When it comes to remakes and sequels to classic arcade games, success depends on a few variables. Firstly, of course, you need to have some kind of demand.
The original title itself needs to be popular or have some kind of following. Secondly, it needs to be difficult to come by on modern consoles.
And lastly, it either needs to be an accurate remake, or it needs to bring something new and enjoyable to the series.
While many remakes and sequels are able to tick the first two boxes, it’s that last one that is most tricky to get right. Tempest 4000 marks Jeff Minter and Llamasoft’s third official attempt at a sequel to 1981’s Tempest.
Tempest 4000 Review
If you’ve never played Tempest, here’s a quick overview.
Tempest is an old-school arcade shooter through and through. Players take control of “the claw”, a small ship shaped like the talons of a bird of prey. You sit at the end of a geometric prism, essentially a 2d-shape stretched along a 3d-plane to create a tunnel (of sorts).
Enemies travel up the tunnel towards you, and you shoot them. Once all of the enemies have been taken care of, you then progress to the next level, with the goal to reach the final level and the highest score.
Players also have access to a SuperZapper, which can be used once per level to wipe all enemies on screen.
Llamasoft’s first attempt at a sequel was Tempest 2000 for the Atari Jaguar. This was very faithful to the original title but added psychedelic visuals and music alongside some deeper variation to enemy types and level designs.
Further, Llamasoft added power-ups to help players take out the enemy hordes. As a result of these additions, Tempest 2000 became (and remains) one of the best and most popular titles for Atari’s ill-fated Jaguar.
With Tempest 3000, Llamasoft built upon the success of the previous title, making a couple of additions to power-ups, and adding levels that pulsed and changed shape over time.
While itself a solid title, it was not widely played, only ever being released on Nuon-enabled DVD players, which, needless to say, were never overly popular.
Since Tempest 3000 (which was released in the year 2000, just to confuse things), there haven’t been any major advancements on the Tempest front. That said, Llamasoft did release Space Giraffe on the Xbox 360 in 2007 and TxK for the PlayStation Vita in 2014.
However, while both of these games clearly followed the Tempest formula, they were not official titles in the series, marking Tempest 4000 as the first new Tempest title in 18 years.
Not a bad gap for a sequel and Tempest fans have been begging for a new game in the series as a result.
The Distant Future
Tempest 4000 mostly follows the formula laid out over time. It retains all of the additions made in Tempest 2000 right down to the music, which is identical.
Llamasoft has chosen to remove some of the power-ups added in Tempest 3000. Namely the missile fire, for those that may be wondering. The game retains its psychedelic imagery and bizarre commentary — Feed your head to the web and Eat Electric Death — and includes the bonus levels that were added with Tempest 2000.
The primary addition here is the next logical step in level design. Where the tunnels were originally static, they began to change shape slightly with Tempest 3000.
Here, levels move and spin as the action plays out. Beyond that, there are some new enemy types to defeat, but the core of the game remains unchanged.
There are three game modes; Pure, Classic, and Survival.
Pure mode has players starting from level 1 with three lives. Survival has players starting from level 1 with 9 lives, and Classic basically allows players to continue from their best score achieved in Pure mode. If you reach level 11 with 500,000 points and two lives, you can start level 11 in Classic mode with 500,000 points and two lives.
This provides several goals, get as far as possible in Pure or Survival mode OR try to get to the last level. There are 100 levels in the game so you’ll need to grind through Classic mode.
In reality, this is all a game of this type requires and I enjoyed trying to get as far as possible on only 3 lives just as much as trying to progress from level 27 with only a single life, as the difficulty ramps up fairly quickly.
Eat Electric Death
Therein lies the problem, though. With all that’s happening on screen, Tempest 4000 lends itself quite well to static levels.
The addition of pulsing and shape changing levels adds a complex but reasonable challenge. However, levels that twist and turn as you play causes a great deal of confusion. Which way to move my ship, for example, or along which path exactly is that enemy travelling?
It leads to a number of unnecessary deaths and certain levels feel impossible to pass without multiple lives in the bank, even given the SuperZapper. Considering moving levels begin from around level 20, even getting to level 50 seems like an impossible task. M
ost of the time, progressing from one level to the next felt more like luck than skill, requiring seemingly endless restarts.
For this reason, I’m at an impasse when it comes to Tempest 4000. On the one hand, the first 20 or so levels provide a pure zen example of core arcade gameplay and I couldn’t recommend the game enough. Clearly, I am a huge fan of the series, and I do own a copy of Tempest 2000 on Atari Jaguar.
However, once you progress into levels that move, it becomes a lesson in frustration. One level had me playing on a circular playing field that felt like it was spinning fast as I was moving.
Now I’m not the greatest gamer in the world, but I really don’t know how anybody could conceivably manoeuvre their way through these levels without an element of luck.
For the record, I did get through that particular level, but not before more than 30 attempts.
I love Tempest. I love Tempest 2000. I even love TxK on the PS Vita. And if I’m wearing my Tempest fan hat and badge, I love Tempest 4000.
However, I find it very difficult to recommend Tempest 4000 to anyone but the most ardent fans. Personally, this game will have a permanent spot on my hard drive, and I will look to hit that elusive level 100, but I fear the difficulty bar is set too high too early to keep the interest among most players.
Tempest 4000 was reviewed on PS4 using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Game Title: Tempest 4000
Classic Arcade Goodness - 8.3/10
Flawless music - 8.6/10
Probably too hard - 6/10
New features aren't great - 5.5/10