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Best Games - River Raid

The first thing you notice about River Raid is how beautiful it looks. Symmetric fields of solid color in perfectly balanced palettes. Everything on screen is clear and crisp. The second thing you notice is how smooth everything moves. The Atari 2600 is well known for its low resolution and chunky movement, but River Raid feels fluidly analog at all times. Next you notice the sound. In a world of digital farts and squawks somehow only the most harmonious tones were selected from the white noise generator built into the Atari 2600. River Raid sounds intense, but never jarring. When you start to play the game, the ramp from simple shooting gallery to incredibly demanding is so smooth you won’t notice that the game is getting harder until you crash 3 times in span of a few seconds. Instantly you restart and try again, becoming incrementally better at the game with each attempt.
There is no end to River Raid. No point where the game informs you of your mastery. It grows more difficult until it over taxes either your skills or your stamina. You can’t beat it, you can only improve.
It would be easy to suggest that this purity of design and presentation sprung from the limitations of the Atari 2600. Somehow I doubt that. Carol Shaw surpassed most of the perceived limitations of that simple computer in River Raid. She created a smooth, vibrant, aesthetically pleasing game on a system not really known for that sort of thing. The game explains itself while you play with no need for instructions or tutorials. It is abstract while being easily readable. River Raid could only exist as an interactive computer program. The engineering and the art only work when meshed together as one. It is a self contained wonderful thing polished to a high shine. River Raid isn’t a product of limitations. River Raid is proof that we never really saw what the Atari 2600 was capable of, or more to the point, what a brilliant creator could accomplish with those simple tools.

River Raid by Carol Shaw is one of the Best Games

This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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