At first glance, Akka Arrh seems overwhelming. The psychedelic space shooter is a colorful barrage of neon lights and pulsating beats. Rhythmic shapes ebb and flow endlessly around robotic sounds and hippie text. The hero is the game’s namesake, a fixed star cannon in the center of the screen that is attacked mercilessly on all sides by a barrage of alien enemies seeking intergalactic domination. The player controls Akka Arrh, spinning it around 360 degrees in a turret named "the Sentinel" that thwarts the extraterrestrial onslaught. That is a lot to take in, but it all works.
Akka Arrh is the perfect game for the Atari rebranding strategy. The fixed shooter has all the trappings of the sweet nostalgia story that old-school gaming fans love. First of all, the game is legendary. The original prototype was created in 1982 but, aside from one failed test market showing, never saw the light of day. Rumor has it that only three cabinets exist.
In its push to revitalize the iconic company, Atari hired video game icon Jeff Minter and his Llamasoft software house to bring this 40-year-old classic into the ninth generation of gaming. The challenge Minter faced was to drag an outdated, quarter-eating concept into today’s open-world, live-streaming market. He pulled it off.
Akka Arrh is an attack on the senses with an emphasis on the eyes. Fans expecting a traditional shoot-em-up will be pleasantly surprised to realize Akka Arrh shifts direction away from traditional arcade gaming in a serious way. The Rangoli-like shapes around the turret represent the plane of protection. Enemies fall into and blow up out of that plane in trippy, three-dimensional kind of ways. Firing bombs from the turret onto the plane sends a literal wave of destruction out in all directions. When enemies land on top of that wave, they explode and send their explosions out into a ripple effect. Once the player realizes that modern gameplay tweak, Akka Arrh becomes a whole lot more fun. Gameplay isn’t about scoring points more so than it is about maintaining an ongoing wave of explosions while expending as few bombs and bullets as possible. This concept is one that would have been conceived in the 1980s, and it modernizes the playing experience.
From the very start, the Akka Arrh VGM feels like it was pirated from a classic John Carpenter movie. It is heavily inspired by 1980s new wave and synthpop music. A disembodied voice randomly compliments brilliant play throughout the game. The speech synthesis is a throwback sound that reminds vintage gamers of the groundbreaking robotic audio from Berzerk. That was a nice touch. Another voice celebrates hyper chains and high scores over the new age musical score. Sometimes the music and effects seem almost intentionally distracting. In several instances, the disjointed sound experience takes away from the exciting visuals popping all over the screen. The fully immersed player, however, may find this sort of mass chaos enjoyable.
For an early '80s reboot, Akka Arrh does not at all seem repetitive like those cabinets from four decades ago. This game is novel and innovative. Sometimes enemies break through the plane and drop down below the surface to attack the orbs the player is sworn to protect. When this happens, a trigger on the controller must be activated to descend into the lower realms of space-time and attack the intruders. As the game advances through the levels, these internal onslaughts increase, forcing the player to navigate back-and-forth and up-and-down through an endless bombardment that is astonishingly fun and refreshing.
Surprisingly, what is the most fun is its single-button gameplay option. Akka Arrh – with its non-stop, three-dimensional insanity of sights and sounds – battles enemies from literally every direction: all with an old-school, single-firing button. That is the most mind-blowing aspect of the entire game. Enemies and power-ups attack so frequently that the player will never realize all of this is being handled by just a rotating controller and a firing button. Learning how to drop bombs and when to fire bullets takes some getting used to and it can be a bit frustrating at first. However, with some practice, the single-button functionality becomes an interesting aspect to the gameplay experience. Imagine playing with a retro Atari joystick and the game becomes that much more exciting.
Replay Value: B
Having skepticism that a retro game resurfacing today will successfully transition to the modern experience is understandable. Most of the time, these ventures are nostalgia acts meant to push Christmas sales. Akka Arrh, on the other hand, is the real deal. The game challenges the mind, forcing the player to multitask to survive. Akka Arrh pretends it is on your side, but - with all its psychedelic action and dynamic sensations - the game is the real enemy. Feeling that Akka Arrh is out to get you drives the player into coming back for more. And that is exactly how an arcade game is meant to be. Akka Arrh is addictive. Modern gamers will enjoy it just as much as classics-lovers.
Overall Grade: A-
Akka Arrh is available on PC via Steam, PlayStation 4|5, Xbox One & Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and Atari VCS
Joe Deez is a professional writer, unashamed tech geek, and pop culture enthusiast. He teaches young people to handle adversity by using humor and he plays vintage Atari games in his spare time.