Tempest 4000 is not actually Tempest. Well, it is… but Tempest is a lot of different things. The main screen declares Tempest to be Atari Founder Nolan Bushnell’s “Neon Lovechild”. I wish I could scrub that cringeworthy phrase out of my mind, but since I can’t I figure I’d share it with you because misery enjoys company. Atari declares to be presenting this as Tempest 4000, which is a bold claim to make since the Atari Jaguar game Tempest 2000 was made to bring Tempest into the year 2000, so will ostensibly need to savor this one for another 1900 years. What Tempest 4000 ACTUALLY is, is Jeff Minter’s 2014 PSVita game “TxK“…
That’s actually exactly what it is.
So, here’s a story: In early 2014 TxK launched to a bit of success as a surprise indie game on the PSVita and people saw it as a new version of Tempest made by the veteran who has been building Tempest for decades, Jeff Minter. Atari, presumably with money-signs popping out of their eyeballs like a cartoon character, then leveraged press media’s comparison to their Tempest IP and filed a cease & desist on any further production of TxK. Jeff Minter immediately had to cancel his pending ports to PS4, VR, Android, and PC. There was very little legal ground for Atari to stand on but when Atari’s Lawyers have their boots on the neck of your small company, what can you do? Jeff Minter, the absolute veteran, sucked it up and sold out, which brings us to today where we now are happy to present our review of the Playstation 4 version of “Atari Presents: Tempest 4000“.
Tempest has always been an important game historically due to its simple breakthrough of 2-dimensional play spaces into a 3-dimensional perspective, and any of its iterations will live immortal as beautiful, aesthetically pleasing games… except this one. While TxK was originally designed to be played on small screens, Tempest 4000 is being sold as a game for 4K monitors (thus the name). This makes the addition of harsh strobe flashing very hard to watch, especially in a game centered around precise performance. The level designs are exactly the same as TxK, but the enemy designs are changed and no longer match the vector-line aesthetic. On top of that, the enemies come with their own new exploding effects that feel like a cheap 3-D movie throwing confetti and neon at the player’s face. It’s rude to blind me while I’m trying to play and worse it makes the game feel like a cheap gimmick rather than the deeply embedding flow TxK‘s simple clean lines originally had. All of this would be fine if there were options to turn the effects off, but Tempest 4000 is missing most contemporary necessities like a grid-based level select screen where all the levels are on one screen, changeable controls, and adjustable graphic settings or colorblind options. In a game as simple as Tempest that should be all about accessibility and wanting as many people to play it as possible, it is unforgiveable to not be at the contemporary level set by similar arcade games like N++ and Geometry Wars or games without option-menus that are designed with high contrast visuals in mind like Rob Fearon’s Death Ray Manta.
What Tempest 4000 does do right is that you still blast polygonal enemies that crawl up the 2-D surfaces of a tube as some kind of wonky crab while trying to dodge enemy attacks and pick up power ups. It’s just like I remember it growing up! I’d like to say that it is like its peers in Missile Command or Alien Invaders in that it explores a theme like the futility of war. It tries to tackle an idea that if you are patient and calm in the face of chaos, you will be rewarded. At least, that’s the moral in practice. In execution, every level’s primary solution is exactly the same. Shoot baddies in a quadrant of the map, once you are surrounded you use your superbomb, then collect powerups until you are carried through to the end of the level. That is how you beat every level of Tempest 4000.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much to say about how Tempest 4000 has been improved by the use of 90’s era powerups. The jump button is nice, but it doesn’t feel like it affects the formula of Tempest in a meaningful way. By the end of it all, I feel like I deserved more from something that mathematically defines itself as twice as powerful as Tempest 2000.
Some of the sound effects are missing from TxK‘s original version of this game, and the music has been changed from late-90s techno to generic trance music. There aren’t even transitions or fade outs from the game over screen to the main screen. Tempest 4000 is a neutered version of TxK whose short-comings reduce it from being a nostalgic novelty to being a nauseating nuisance. I do not recommend Tempest 4000 for anyone, especially because after playing and listening to it for twenty minutes you will likely get a headache or just be generally exhausted like I was. It really is unfortunate, especially due to the disasterous adventure this game has been on, but Tempest 4000 as Atari has presented it to us recieves a 1 out of 5.
I want to believe the Atari symbols raining down on the title screen and “Bushnell’s Neon Lovechild” are meant to be ironically pointing out Atari’s litigious harassment of this game’s development cycle. But God is it tasteless and tacky. Most of the title-card stingers are. One of them just says “The Daddy” and I don’t even know how they want me to take that…
Postscript: After writing the review, I realized that “TxK” is probably meant to stand for Tempest X-thousand, which doesn’t really have anything to do with anything, but I just think that it is delightful!