Rampage Series Retrospective

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By Josh Nichols on May 20th, 2021

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Midway Games has such a long and rich history, littered with highs, lows, and everything in-between before capitalism delivered the final fatality and finished them with their bankruptcy and Warner’s subsequent buyout.

The company started as an amusement game manufacturer in 1958 before transforming into an extremely successful and lucrative company that went on to do some really big things in the industry, especially considering where they came from. Even though they don’t really exist as a company anymore, the moves they made while alive echo in time and are a huge part of video game history. Several of their franchises live on and still see releases to this day, and the older games still survive off the energy and love of retro communities.

In 1978 Midway oversaw the U.S. distribution for Space Invaders which helped launch an arcade revolution in America. I can’t draw a line directly from Space Invaders to a successful arcade market in America but it’s hard to imagine Pac-Man making over a billion dollars in quarters in a single year without Midway’s 1978 space invasion. It showed there was a massive market interest for popping quarters into exciting adventures and epic battles with your friends. Midway also gave us Mortal Kombat, Cruis’n USA, NFL Blitz, and Rampage.

Image via Internet Archive / German arcade release

Midway fizzled out in 2009 and was officially no more by 2011. The aughts were rough as the arcade market died down before disappearing almost entirely in America. Midway was soaked in debt and, weirdly enough, their situation didn’t improve after they acquired several smaller, independent developers. Lots of people lost their jobs not too long after Midway acquired the studios. The company’s plan was to bolster their current studios with additional talent but it was just too late. They were bleeding money and nothing was going to save them at this point. They went where most companies go after facing dire financial issues, under the parent company umbrella of AT&T, which is where the majority of their assets and intellectual properties are today, including the still-kicking Mortal Kombat franchise and the Rampage series, which is all but dead at this point.

It’s so strange Rampage isn’t a series receiving new games every year or two. It was born in arcades in the ’80s so they could either have an ongoing retro-influenced title with updates featuring new themes and cosmetics, which would bring in consistent revenue for AT&T’s gaming divisions, or they could just do a new game every year or two influenced by the original game. Either one of these options would be cheap to produce and would no doubt pull in millions of dollars. People that grew up with Rampage throughout its long history would totally throw money at that, and that audience includes Millennials and Gen-Xers so there’s a huge group of customers to tap into. I’m actually shocked we haven’t seen a Tetris 99 style Rampage multiplayer game. Destroying buildings to slow your opponents while eating people to power up and smash buildings faster.

AT&T’s Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment could also dabble in modern sequels in the series that experiment with mechanics and visuals from the early arcade days all the way to the PlayStation and N64 titles. The ideas are endless and the potential player base is equally big, and yet the last home release was in 2006 for the Nintendo Wii. Rampage Total Destruction wasn’t super great and had a lot of issues but it was worth purchasing alone for its inclusion of the original Rampage and Rampage World Tour, which were absolutely fantastic.

Rampage (1986)

Image via Bally Midway

The first Rampage is the arcade game that started it all. Lead designers Jeff Nauman and Brian Colin weren’t fans of the arcade games out at the time and wanted a game that was fun to play without too many rules or objectives. Colin conceived Rampage as the kind of game where there just wasn’t a wrong way to play. Destroy stuff, eat people, get points, and stay alive, which was totally possible as long as you paid attention since you were one of three giant monsters attacking a city.

Technical limitations created a small but fun playground for the designers to create the game’s world within; Ralph and George are the same character models with different heads and fur colors, the cities look really similar, and the dust surrounding collapsing buildings helped hide rough animation but it all worked! Everything worked together to serve the single purpose of a fun game you could play with two friends while eating people and destroying everything in your path. And it was super fun to play alone and with friends.

The game has been ported to over twenty platforms in a variety of ways over the years; straight ports, modified versions, and even being included in arcade compilations. Rampage has been inescapable, just like the actual monsters chasing and eating people in the games.

It was received incredibly well at the time when it was released in arcades and most of the ports have been pretty good as well. The original game hasn’t officially been available on its own in almost twenty years, which is a shame considering how well it’s held up. It was part of Arcade1Up’s arcade re-release line but is out of stock at the time of writing. If you can find a copy then you’ll have a good time though, which shouldn’t be too difficult since it’s been ported to so many systems. It just isn’t available digitally so you’ll need to hit up a re-seller, like eBay.

Rampage World Tour (1997)

Image via Internet Archive / GamePro magazine

Rampage World Tour is where a lot of my nostalgia comes in and this is probably true for other Millennials as well. This entry hit arcades but was also released on Nintendo 64, PC, PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and Game Boy. Outside of that last port this meant the gameplay from the arcade version was largely translated well and available to enjoy at home. This made it easier to play for so many people. Not only could you buy it and take it home forever but you could also rent it, which is how I played it. My Dad let me rent a game from Blockbuster every week for five days, which is how I experienced Rampage World Tour.

Image via Midway Games

This game’s biggest flaw is it contains more of a story. This was still a time where games HAD to have a story. Publishers hadn’t yet figured out that sometimes it was okay to just cut to the chase and have things like gameplay and style shine. I love a good story but am grateful id Software made it very clear with Doom (2016) that gamers are more than okay with less story when appropriate. The story in Rampage World Tour has George, Lizzie, and Ralph released from the facility they’re at due to massive explosions taking place there and at other Scumlabs facilities all over the world. Employees are killed and it’s chaos. It also means the monsters three are free to feed on people and destroy everything in sight, which is bad news for the digital inhabitants but great news for anyone playing.

The story is throwaway and doesn’t matter but the gameplay is arguably as fun as the original release but with updated graphics and multiplayer at home. The PlayStation and Sega Saturn versions only supported two-player multiplayer so it’s best to grab it on Nintendo 64 if you’re going to play with friends. The N64 version has full three-player multiplayer support so you can enjoy the carnage and destruction with two friends on a couch. You can take all those quarters you’re saving and apply them to pizza for an authentic ’90s gaming experience.

The home ports were received fairly well by critics with many agreeing they were almost arcade-perfect. Some critics felt the game couldn’t decide if it wanted to be new or old, which hurt its vision but Jeff Gerstmann enjoyed it and said the larger levels and new gameplay feel were great. His only criticism was the three-player support being removed from some versions, which is totally fair. Rampage can be enjoyed with just one person but it’s always better with a full monster party. This game is great and has held up really well overall. Grab an N64 copy, two friends, and get ready for a weekend of wreckage.

Rampage 2: Universal Tour (1999)

Image via Internet Archive / GamePro magazine

Rampage 2: Universal Tour is a lot but not better than its predecessors. This is when the series started to shift and grow while losing its spark and identity. This game features three new monsters; Curtis the mouse monster, Ruby the lobster monster, and Boris the rhinoceros monster. There are stages all over the world and George, Lizzie, and Ralph all need to be rescued. There’s also an alien invasion that takes place, which has all of the monsters having to fight back to stop the invading forces.

It’s definitely not a bad game but it’s more content without refinement or much of a purpose. We’ve seen this with other franchises as technology has progressed too. Change isn’t always necessary and sometimes less is more.

Reception wasn’t very good for the game with many agreeing it’d be better to just keep playing Rampage World Tour, which was bad news for the series and Midway as a whole. This is when the company was beginning to struggle more financially with the waning arcade market in the U.S. and so things weren’t looking good for the future of Midway or their rampaging monsters.

Rampage Through Time (2000)

Image via Midway Games

I was nine years old when Rampage Through Time released and it was also when I decided I was done with the series. I still liked World Tour but I didn’t own it and it wasn’t available at Blockbuster anymore. This was the only game from the series they had and it wasn’t fun. Critics agreed with me and felt like the time-travel mechanics were unnecessary and didn’t fix the series problems.

Rampage Through Time featured a new monster on top of the seven from previous games and they all use a time machine to rampage in the past, present, and future. The original plan for the time machine was for Scumlabs to send employees back in time to clean up, prevent, and stop all of the problems affecting the company. It feels a little on the nose and I can’t help but wonder if this was directed at Midway Games or just at the franchise as a whole. Regardless, the monsters use the time machine and just destroy everything and everywhere throughout time. It’s neat going to different areas but the gameplay just feels repetitive and lacks the special spark that made previous entries fun. I don’t think it’s because the franchise was just getting old either because I still have fun when I play the original or World Tour. The game is fun enough but there’s no reason to waste time or money on it when better versions of the Rampage experience are available. I think Midway Games was just going through financial problems and there wasn’t time to reinvent or refine anything. Games had to get made, shipped, and sold. It didn’t work but that didn’t stop them from continuing to try anyway.

Rampage Puzzle Attack (2001)

Image via Midway Games

Rampage Puzzle Attack is interesting and actually a pretty good game but it’s only really a Rampage title in name. It’s essentially a Drop Mania clone but with a Rampage aesthetic thrown on top. Drop Mania was a puzzle game released for Windows in 1999 and so it is neat the game was basically ported to the Game Boy Advance. Fans of Drop Mania and other similar puzzle games may not have known though since it’s got Rampage plastered across the top of the box so I can’t imagine it sold super well. It received average reviews but it is worth playing if you come across it.

In the game, you match colored blocks to wipe the screen and complete levels. There are a few different modes to throw in some variety, including Rescue Mode, which features a monster in a cage that needs to be saved before the timer hits zero. It’s fine for what it is but it’s mostly just an inferior version of Drop Mania and Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo and so it’s probably better to just play those games instead. I wasn’t able to find as much information on this title in my research but my assumption is that Midway Games was hoping to make some easy money off of the Rampage name and the Game Boy Advance’s massive market share.

Rampage: Total Destruction (2006)

Image via Midway Games

Rampage: Total Destruction felt like one final attempt at saving the franchise and Midway Games as a whole, and it’s actually not a bad game. It was developed by Pipeworks Software, which was the same developer that gave us Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee for Xbox, PlayStation 2, and GameCube in 2002. Rampage: Total Destruction isn’t nearly as good, despite coming out four years after Destroy All Monsters Melee, which makes me wonder if it was just from a short development time or interference from Midway Games, which was bleeding money and spiraling at this time.

This released three years before Midway Games started moving toward bankruptcy and selling off their assets so maybe that’s why the game isn’t better. It feels like Pipeworks Software had a good understanding of what Rampage was as a series but just didn’t get the time to innovate and refine Rampage as a game in 2006. It feels trapped between the past and present even more than previous entries that came after the original arcade classic but it’s still pretty fun. I just can’t recommend it over the original game or World Tour, but this game does include those two classic titles right from the start of the game. This means you can play the two best Rampage titles on Gamecube, PlayStation 2, and Wii if you can find a copy of this, which shouldn’t be too difficult since it reviewed poorly. Most of the complaints stem from it just being repetitive and a slog to get through. It looks good though and is fun for what it is but seriously, if you get a copy of this then you’re better of just playing the original classic Rampage and its first sequel. It’s wild that we haven’t seen any home console releases since this game though. The series has recognizable characters, a pretty big fanbase across multiple generations, and a history baked into the beginning and end of arcades in America.

Between Rocks And Hard Places

We haven’t seen anything from Rampage since Total Destruction outside of the 2018 live-action film adaptation and the tie-in game released exclusively for Dave & Buster’s, which were both fine for what they were but I was really hoping the film’s success would have created a revival for the series. At the very least, I wish they would have just ported all the old games to modern hardware. Fans would have eagerly purchased them and some people would have curiously tried them for the first time if the price was right. I also would have been happy with a game featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson alongside George, Ralph, and Lizzie if it meant I got to smash buildings and eat people again. Hopefully, we haven’t seen the end of the series but at least a few of the old games still play great while we wait.

Josh really likes video games. Horror is their favorite but they also like other stuff.

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