Atomic Runner a.k.a Chelnov (1992)
By: Data East Genre: Run ‘n’ Gun Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis First Day Score: ???,???
Also Available For: Arcade, X68000
Download For: Wii Virtual Console
Having recently looked at an ‘on foot’ vertical scrolling shmup in Elemental Master, this seems like a good opportunity to look at a horizontally scrolling game of the same type, and it’s a game that got off to a some- what dubious start. Originally released as an arcade game titled Chelnov in 1988, it seemed to take its inspiration from the Chernobyl nuclear incident! After surviving a catastrophic explosion at a nuclear power plant, Chelnov, a coal-miner, finds himself highly irradiated and the recipient of some new abilities. Seeking to harness his new abilities for their own questionable ends, an evil organisation attempts to capture him. In order to evade their clutches, Chelnov must fight, using his abilities to defeat the organisation. Needless to say, this story didn’t really go down too well, particularly in light of the game featuring Soviet iconography too!
After the furore of its Japanese arcade release, the game saw quite a few changes upon its MegaDrive release four years later. Now known by its original subtitle of Atomic Runner, the story was changed to a more formulaic alien invasion-type scenario which saw Earth’s major cities attacked and their residents mercilessly slaughter- ed. Hiding in an underground laboratory, Chelnov’s dying father explains that the aliens have been on Earth before and designed an ‘Atomic Suit’ for the Pharaoh’s. Using the design-schematics found in an ancient pyramid, he was able to build a suit which provides Chelnov with super- human strength, agility, and apparently the ability to throw various weapons out of his hands! Using these handy features he must do his best to rid the world of alien scum!
Anyway, now that all that multi- story shenanigans is out of the way, onto the game! Whilst more of a run ‘n’ gunner than an out-and-out shoot ’em up, the focus of Atomic Runner is still very much on shooting, and unlike most run ‘n’ gunners, it uses forced-scrolling more akin to a traditional shmup. However, the seven levels do feature various platforms around which Chelnov can jump, and some parts even feature (admittedly limited) multiple routes. There are twenty different kinds of standard enemies populating the levels, including both mid-level and end-level bosses, and they must all be either avoided or eliminated in one of two ways – either by using Chelnov’s energy weapons or by jumping on their heads, Mario-style, believe it or not!
It is however easier, not to mention far more entertaining, to blast the crap out of them with energy weapons, and there are six kinds: Laser (which you start the game with), Boomerang, Light Ring, Spiked Balls, Morning Star, and Homing Missiles. Each of them has differing rates of fire, range, and power, and you can only have one of them at a time. Each is more suited to certain parts of certain levels but they appear frequently so you can chop and change between then as often as you like. Each weapon can also be powered up, and in three different ways, by collecting ‘UP’ icons. These come in three colours – yellow increases shooting range and bullet speed, red increases bullet size and destructive power, and blue increases bullet count and rapid-fire ability. If you repeatedly die on the same part of a level, a super-power-up appears which increases all three of these attributes fully, in one go. Other power-ups include one which increases Chelnov’s jumping height, and two for bonus points – one for two thousand, and one for five thousand.
These power-ups are usually found being carried by the flying skull/spider things, who drop them when shot, and the scenery features flaming torches which also release them. When Chelnov loses a life he will lose all power-ups collected so far, but luckily they are plentiful so it doesn’t take too long to power back up again, and each level has numerous restart points too. That doesn’t mean that this is an easy game however – given the forced-scrolling nature of the game, Chelnov’s movement around the landscape is a little limited. He can shoot in eight directions as he runs through the levels and you can marginally increase and decrease his speed as he goes by pushing forward or backward on the controller, and he can jump also straight up or forward, but that’s about it.
The levels are set over a diverse range of landscapes and are one of the most appealing aspects of this game. They are titled Atomic Laboratory, Mutant Plant Zone, Mayan Jungle, Egyptian Desert, Treasure Room, Siberian Snowland, and New York, and all look fantastic – this is among the prettiest run ‘n’ gunners I’ve played with regards to the backgrounds and scenery graphics, and the sprites, weapons, etc, aren’t half bad either. The music is pretty decent too, with some tunes being more memorable than others, but it’s all very nice, presentation-wise. It does occasionally seem like the collision detection is a bit off and Chelnov sometimes seem a little sluggish to respond to a command, but there’s no major problems. Having said that, it is possible to get trapped behind an item of scenery and crushed by the scrolling! But that’s the key to this game – practise. Enemies often appear from behind you, so if you stay to the left of the screen you’re likely to die often, but play it enough, get used to controlling Chelnov, and learn the enemy patterns, and it proves to be a challenging and reasonably fair game. There’s not too much else like Atomic Runner around, and for that reason alone it’s interesting, but it’s a very playable, if sometimes frustrating game regardless, and well worth a try.
RKS Score: 7/10