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Retro video game review: Rampart (NES)

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NES Rampart video game

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In 1992, Jaleco published Rampart on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console. Prior, the video game had been in arcades and on several other systems, including home computers and portable machines alike. How well would the strategy title transition to work on a direction pad?

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Gameplay

Rampart, in a sense that would be consider loose in contemporary context, is a real-time strategy game. The object is simply to survive. The player(s) must defend his or her fort or fortresses against a certain number of turns in which an opposing team's onslaught of cannonballs threaten to destroy the walled rampart structures. The player is also armed with cannons; however, while the opposition gets to fire from the mobile platforms of seabound ships, the player must make do with stationary guns from within the fortifications.

Thus, play follows in a phase-based rhythm: Place cannons. Exchange fire. Rebuild walls. Lather, rinse, repeat until victory or annihilation. The result is a product without many direct peers, sure to tickle the fancy of some while confounding the sensibilities of others.

But the true beauty of Rampart is the elegant interchange between each of the phases. Placing cannons within the castle walls may seem like a simple exercise (and can be, when you have limited your own placement choices), but close observers will note that the gun positions will actually affect the timing of later firing. In other words, cannons closer to the shoreline will be able to more quickly fire upon attacking vessels, while those placed farther away will lob longer shots.

The focal point of Rampart is probably the real-time exchange of arms fire. Sinking ships is addictive, as is the fulfillment of a great shot. Difficulty in this task is determined by amount of enemy ships, their varying speed that increases in later stages, and their types. The double-masted will drop off land marauders that can disrupt repair placements, while special "golden"-yellow ships fire flaming volleys that wreak a special sort of havoc on the ramparts.

The player controls the targeting by moving crosshairs with the D-Pad, while firing with the A button. Placement of cannons and reparations are done very similarly, and all phases take place within a time limit. While this is a fairly smooth operation overall, one cannot be blamed for lusting after a mouse or even a trackball.

Although, for some, perhaps the richest reward is to be found in the placement of walls. See, Rampart provides the player with a limited time, but unlimited pieces, presuming the player can place them efficiently. As they are generated randomly, they come in several shapes and sizes; from a single square block, to a U-shaped piece, to the classic L shape and other forms recognizable from Tetris. In other words: Puzzle-game fans will find a quiet sort of contentment in maximizing their square mileage, in order to give themselves more room for cannons.

Those who are poor at this particular skill should beware, then: The game ends if the player cannot form a completely blocked-in formation around his or her castle(s). Game Over, medieval castellian bro. But with success comes advancing points, further territories, additional missions, and tougher assignments with added ships, marauders, etc. All in a day's work for the keepers of castles.

Graphics

Rampart straddles a fun little line between having visuals that are too plain to be considered exceptional, yet executing them with an admirable sort of mathematical precision. Really, given the restrictions of the NES in resolution, color palette, and moving sprites limit, what takes place on the television screen throughout Rampart is actually a sort of impressive. What this game may fail in terms of awesomeness, it achieves in clarity, and that should be enough.

Sound

Ominous drumbeats and celebratory horn salutes can be heard, along with requisite ditties denoting the passage of time, the ill of defeat, and quick notes of light triumph. At times, the 8-bit strain comes with a bit of static, and none of the compositions operate with much in the way of flair. There are no jaw-dropping anthems here, no trendy chiptune beats and synth work to drool over decades later. Nay, listeners, just a competent rendering of the expected themes, as cool as those drums can be.

Originality

Honestly, Rampart plays like something that could have been successful on the Atari 2600, what with its free joystick and single button. And, surely, there have been games somewhat like this before, even if not exactly. As far as the NES library is concerned, though, there is not much like it. It has that "quirk charm" to it, in that some payers will not realize they have been craving this particular experience until they try it for themselves, whereas others will pass it up.

Overall, Rampart is a neat, clean concept, with a cool medieval theme, done to the best of its ability given the hardware at hand, and good for some replay value through the fun strategy of gradual conquerment. "Conquerment" is not even a word. Two players can even play at this game, by the way, and the total result is good enough for three stars out of five.

Overall rating: 3/5 Stars.

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