The Many Faces of . . . River Raid
by Alan Hewston

Your positive feedback tells me that the Many Faces of format is OK. No complaints so far that the articles are too long, but this month will be a bit longer with 6 versions of River Raid.

Activision proudly presents, River Raid, one of the first vertical scroller/shooters, made originally on the Atari 2600. What made this game stand out (as most from Activision did) was that there was so much packed into the game, and great use of the limited 2600 memory. The entire length of the River is the same every time you play - the river's path, the bridges, boats, jets, and fuel depots, and in most versions, balloons, helicopter gunners, and tanks. There is still some variety/randomness in the timing of "when" the enemy will move left/right. An extra life is earned every 10,000 points, and all versions offer a pause button, except for the original. But on every version (including the 2600) you get an unlimited pause after each life is lost. While shooting up the enemy along your raid, you constantly burn up fuel and must continue collecting fuel, especially when it becomes scarce up the river.

I recommend buying the video, "Stella at 20" - by the Cyberpunks, where 2600 programmer, Carol Shaw, and other members of the Activision team, tell of using a polynomial counter to seed River Raid and compact its memory. Also, Carol tells about making the river become more challenging, with more obstacles, but fewer fuel depots the deeper you raid.

Game Designed by: Carol Shaw (Atari 2600, 8-bit), Peter Kaminski (Intellivision),

Classic Platforms: Atari 2600, 5200, Atari 8-bit, Colecovision, Intellivision & Commodore 64. Categories: Gameplay, Addictiveness, Graphics, Sound & Controls

This game is found in cart format on all of the listed systems, but is also found on disk for the Atari 8-bit and C64. I did not find this game listed for any of the Apple 2, TI-99, or CoCo computers. All versions made after the original (2600) added Gameplay features - the addition of a pause button, a chime when an extra life is earned, and start options to begin at bridge 1, 5, 20, or 50. Most importantly there is a lot more action with the addition of Tanks that fire at you from the riverside (which can only be destroyed if on a bridge), a rapid-firing Helicopter Gunner, and the ever-annoying slow-moving balloons. Which direction will they go?

The Have Nots: Intellivision (33)
The Gameplay is good (7), and follows closely to the other versions except for one major alteration. Instead of the river's edge defining your safe flying path, it is the trees along the ground that cause you to crash. Hmmn.. "Tree Raid" perhaps. ;-) Also, the fuel depots are round instead of rectangular, making them smaller for refuel from and also harder to both refuel/shoot for points. The bridges are also very long for no apparent reason, other than they actually look more realistic that way. The Addictiveness (6) does not make it the version I'd recommend playing - mostly due to the controllers. But, do hold onto this one as it's the rarest of all versions. The Graphics are all-right (6), but busy - with trees everywhere. The fuel indicator and score look to be rushed-out-the-door, and should have been centered under your jet - as is the case in all other versions. The Sound is good (7), but just not similar to the original. The Controls are horrible for me, but I think that most Intellivision fans would at least score that a (7).

The Have Nots: Colecovision (37)
Yet another major disappointment for CV fans. This game looks and plays like a pretty good River Raid . . . CLONE, not the real McCoy. The Gameplay components are all there (8), but changed. The river is too wide most of the time, and the enemies move much faster than all others versions. Usually, CV carts offers 4 skill levels where you can play a faster/more difficult version if you want. In this case, you are forced to fight these hyperactive enemy forces. The Addictiveness is very good (8), but could be better were it not for the Graphics and Sound. The Graphics are nice and crisp (8), but where is the edge? The actual color barrier is not the edge and sometime you are forced to exceed the edge to stay alive, but yet how far, or how long can you stay over the line? The Sound is even worse, fair (5). Nothing sounds right at all, and each and every explosion is the most annoying sound Iíve ever heard on the CV. The Controls are very good (8), but could have been better if the speeding up/slowing down of your jet were not so delayed. This delay "feature" also occurs on other CV carts as well. Finally, one must use the Atari style sticks or lose another point in Controls.

The Have Nots: Commodore 64 (38)
Now I know why I never played this game much - it is not as good as the original. The Graphics, are fine (7), but too many colors blend (Blue on Blue) - just use 2600 color scheme. The Sound is also good (7), but also the biggest disappointment to me. Yet another port where everything sounds off-key. The Gameplay is nice (8) - but contains a minor glitch where shots miss the fuel after re-fueling. The Addictiveness is very good (8), and the Controls are superb (9). I have not played the cart version.

Bronze Medal: Atari 2600 (41)
Being the first version made is a disadvantage, but not enough to keep it from earning a medal, nearly a silver. The Gameplay is essentially perfect when compared to itself, but good (7) compared to the revised games. It lacks the new enemies, start options, pause, and "extra life" chime. The Addictiveness is nice (8) and you'll definitely play this again and again. The Graphics, although simple, are still the best (9) and never leave any doubt. The Sound is very nice (8) and the Controls are excellent (9) but I like the 8-bit even more.

Silver Medal: Atari 5200 (42)
Despite the joysticks, this game still shines. The Gameplay is Great (9). The Addictiveness is very nice (8), suffering only from the Controls. The Graphics are very good (8) and the Sound is outstanding (9). The Controls get mixed reviews. Given some time, the Wico controls will produce nice results (8). If not, you'll really struggle with the 5200 sticks acceptable (6). A medal regardless, but if you do not have the Wico or better, then only a Bronze.

Gold Medal: Atari 8-bit (45)
This game rocks! You've not played River Raid until you try this version. There are an incredible number of enemy ships, helicopters and planes moving and firing at the same time. Multiple sound channels pipe in great accord with all those obstacles, such as the rapid-firing of the helicopter gunner, the tank's exploding mortar, and the fuel gauge warning and refilling. My wife, usually unimpressed, watched me play and said "Wow, is this a newer version of River Raid"? This game receives the top score in all categories but Graphics. The Gameplay and Addictiveness are both outstanding (9). The Graphics are nice (8), but probably could have been better. Having 20+ targets and missiles displayed at once is awesome, but then there is that certain jaggedness of the 8-bit Graphics which detracts. The Sound is superb (9), and the Controls were perfect (10). I can steer better on this version than any other. Especially those hard-over-to-one-side-and-then-stop-precisely-at-the-edge-of-the-river maneuvers. I highly recommend this game if you can find it on cart or disk. I have not played the cart version.

Sequels: A hard to find sequel, River Raid II cart was made, but only for the Atari 2600. It is a fun game but not the same as the original. Programmed by David R. Lubar for Activision in 1988. Come back next month when I plan to review Mouse Trap for the Atari 2600, Colecovision, and Intellivision.

(Alan Hewston is still meeting new people to trade with due to these messages here. So, here's another shameless plug to invite you to contact him at if you want to trade games, especially if you are looking to expand your Commodore 64 disk collection.)

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