Lacking an encyclopedic brain for video game titles of yesteryear, I didn't have any idea what Scramble could have been about. If I did, I wouldn't have pictured a space shooter, which is strange considering that every other title of the time seems to be just that.
In Scramble, you pilot a ship not only capable of shooting airborne targets, just like every other spacecraft of gaming, but one that can drop bombs on targets too.
Drifting over the multi-coloured landscapes below, your aim is to prog-
Nope, I've just crashed into the very first obstacle.
Anyway the aim is to reach a base, destroy that too, return to the start and do it all over again at a higher difficulty.
The pace of this game is glacial. Glacial might be too much of an exaggeration. Perhaps methodical, or maybe just a bit slow. It's slow enough to throw me off at the very first sign of trouble at least. My timing is way off to deal with the first ship to launch into my airspace and the only solution I find (after a full three lives lost Game Over, no less) is to speed ahead, flying towards the middle of the screen before pulling back to start my bombing run.
Said bombing run is a simple enough affair. Even though you don't have an ammunition counter, you can still only let loose two bombs at any given moment. You can either spam the fire button and hope you land a hit, or you can try and time it, releasing bombs with a bit of skill, following their arcs as they descend to the ground, hopefully onto your target.
It's satisfying to drop a bomb slap bang in the middle of what you wanted to hit, especially if it's a fuel tank. Scramble makes use of a fuel gauge which, when gone (assuming you're still flying), puts you on a flight path straight back down to earth, and rather quickly. Via video game logic, blowing up a fuel tank will replenish your fuel reserves, though only by a small amount.
That image there shows you what happens when you stumble into the second stage and forget that you do indeed have a weapon that fires forwards. Stage one was fairly short, so I don't know why I had trouble at the start of my gaming session.
Stage two mixes it up a little. Fewer targets on the ground but they are all important fuel tanks, and trying to time a bomb to hit them while dodging around or firing through your foes is tricky to say the least.
I had to look up what stages three through to the base consisted of - I'm just not that skilled yet.
To give Scramble some credit, it feels faster by this point. Is it getting faster? Am I just more in tune with the game by now? I couldn't tell you.
Once you get into a new stage, you're checkpointed into that stage, but with three lives for your entire run you're still fighting the game for progress. It's an arcade game, it's designed to test your skill and see how far you can make your money go, but it can be a little relentless, almost, in trying to grab your lives from you.
It's quick to chuck you back into the action, which is a plus (respawning is one of the quickest things I've seen in this game), but you've got to be prepared for it in order to make it count.
The more I was playing Scramble, the more I got into it, but I didn't get into it enough to try and push through it more and more. I kept going back to the game through writing this to make sure I wasn't being too harsh on it, and while each try felt better, it still didn't quite sit right with me. And I still kept failing at that first ship. I keep forgetting.
Having said that, I like Scramble. I suck at it, and it isn't much to look at, but I like what it does. It's the age old story of improving something here and there and seeing where it takes you, drawn on the most brightly coloured screen I can remember in a while.
I don't know if I'll push through my problems and get good, but at least I'm not completely put off from ever trying to do so.
Though not the first side scroller, Scramble was the first with different distinct levels. So keep that in mind for the next pub quiz.
Scramble, developed by Konami, first released in 1981.
Version played: Arcade, 1981, via emulation.