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loogslair.com I feel asleep!


Year released: 1992
Company: Jaleco
Genre: Strategy

In the early years of the NES renaissance, people clung onto one argument that they thought rationalized their spurning of newer systems. Its general concept was boiled down to a three-word mantra: "Gameplay over graphics". To be more broad, it was the notion that good presentation and good gameplay were independent of each other, and just because a game excels at one does not guarantee the same proficiency in the other. Rampart, while on the earlier system, is one of the games NES loyalists might use to back up their stance. It's got splendid presentation, but the game itself is pretty wanting.

A home console rendition of an arcade semi-hit (though I never saw an arcade version of this game until well after the NES version came out), Rampart oscillates between two tasks. First off, you have to fend off a fleet of warships who are bent on destroying the walls around your castle(s), and once that's been done, you must next rebuild the holes in your walls that the previous attacks left. At the end of each round, you must have at least one castle surrounded or else you lose a credit. It's not a bad concept, to tell you the truth. The attacking phase of the game is just fast-paced enough to give action fans something to enjoy, while the puzzle aspects of the building phase will get brainiacs into this game.

The atmosphere is done extremely well, with a lot of attention paid to the audiovisual aspects of the game. The graphics are well-detailed with some spectacular animation; the flight of the cannonballs is perfect, and watching them make contact with a wall or sploosh into the water is amazing. Even more well-done, though, is the music and sound effects. They make excellent use of the PCM channel, with lots of digitized voices to keep you interested. Nothing gets me raring to go like the call of "Ready... Aim... FIRE!!" The music is also quite well done, and memorable even years after you play it.

There really isn't a whole lot to talk about in the realm of play control, since most of the time you'll be controlling a cursor to aim your cannons. During the building portion of the game, it operates much like Tetris, only that there's one rotate button instead of two (the other one places the building block on the ground). It's a necessary sacrifice, and it doesn't really damage the handling (I only use one rotate button when I play Tetris anyway). The big gripe, though, is that you can't move building blocks over the water. I realize it'd be silly to put them there, but at the same time it can be annoying to be building walls at a fast clip, only to be sidetracked a bit when you have to take the long way around.

The early stages of the game are simple enough; you won't have more than six ships to deal with in the first five levels or so, but there are two things that really alter the learning curve from that point onward. First, there are ships with yellow sails that fire special cannonballs, and once they connect with something a block can never be placed there for the rest of the level. Second, some ships deploy tanks when they reach the shore, and those also get in the way of building. I would've rather seen one or the other (probably the tanks) introduced first by themselves, then bring the other in for the third plot of land. Bringing them both in at the same time pushes the challenge far too high far too early.

Also, the rules about what is a surrounded castle and what isn't can make you very frustrated. Put simply, a castle has to be walled in completely, and if there's even a diagonal gap in the walls, it doesn't count. I've had a handful of times where I've run out of time searching for the lone kitty-corner hole in the wall, and wished that they were a little more lax about stuff like that. Finally, later levels require you to find places for very unwieldy blocks, while all you have room for all blocks of one or two units in size.

All of this adds up to a frustrating play session. The digitized voices and solid graphics will bring a player in, but all the limitations that enter into the equation will likely scare a player off after a little while. I wrote earlier that the music is memorable even years after playing. Well, the fact that it's been years since I last played it oughta tell you something about how these frustrations will shorten the game's lifespan. It's a shame, too; like countless other games out there, the concept was intriguing, but a couple major obstacles take their toll on the playability. Still, it's not a bad game if you don't mind playing for 15 minutes at a time.

Rampart is another one of those games that looks and sounds spectacular, but doesn't really succeed to hold up its end of the bargain when it comes to offering a worthwhile diversion. It's not too bad of a game, but it could have been a lot better.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 15
Plot: Exempt
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 9
Overall Score: 67%