The game that lets families execute each other
I don’t have a great many video game-related stories to tell of my dad. He took the time to join in with the rest of the family back in the day, but he was (and basically still is) the primary breadwinner. So, I don’t have any stories of getting deep into co-op or trying to topple a game together, he just didn’t have as much time as my mother did to spend with my sister and me.
I still have some great memories with him, like when mom went out of town and we rented Super Dodge Ball back in the depths of my long-term storage. There was also the time that he was playing Super Pinball: Behind the Mask, and I caught a recording of his losing profanity on my Yak Bak. The swear drop stayed on that little device until time and a finite battery erased it.
But my favorite is his brief addiction to 1992’s Rampart on the Super Nintendo. My parents had a TV in their room (which wasn’t common in the ‘90s), and he hooked the SNES up to it so he could play it at night. I’d find myself falling asleep to the sound of him furiously mashing buttons in the next room. He could never beat that Kraken. Well, all these years later, I beat the Kraken, so this one’s for you, dad.
Rampart was a 1991 Atari arcade game. In something that feels like a precursor to the tower defense genre, it was your goal to keep your castle walls maintained using blocks while also fending off invading ships. You kept going until your base was finally overrun, at which point it was time to feed the machine another quarter.
The multi-player was particularly interesting, however. Up to three players blast at each other’s castles, then try to repair before time runs out each turn. Whoever can’t put a complete wall up around the citadel loses. Only a few ports preserved the three-player mode, and the SNES version of Rampart was not one of them. It’s still pretty fun with two players, though.
Like many arcade games of the day, there were a lot of ports, and they’re definitely not all created equal. Konami, for example, did a version for Famicom that featured different time periods. The SNES version of Rampart, however, maybe the best one, even when removed from my obvious nostalgia for it. How? Mode-7. Everybody loves Mode-7, the SNES scaling technique that allowed it to create 3D-ish environments. We can’t be friends if you don’t.
It actually changes the main campaign completely. There’s still a “Normal” mode if you want to fight waves of dudes, but “Super” is where it’s at. It’s an extensive survival challenge that makes bizarre additions such as bosses and bonus rounds. Rather than just fighting waves of dudes, your goal is to wipe all the ships that circle your territory. You have to stay alive, expand your holds, and build up your armaments until you overcome the spawn rate and make the seas safe again.
Most essentially, you’re trying to make sure that none of the ships land, because that’s how you get ants. Don’t ask me, they might be battering rams, but they look like ants. These insects then swarm the nearest citadel, and if it isn’t walled up, will tear it down. They also get everywhere and make building hard, so prevention is the best extermination.
Unique to Super Rampart are bosses, which are unfortunately sparse, but an interesting way to switch things up and get creative with the game’s mechanics. They require you to employ different tactics than you would when just fighting against the ships. For example, the aforementioned Kraken hurls boulders at you, which then scatters rocks that you can’t build upon. There are four citadels, and you must constantly build new forts to keep yourself in the game.
There are also additions found in other ports of the game, like a 3×3 cannon and a propaganda balloon. These make more sense in multiplayer, where the super cannon spreads fire which can’t be built upon and the propaganda takes control of another player’s cannon.
They also increased the variety of blocks to build with, which is more of a curse than a blessing. Having giant pieces to quickly repair your walls with may sound brillo, but when you’re trying to patch small holes that have been plucked through, you’ll be cursing every time a massive block turns up. You’re better off just dropping them onto the map in a random spot until you get the one you need.
The Super mode in Rampart SNES has 15 levels, which feels like the magic number. There’s a password system to get you back to where you left off. The actual challenge of the stages have a rough incline of difficulty, but they sometimes get extremely hard out of nowhere, such as the case of the Kraken. It’s really not the most polished product, but I wouldn’t fault it for lack of content.
My mother and I spent a lot of time on the multi-player back in the day. We’d sometimes play somewhat peacefully and just build the biggest forts we could before inevitably betraying each other. There are a lot of techniques you can play with to finally topple your enemy. For example, cannons can only take a certain amount of damage before they turn into metal slags that cannot be removed or built over. Using these to create narrow chokepoints that necessitate a specific block type can frustrate another player.
Most versions of Rampart have this dark little aside after a winner is declared. Simply, one player executes the other. While this was commonly using a guillotine, in the SNES version, you make them walk the plank. I don’t know why, but my mother and I found this hilarious when I was a kid, but I think it also gradually traumatized me every time I actually considered the implications. The ‘90s sure were dark times.
Rampart is a fun game to begin with, and while the SNES port is hardly the most faithful, I feel it’s the version that best fits on consoles. Its campaign just presents a more consistent progression than the play-until-you-lose mentality of the arcade. More could have been done with it, but the developer could have also gotten away with a straight port, so the fact that they put in the extra effort is admirable.
It’s somewhat surprising that more wasn’t done with Rampart. While it was created by Atari Games and landed in Midway’s library before they went defunct and it went to Warner Bros. But they’ve really done nothing with Midway’s catalog in a long time, and that’s really unfortunate. Rampart isn’t the only game from them that could use a modern update. The SNES and Famicom versions are really the closest we’ve had to someone trying to build on the formula. You could argue that the tower defense genre has superseded it, but… You’d have a point.