Tempest 4000 (Feature Review) Atari VCS

Tempest 4000 (Feature Review) Atari VCS
Review Score:

Jeff Minter is a popular game developer in Atari gaming circles. His love for animals – especially lamas – have played a major role in his celebrity, which goes way back to the 1980s when he founded Llamasoft to develop games for 8-bit microcomputers. His resume of games include popular titles such as Attack of the Mutant Camels, Gridrunner and the vector-based arcade shooter, Tempest, among many others. Tempest has seen ports to many computers (i.e. the Amstrad, Spectrum and the Atari ST), along with sequels to the original Tempest on multiple consoles (i.e. Tempest 2000 for the Atari Jaguar; Tempest x3 on Playstation; and Tempest 3000 for the ill-fated DVD player game console hybrid, the Nuon.

The recently released Tempest 4000 is Jeff Minter’s first foray into Atari VCS game development, and the final product is quite good. Tempest 4000 includes 100 levels of tube-like levels where the player takes control of the Claw; a spacecraft capable of taking on the enemy threat that occupies the game’s iconic looking levels.

Like the arcade game that inspired it, Tempest 4000 utilizes the spinner controls the Classic Joystick supports, by spinning the joystick from left to right. While this replicates the arcade experience – as you spin around the vector playfields, shooting and destroying enemies (and collecting bonus points along the way, while also increasing the player’s high score) – there are times when the spinner controls feel a bit floaty, or delayed, which is a shame. The Tempest gameplay experience benefits the most from rotary controls. 

This doesn’t mean Tempest 4000 can’t be enjoyed using the Modern Controller, which resembles an Xbox controller. The analog controls are tight and responsive, and its even possible to hold down the fire button for rapid fire, making the experience twice as enjoyable (and easier on the thumbs). 

The biggest issue arises shortly after beating a handful of levels, where the player has to navigate their ship through a series of ‘warp’ rings. For reasons unknown, the controls invert, breaking the immersion experienced during the combat sequences. This takes the player by absolute surprise, having to press right on the analog stick to move left, etc. If this was done to increase the game’s difficulty, it most certainly does. Unfortunately, it can be a frustrating experience when it happens and it doesn’t feel like the idea wasn’t thought through very well. Irregardless, this only happens during the warp sequence(s). There is no feature available in the Option’s menu to disable inverted controls, and this feature should have been implemented.

The Atari VCS version of Tempest 4000 offers the ability to switch between the Tempest and TXK soundtracks respectively. This bit of fanfare goes a long way for Atari gamers, as Tempest itself has a strong following behind, with a legion of fans who have followed (or rather played) the different versions of the game that have released on various console systems over the years.

As a game, Tempest 4000 is considered a major release on the Atari VCS, and rightfully so. And despite the issues with the controls mentioned earlier (which can be easily rectified with a patch/update), Tempest 4000 is currently one of the best games available for Atari’s hybrid PC console system. Don’t miss out on it.

Mike Pittaro
Platform: Atari VCS
Developer: Jeff Minter / Llamasoft
Publisher: Atari
ESRB: E (Everyone)
Price: $19.99

Review Score
Eye-popping vector graphics that remain faithful to the original coin-op game.
Having two soundtracks is a great feature.
Despite some of the control issues, the game is still a lot of fun to play.
Atari VCS owners will enjoy Tempest 4000, despite its faults.
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