Akka Arrh is a reimagined version of a prototype Atari arcade machine from the ‘80s. Originally scrapped due to a lack of interest, the trailer for the re-release claims that only three cabinets have ever been seen. 40 years later, when Atari reached out to veteran designer Jeff Minter (Tempest 2000, Polybius) to remake one of its games, he chose Akka Arrh. The result is a reimagining of the original concept, fused with Minter’s signature psychedelic visuals and some modern-day improvements. While the game can be fun, its cluttered visual design heavily detracts from the experience.
Akka Arrh is a top-down shooter where you’re tasked with defending yourself from colorful, abstract enemies using bullets and bombs. Bombs destroy most basic enemies and create chain explosions, which are the main way you gain points. For every enemy you blow up with a bomb, you get a bullet, which you have to use to destroy the bigger enemies that are immune to bombs. To get the most points possible, you only want to drop one bomb and then keep the explosion chaining for as much of the level as possible. When you get a good chain going, Akka Arrh feels awesome; waves of geometric shapes destroy enemies before they even hit the ground, and the name of the chain listed at the top of the screen gets increasingly sillier.
This game is also very hard, even on normal mode, which is typical for a game of its era. In an arcade, it pays to have games with incredibly high skill ceilings to keep players coming back for more. In a readjustment for a modern audience, the game saves your highest-scoring attempts from each level and allows you to jump back in whenever you want instead of forcing you through the gauntlet of all the levels that came before. Still, levels that had me stumped were just as hard, even when I had full health and a good bullet count. It’s less of a matter of decreasing the difficulty and more of a matter of convenience.
While I generally respected Akka Arrh’s challenging gameplay, one element consistently annoyed me. The game’s camera follows your cursor, which gives you free rein to fly around the level. It doesn’t seem like that would be a bad thing until you realize how frequently bullets and enemies spawn off-screen when you’re aiming too far in the opposite direction. It’s even worse when you have a power-up that kills enemies from far away, and you kill one that launches bullets on death without even realizing it. One hit ends your whole chain, and in a game as intense as this, it’s frustrating to have your score messed up by a factor that feels out of your control.
That connects to my main gripe with this game: the cluttered art direction. In a general sense, the flashing psychedelic visuals, while disorienting, were something I grew to tolerate. For anyone with sensitive eyes, there’s an option to disable them in the settings, which is a nice touch. But the visual elements that really bother me are the simultaneous lack and excess of information on the screen. As your chain increases, the game congratulates you with explosions, swirling text, and massive, expanding symbols, but the game requires such a high level of focus that this often melts into one layer of distracting noise. It’s especially frustrating when there’s information I wish the game was more upfront about, like how much health I have left or which power-ups I have active.
It’s clear a lot of care was put into the enemy design, the silly text, and the audio cues, but a lot of the game is so abstract that it’s hard to parse what’s going on. Sometimes the screen flashes red, but I couldn’t tell if it was good or bad. Sometimes I heard a pulsing sine wave, but I had no idea what caused it. The text I read was often funny, but when it’s arranged in a spinning circle and I’m frantically trying to blast killer polygons, I just don’t have time to read it.
Eventually, I put some of the pieces together. For example, the red flashing screen happens when you kill a specific enemy, the pulsing sine wave usually means an enemy is invading, and if the center of the screen isn’t too busy, you can see how much health you have in the distance below your ship. Akka Arrh is not a game of unsolvable mysteries or indecipherable gameplay, but the adjustment curve on the road to being able to play it with full understanding is much steeper than it should be, especially for a game advertising its modernized game mechanics.
Akka Arrh is an interesting experiment. Despite its shortcomings, Atari fans can still find some fun in this blaster from the past – the game just comes with a big asterisk. As much as I’m excited to see a lost piece of gaming history revitalized and brought to modern consoles, overwhelming visuals and confusing, abstract game mechanics bring the experience down.