First off, by looking at the side art on the oversized, strangely-shaped cabinet (another thing different about the game was it's big cabinet), there's supposed to be monsters in the game. Well, everything to me looks like ships of some kind, there's no monsters that I can see in the game itself. (There weren't exactly a lot of vector games that were ever made that even *had* monsters anyway.) Trying to describe the theme doesn't really make any sense either, as the old video game magazine JoyStik said that they thought the theme had to do with electricity and that you were either a live wire or an "astral tightrope walker" (heh!). And I read in a newspaper column that the game supposedly had something to do with a part in Fantasia which involved Mickey Mouse (? I wish I could remember the so-called "explanation" of it, it doesn't make sense to me now with that little tidbit as it is...oh well, you could probably just chalk it up to "another rumor/mistake of the media", they usually get it wrong anyway...)
However, to give you more of an idea as to what Tempest is all about, it's best explained as to the way it was originally conceived: a 3-D version of Space Invaders, as a game designer had a recurring nightmare about creatures coming out of holes and he had to kill them before they reached the top. (Ahhhh, good ol' nightmares, they played a part in the Atari game Missile Command and the Phantasm movies too!)
Without further ado, though, let's get to the elements of the game:
Your Blaster -- whatever it's supposed to be, you can move and shoot it, which is what is needed to survive in this game.
Flippers -- I'd like to flip them off (in more ways than one). They're not too dangerous initially as they travel down the lanes (or "tubes") toward you (I'll get to that later), but once they reach the end, they'll flip and flop their way after you, and can result in landing on top of you and costing you a reserve (or your last) Blaster. You can dash underneath them (risky) or wait until they're in the middle of a flip and let loose some firepower (also risky) and hope you don't die in the process. Well, what ELSE can you expect from an enemy that's red (i. e. think red as in Satan)?
Flipper Tankers -- two Flippers are released (obviously) when these are either destroyed or they reach the end of a tube. The best way to deal with these is to shoot them from a distance and then quickly move your Blaster left and right while shooting even more, which should take care of one, if not both Flippers when they emerge. Eat (vector) lead, Flippers!
Spikers -- suck. They travel from the innermost to nearly the outermost part of a tube, laying down a Spike as they go. These can become a real problem as you warp from one completed level to the next one (more on clearing levels later).
Fuseballs -- I don't know what the heck these are, but they go up and down tubes and like to get up close and personal -- no, I do NOT want to buy any damn cookies...oh, not *that* kind of "personal" -- just like Flippers, if you leave them in a level for too long.
Pulsars -- the worst of the bunch, probably: they travel up and down a tube, and when they pulsate, the end of the tube that they're currently in will disappear...and you WITH it, if you're in their lane when they perform this nifty little magical disappearing act. Yikes!
The game begins with a level select screen (an Atari trademark with several of their games), which you can begin at level one for zero bonus or up to level nine with a bonus in the tens of thousands (and if you get higher than that when your game ends, when you continue a game, you get to pick from more and more levels, higher than level 9). Once you choose a level, enemies start from the
bottom (or middle, depending on what the current level is shaped like) of the screen and work their way up; you're at the very end of a tube, and you will always shoot towards the middle. The levels are geometrically-shaped, taking on shapes of simple circles and squares to including the infinity sign (the number eight sideways), and one level even looks like a bra (which I'm not going to touch that with any kind of joke here...oops, already did ).
Once a level is cleared, you are warped to the next level, and after 17 levels, they repeat, but the colors change, indicating the difficulty has increased: after the first batch of levels, all of the enemies have been introduced, except for the dreaded Pulsars, which they appear with the first level of the next batch. Other levels are invisible (whoa!), and so forth.
When you get overwhelmed, you also have what's called a Superzapper at your disposal, which will destroy everything on the screen, and if you've still got problems before you exit a level (uh, I mean in regards to the ships [or whatever] that are attacking you, NOT *personal* problems [keep those to yourself!]), well, you've got one more zap you can use, but it only knocks out one enemy at random, and then you're outta luck...unless you make it to the next level (or you die), which the 'zapper will be recharged then.
Unfortunately, if Spikers were present in a level and laid down long spikes, if you're stuck in a lane when the warp starts, you're going to be impaled by a spike and die, so make sure you're either in a Spike-free zone or you'd better hold down that fire button (thank God for rapid fire!) and pray.
Even with it's bizarre setup and humble beginnings, this was a great game -- one of my all-time arcade favorites -- it was lightning-paced, had a decent difficulty increase (no real steep learning curve here), great control (you could spin the knob and fly all over the playfields, just as long as there's no spikes), sounds, EVERYTHING, pretty much. Heck, there's even a lot of little touches here and there that are cool, like having the lane that you occupy turn yellow (the same color as your Blaster), the fireworks display when you make a high score, the way the levels warp in, without pretty much any slowdown whatsoever, no matter how many blasted enemies there are onscreen, etc.
However, after the arcade Tempest pretty much had no life at all, and wasn't heard from again for a long time...and not that that wasn't tried or anything, since a port was supposed to be released for the Atari 2600...that's right, I'm not kidding, just check out www.atariprotos.com, which would seem like a joke, but Atari was probably just thinking of making mega bucks with it, no matter how bad it might've turned out (good thing the project was killed off early). A much more completed 5200 version was also done, and actually was able to duplicate the vector look pretty decently, but it was probably cancelled due to the Jack Tramiel takeover and/or the video game crash of 1982 - 1983.
Ironically, it wasn't Atari that made a game very similar to Tempest, it was GCE, with their vector graphics console of the Vectrex, with Bedlam, a very similar game, although described as a "reverse" or "inside out" version of Tempest, since you're in the middle and the ships come towards you. This game is a bit of fun for a while, but can get monotonous (hence the usual rule of "go play the original instead", once a knock-off is released, but Bedlam was still a good game though), since there's less than half a dozen screens per level before they begin to repeat, and the bad glitch of enemies remaining after you press "Zap" doesn't help, but levels started rotating around the further you got into the game, which almost made me ill with motion sickness the first few times I played it. (You can see my review of it here at www.classicgaming.com/rotw/bedlam/.) So, it wasn't until the version for the Atari Jaguar that it actually made it to a home console, over a decade after it's original arcade release.
Killer game. I remember once seeing two guys playing it in a nearby arcade, which they had the ENTIRE ROW at the top of the cabinet full of tokens...which, with that ultra-wide cabinet of Tempest, probably meant that there were literally 20 tokens up there, at least.
I think that about says it all right there, not to mention my severely high marks on all of the game info.