Konami’s groundbreaking Scramble was one of the first ever forced-scrolling shooters, and along with SNK’s Vanguard, it established the genre we affectionately call shoot’em-ups or shmups.
You control a little rocket ship, and you have the ability to fire regular shots, or drop bombs on ground targets. It’s a little like a side-scrolling version of Xevious, which came out a couple of years later in 1983. But unlike that game, which scrolls endlessly, Scramble actually has set stages and level progression. Each of the six stages contains different terrain and obstacles to overcome, and at the end you have to bomb a specific target to actually finish the level. And then the game starts over, but with a higher difficulty.
You also have a fuel gauge to worry about, but you can refill it by destroying the fuel tanks that occasionally appear on the ground. So, this game could also be seen as an influence on 1982’s River Raid.
Scramble is relatively simple compared to more modern shooters, but that’s part of why it’s still fun and easy to pick up and play today. One loop of the game only takes a few minutes to complete, but it’s challenging, and learning the best strategies to get through each stage may take at least a dozen play-throughs.
Most people probably remember Scramble as a precursor to the more well-known Gradius series. In fact, early in development, Gradius was actually known as Scramble 2. Looking back, it’s easy to see the similarities between the two games.
The game was originally released in American arcades by Stern, but I don’t recall seeing it more than once or twice. I do remember coming across it at a restaurant once, and I was intrigued by the simple question laid out in the game’s attract mode: “How far can you invade our scramble system?” No need for a convoluted storyline here. It just throws down the challenge and says, “Here’s our game. We dare you to beat it!” You have to admire its brevity and honesty.
Scramble is currently available on Xbox Live Arcade and on Microsoft’s Game Room service. It’s also included in numerous compilations, such as Konami Arcade Classics for the PlayStation, Konami Collector’s Series: Arcade Advanced for the Game Boy Advance, and Konami Classic Series: Arcade Hits for the Nintendo DS.
More than 30 years later, it’s still fun to see how far you can invade Konami’s Scramble system.