By Greg Bendokus
Since I've owned a Berzerk machine for almost 30 years now, I haven't really played this cart in ages but decided to take another look. Since they say hindsight is everything, I was curious as to how the VCS version really compares to the actual arcade game after all these years. I'm happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised here.
A few things I noticed:
The enemy robots are nowhere near as 'stupid' as they are in the arcade game. In the VCS version, they actively avoid each other instead of wiping themselves out all the time and, more interestingly, they never poke their heads above the walls so you can pick them off. In the arcade game, if you're on the right side of the screen preparing to exit the room and there's a stray robot on the left side, he'll usually walk up the screen and stick his head above the wall so you can pick him off. Not so on the VCS; you actually have to backtrack and get yourself over there to deal with him if you want that bonus. Since Evil Otto is usually already on the screen at that point, this is much easier said than done and it definitely takes more effort to consistently earn your kill bonus on the VCS.
I also found that you once you reach around 20,000 points on the VCS cart, unless you shoot diagonally, you basically have no chance of trying to take out a robot positioned above you on the screen without being hit yourself. If the robots were also able to shoot diagonally, the VCS version would literally be impossible!
Something else that makes the VCS version difficult is that diagonal movement is handled very differently. In the arcade original, you move faster while moving diagonally which allows you to prevent Evil Otto from gaining on you while trying to reach an exit. No such luck on the VCS - Otto is a full-panic situation at all times. Note that in the original release of the arcade game, Otto doubles his speed after 5,000 points which is why that version is almost too tough to play.
Concerning the mazes themselves: in the VCS version, many of the mazes only allow you to leave via the top or bottom, which makes it much more difficult to start on the next screen.
Finally, and this is admittedly a bit trivial, when you get killed in the arcade game you get four seconds to catch your breath before starting again. The VCS version only gives you three seconds and I can definitely notice the difference. I think what really makes this stand out is the fact that the VCS version has a tendency to start you in a new room with three robots placed two pixels away from your player, which can be quite interesting to deal with sometimes.
So after playing both versions of the game, I can sum up the VCS version in one word: balanced. Since the robots are able to shoot diagonally only in the arcade game, several other aspects of the home version were necessarily made more difficult. The end result here is that the VCS version is a resounding success and, just like the real thing, is certainly no pushover.
Overall, this cart is much better than I ever thought it was and I highly recommend it!
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