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Arcades have been “dead” for years now, left to dust in old pizza parlors and beach town boardwalks. But in a generation that has revived vinyl records, it’s no surprise to see arcades coming back in style. In fact, lately I’ve been frequenting this little vintage arcade/bar in downtown Portland quite a bit. It’s beyond nostalgia — it’s the kind of place where childhood memories literally come alive again before your eyes and fingers. Along with these visits to the barcade, playing the euphoric iOS remake of the classic shooter Gridrunner has further solidified my suspicions that the so-called “evolution” of gaming is a complete farce.
The Gridrunner series has a long history. Industry legend Jeff Minter first made the game back in 1982 for the Commodore VIC-20 and Commodore 64, both of which came out well before I was born. Numerous iterations and updates have come out since, including Gridrunner++ (PC, OSX) and Gridrunner Revolution (XBLA), with every version expanding on ideas and overhauling both how the game looks and how it plays.
But the iOS remake that we have now is, quite simply, the best iteration of the game to be released since the original. Gridrunner explodes with color, chaotic visual effects, and an array of 8-bit sound effects that are more beautiful than any chip-tune soundtrack I’ve ever heard. It’s amazing how much a few well-placed musical cues and bubbly sound effects can shape the experience of a game. Other additions include some clever power-ups and an OpenFeint-powered Casual Mode that offers some much needed assistance to those of us who are used to having games save for us “in the background.”
The truly miraculous thing about Gridrunner, though, is how it controls. Firing is accomplished automatically, while movement is handled through effortless swipes of the finger. Although the controls take a couple tries to get used to, Gridrunner is one of the first retro iOS remakes that hasn’t made me wish I had a joystick and some buttons at my disposal. The intuitive touch controls make navigating through the grid an absolute joy.
Considering that the original is older than I am, I have found it strange that this iOS remake has captured my attention as much as it has. While bottom-up shooters are as familiar to me as side-scrolling platformers, I still have to account for the fact that Gridrunner has gotten me all nostalgic for a time period that I didn’t even live in. The second I found out that I could flip my device sideways and be transported back to 1982, I was hooked though. Gridrunner feels like a celebration of all the things that make videogames special to our culture and faithfully introduces the game to a new generation of players. If you’re anything like me, you’ll rather enjoy this history lesson.