In Tempest 4000, familiarity breeds contentment
The enduring appeal of Jeff Minter’s psychedelic blaster
“He’s just made bloody Tempest again”, his detractors cry as each fresh Jeff Minter title emerges from his swollen carapace. And yes, invariably, it will be either exactly Tempest again or near-as-damnit. Actually, that’s a little unfair; Minter has produced plenty of games that differ in considerably and in fact has a quite eclectic output. Tempest, though, is the one that keeps coming back. There’s a good reason for that. How can I put this professionally? Because it f***king rules.
You categorically cannot f**k with Tempest. I’ll stop doing real swearing now and switch back to British. Bollocking buggeration. Tempest, though. It’s a 1981 coin-op, and not even one of Minter’s. It was designed by a Dave Theurer. I wonder if he knows what he did. It’s a basic, vector-based shooter. You twiddle a knob (stop laughing) to move your little vector ship smoothly back and forth. Abstract shapes travel down a sort of tube towards you, and towards the player. You shoot them, or use your SuperZapper – effectively a smart bomb – if things get too hairy. Things get too hairy a lot in Tempest.
But there’s more to discuss, you know? Tempest 2000 for the lamentable Atari Jaguar was probably the only decent piece of software on the bleedin’ thing; decent does it a disservice, because it’s the template for every subsequent edition of Tempest. Tempest X3. TxK. And now, Tempest 4000, a game that differs from Tempest 2000 in ways that I do not understand.
It seems, fundamentally, like the same game. But that’s okay, because – look, I’ve gone over this. Tempest is brilliant and Tempest 4000 is essentially a port of the Vita masterpiece TxK, so there’s nothing to fault it. The music is incredible, the psychedelic visuals are better than ever (and yes, I must tediously note that the Switch OLED screen “makes them pop”) and the gameplay is perfectly tuned to make you scream ER NO I DODGED THAT ACTUALLY when you know in your heart that you absolutely didn’t.
There’s so much going on that the game can feel like an assault on the senses, and we mean that as literally as we can possibly state it. Any flaws? A couple. The stupid bonus rounds from TxK return in which you simply watch your points drift away as you try to remember the daft controls to fly through the rings. It’s not enough to condemn the game, though, which remains an absolutely pure experience, with arcade-tier difficulty and spectacle. It’s very fair, mind; power-ups litter the battlefields, granting such boons as the ability to jump, letting you deal with creatures that have made their way to the front of the stage. You can also pick up a little drone for more firepower and a series of blaster improvements until you become an unstoppable death machine. Then you get stopped, and go “aw, what” and start over. And this happens forever.
Fact is, I’ve never stopped playing Tempest ever since that first go on Microsoft Arcade. It’s iconic. Tempest 4000 is Tempest, therefore it too is iconic. This is just science, folks.