Back when Atari’s attorneys rocked up on Jeff Minter’s farm and issued one of his prize llamas with a cease and desist letter, it seemed unlikely that Tempest 4000 would ever release on consoles. The eccentric industry veteran had planned on porting the PS Vita’s agonisingly underappreciated TxK to the PlayStation 4, but the once-famous publisher took issue with the arcade game’s similarities to its own prize property. That’s because the portable shooter was, effectively, Tempest in all but name. What a difference a bundle of alpaca wool and a few years can make, eh?
Tempest 4000, out this week, is effectively TxK – which itself was just Tempest 2000 with a facelift and a copyright eschewing name. There are no real surprises here: you still control the Claw around the perimeter of wireframe stages, blasting away at aliens and flower petals because they allow for plenty of particle effects. Minter, never one to tone things down, has used the additional horsepower of Sony’s home console to add even more crazy crap on screen, so you can expect the usual mixture of subliminal messages about farm animals and strobe lights just because. This time he’s even been allowed to add the Atari logo, spinning in circles like a late 90s GeoCities fever dream.
The gameplay’s good, timeless even – but it all feels less novel this time around. The levels are largely the same as in TxK, and the intermission mini-game still makes about as much sense as a camel in roller-blades. Minter's games have their own flavour which you’ll either love or loathe, but where Polybius brought that insanity into the virtual reality realm, there’s too much familiarity here. A survival mode and smart level select options complement the standard 100-stage arcade romp, although you’ll need to wrap your head around the awkward menus first.
Look, it’s a fun game, filled with flashing lights and so much digital detritus you'll need a shower after one run. But the thing is, you’ve played this before – not in this form in 4K on this particular format, but Tempest is Tempest and Tempest 4000 doesn’t really try to be anything else. Which is fine, but we just wonder whether hidden messages to Chuck E. Cheese founder Nolan Bushnell and a few extra visualiser effects are enough here. Minter’s schtick, for as much as we love it, feels like it’s outstayed its welcome for the first real time. Maybe Atari’s lawyers would have been better off keeping this particular project locked down?