Akka Arrh - Out of the Lost and Found at Last
Reinventions of classic games aren’t as novel as they once were. In fact, we’ve seen many of them recently, as they’re a great way to reawaken that nostalgia many have for their favourite games of yore.
But a reinvention of an unreleased game? That’s something a bit more special. This is where Llamasoft’s take on Atari’s Akka Arrh comes into play, aiming to do justice to a game unreleased because it was regarded as “too hard” from its testing back in the day.
The goal of Akka Arrh is to take charge of your Sentinel and protect your pods from enemy assault over 50 waves. Each new wave offers an increasing challenge from the introduction of new enemies, and layouts, which affect how you can mount your defence.
What really makes Akka Arrh stand out, not only from other arcade shooters, but the Llamasoft catalogue is the more thoughtful approach you need to take. Your primary weapon is a bomb, firing it will take out all enemies in its range, setting off chain reactions. Enemies destroyed by this will add ammo to your second weapon, its bullets. Their purpose is to take out targets that your bombs can’t – typically those enemies which pose a greater threat to you and your pods.
It leads to a rather interesting duality. You’ll start a round by dropping a bomb causing a chain reaction to start. They’ll also only cause those to happen on particular regions of the map, with destroyed enemies earning bullets. Once you accumulate some, you’ll shift focus to taking out those enemies which can’t be harmed by a bomb’s explosions, as they’re the ones that offer a greater threat.
Dropping bombs is sometimes a necessary evil as it will reset your combo counter, slowing the pace at which your score points. But it’s necessary when you’re out of bullets, in order to kick off a new chain reaction to get some more.
For me, the real joy with this is figuring out the right time and play to fire off a bomb. When done right, the geometric patterns generated by the explosions offer a unique sense of serenity. Something I feel is helped by the game’s distinctive, generative background music.
Of course, watching your score start going up from an increasing combo is its own reward too.
The longer-term challenge comes from juggling the balance between maintaining a chain to keep earning points but also defending yourself from the enemies which can breach the Sentinel, requiring you to go “underground” to prevent them from claiming your pods and ending the game.
This makes Akka Arrh less about finding the flow, which I’m honestly okay with. Going “underground” is a frantic moment, as you’ve got to act fast to save your pods. Especially as I found that if you’re not keeping an eye on when you should do so, your game can end incredibly quickly.
A Game Over might sound like a downer, but it also leads into one of my favourite features: Restart Best.
This lets you start from any level you’ve beaten, meaning if you want a quick game, you can hop in right where your last game ended, continuing with your score and pods.
Most importantly is that it offers a way to improve. By replaying levels you did poorly at, you can not only boost your starting bonus but also set yourself up to enter a level with more pods in hand.
This I love from a growth perspective. Many arcade-style games don’t allow for any way to practice or replay conquered levels, instead requiring players to start from the opening every time they play. Here, you can slowly chip away at the levels, meaning that with time it’s possible to get all the way to the end.
Accommodation is a large part of the draw with this reimagined Akka Arrh. Not only from features like this but also with the ability to disable the flashing effects. Sure, I’m a fan of them, but at least playing on the Switch in handheld mode, I feel they’re a bit too distracting at points.
Akka Arrh aims to give a unique arcade concept a second chance at success, and for me, it absolutely succeeds. The concept of needing to switch between fighting threats at long range, and then zooming underneath to protect your pods at close range is a neat evolution of the dual playfields of the original game.
More important, is how it works to evolve those arcade gaming tropes for long-term play at home. Tracking your best scores and remaining pods through Restart Best is as ingenious a design decision as ever, letting you work through the game or easily try completed stages to set yourself up for progress.
It’s not for everyone, but I feel it’s a great introduction to an interesting slice of gaming’s lost past and also to the unique arcade-esque fare in which Llamasoft specialises in.
Akka Arrh was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with code kindly supplied by the publisher.