Retro Review: Was Radar Scope really bad enough to almost kill Nintendo?0 Comments
Reviewed on: Arcade
Also available on: n/a
Deep in the Nintendo vault, there is a game they don't re-release. In fact, they hardly mention it, because it once nearly killed them. As much as E.T. the Extra Terrestrial falsely gets the blame for the downfall of Atari, this title nearly killed Nintendo of America.
The game is called Radar Scope, and for a short time it looked like it might be Nintendo's big break in North America. This slide and shoot space game was second only to Pac-Man in popularity on the Japanese earnings charts. 3,000 units were shipped to the United States, but the game failed to find an audience, sending Nintendo's American operation into bankruptcy. If not for Donkey Kong, created to run on Radar Scope hardware, the history of our industry would be very, very different. Mario and his giant gorilla pal saved Nintendo of America, while Radar Scope was seemingly swept under the rug forever.
So was it really that bad? There were a lot of poor quality video games in 1980, but few can lay claim to nearly wiping out an iconic company before it got off the ground. It is an issue worth exploring.
In the wake of Space Invaders came a ton of clones. Modern-day gamers who claim that the video game industry didn't use to have a ton of clones has clearly never looked back in time very far. One of the best and most popular clones was Namco's Galaxian, which added vibrant color and divebombing alien attacks to the Space Invaders concept. Radar Scope clearly took the Galaxian concept, adding a somewhat 3D effect to the playfield, and very little else.
To give credit to Radar Scope, this was a quantum leap in special effects for the time. This was way before video game hardware was able to scale on-screen objects, meaning each increase in size had to be coded in the hard way, but it does nothing to add to the gameplay. You move back and forth, shooting the alien ships as you go and trying to avoid being hit. As the game progresses, the alien movements become faster and more creative, space mines come down from time to time and every so often a ship will take damage rather than explode right away. Those ships must be blasted again or avoided as they somehow catch fire fall toward you in space.
The sound effects are nothing to write home about, either. When you start the game, you are practically attacked by an annoying alarm sound that goes off throughout a very slow introductory screen. While it is understood that alarms meant to alert people of alien attacks aren't made to sound soothing, the player shouldn't feel as if they are being punished for putting a quarter into an arcade machine. The sound effects after that aren't all that fun, either, especially during the alien ship divebomb attacks, but to be fair they aren't as annoying as Galaxian's. The pace of the background "music" speeds up throughout the level, though there is rarely a clear reason as to why.
The controls on the original arcade version are clunky, which likely didn't help the game at all. Slide and shoot hits such as Galaxian and Phoenix had comfortable joysticks and leaf switch fire buttons, meaning there was little required effort to move and shoot. Radar Scope used a clunky metal microswitch joystick and an even clunkier microswitch fire button, likely frustrating players used to a more comfortable control experience. Of course, Nintendo continued to use controls of this type in their later hits such as Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior and Popeye, despite the fact they continued to feel clunky when compared to the controls in other hit games. Since those titles were at least original concepts, rather than Galaxian clones, gamers didn't notice as much.
There were no home versions of Radar Scope, which is really saying something. Even Nintendo's Sky Skipper saw a home console port in the early 1980s, not to mention that Nintendo began producing their own home consoles just a few years after this game's release. If you want to play it, you will need to find one of the few surviving arcade versions or use an emulator. You can also try Konami's 1983 title Juno First, which managed to take the Radar Scope concept and improve it into a game that is much more fun to play.
Bottom line, Radar Scope is okay to play as a curiosity, preferably with the volume turned down, but it is clearly one of Nintendo's worst efforts ever. How ironic is it that a company known for innovative gameplay concepts today once made a weak Galaxian clone with a few changed special effects? Thankfully, they learned their lesson and lived to play another day.
They do get better