realized what I had missed all those years ago. A rotary controller! A rotary controller made all the difference in moving your blaster around the vector based webs. Unfortunately, Atari never officially released a rotary controller for the Jaguar, but thankfully there are homebrew rotary controllers that have been made for the sole purpose of playing Tempest 2000 on the Jaguar, so that tells you something about the quality of this title. Tempest 2000 tells the compelling story of a mild mannered, mid-level space pilot attempting to work his way into upper management in order to take care of his wife and infant daughter. He feels this can be accomplished by successfully eliminating an alien horde that spins webs as they advance towards his planet. Each level completed represents one less hurdle in front of this everyman to get that well-deserved raise that will finally allow him to move his family out of his parents’ basement and make a down payment on a sweet beachside condo.
Ok, I’m joking, there is no plot to Tempest 2000. You control a horned V-shaped blaster that rides rims of space webs of various sizes and shapes, shooting at enemies with names such as flippers, spikers, pulsars and tankers as they approach you from the interior of the web. Tempest 2000 may be plotless, but it remains a pure, visceral experience that requires total concentration, fast reflexes and a willingness to enjoy 90’s techno music. Do I generally like techno music? No, I never really did, but that doesn’t stop me from loving the soundtrack, which would really only work with a game this bizarre. As for the graphics, you can’t expect much for a game initially based on the vector graphic arcade title, but Tempest 2000 adds an array of colors, words, and voices that tell and show you what kinds of weapons and bonuses you’ve earned as well as random kudos from a bro-like voice when you do good (Excellent!)
At any point in the game you could become overwhelmed by the number of explosions, sound effects, words popping up on screen to tell you what you earned, voices telling you how awesome you are doing, on top of the techno music throbbing in the background. My daughter was watching me play recently and her only comment was, “There’s so much going on! I can’t tell what you’re doing!” I sometimes feel the same way, so when I’m playing I try to just get in a groove and stop paying attention to all the onscreen distractions in an effort to tune out the literal and figurative noise and focus on the enemies approaching. Tempest 2000’s visuals can best be described as “trippy”. There is cool-looking space warp effects when going from level to level and something called Melt-O-Vision™ during certain sequences. This effect makes onscreen words and visuals appear as if they are melting on screen before they fade away. Pretty cool, but the trademark feels a bit unnecessary, while the Tempest 2000 box and manual writers tried hard to win the hyperbole of the year award. Check out these excerpts from the manual.
When speaking about the original arcade Tempest:
“Tempest introduced the gaming world to an extra-sensory visual and futuristic play experience that went beyond any video concept ever developed. With never-before-seen QuadraScan Color video graphics, Tempest set new standards for 3D animation and challenge, and became the first arcade game to be a guaranteed hit.”
When talking about the updated version, Tempest 2000:
“….we’ve energized the original with powerful 3D polygons, particle displays, Melt-O-Vision™ graphics, cycle shading, and a 100% pure CD-quality techno-rave soundtrack….”
If those two excerpts didn’t make you want to a) own a Tempest arcade cabinet and b) own an Atari Jaguar just so you could play Tempest 2000, then no additional adjectives can sell you on how awesome this game is.
To make an already stellar game even better, Tempest 2000 offers 4 total game options. There’s traditional, which is essentially the original arcade title with upgraded graphics and sound; Tempest 2000, which is the crown jewel and primary option, offering a slew of weapons upgrades on top of all the excellent visuals, sounds, bonuses, and new enemies not available in traditional mode; Tempest Plus allows players the aid of an A.I. blaster or co-op with a second gamer; and finally, Tempest Duel allows two players to battle each other in versus mode, which includes mirrors that you can use to deflect your opponents shots when you’re not firing your own weapon; this option is the least interesting for me personally, and I’ve rarely used it.
Due to the length of the game (100 total levels), you are mercifully given the chance to return to the last odd numbered level you’ve completed after passing level 17 by using a key system. You can continue playing in other modes as well, but not if you turn off the Jaguar or let it go into demo mode after your game is over.
I would have to say that the best character in Tempest 2000 is the oddly erotic female voice that chimes in between levels and bonus warp rounds. In a soothing tone, she provides unnecessary reminders that your Superzapper has recharged in-between levels. Here she is aloof and robotic but alluring and comforting in her reaffirming tone. Then, during the bonus warp rounds, she takes on a more animated tone and repeats the word “yes!” each time you fly your blaster through a bonus ring. Her “yes!” becomes more frenzied and higher pitched the better you do. I can think of a few parallels to real world scenarios where a female voice would scream that word out over and over, but I’ll leave that to your imagination. As for my favorite weapon in the game, nothing beats having the A.I.-droid blasting at enemies alongside you when the action reaches maximum frenzy. I always breathe a sigh of relief once I achieve the A.I.-droid power-up to get me through those levels. In the case of Tempest 2000, the best weapon is a buddy.
Tempest 2000 is usually considered either the first or second best game on the Jaguar for a very good reason. If you like 80’s arcade style shooters but with a more modern look and sound, this game is a must own. My only complaint is that I wish I owned a rotary controller for it as the D-pad is serviceable but not ideal. Tempest 2000 isn’t just a good game for the Jaguar, it’s a damn good game period. Feed your head to the web and play Tempest 2000 if you never have before. You may walk away from the experience with a newfound appreciation for the Jag.