“Intruder alert! Intruder alert!”
“Get the humanoid!”
Battling herds of enemy robots was an interesting enough premise for a video game. And without any sound effects, Berzerk, released in 1980, would likely have still been popular simply for being an action-packed shooting game. But add in a talking robot voice and suddenly the game stands out from all the others surrounding it and it beckons one to play.
When game designer Alan McNeil created Berzerk (based upon the series of Berzerker stories written by sci-fi author Fred Saberhagen), he included a synthesized voice that talked to players, a first of its kind. From the taunt of “Coins detected in pocket!” to the ominous command, “The humanoid must not escape!” Berzerk was a game not easily ignored in the local arcade. But while the voice sucked players in, it was really the innovative game play that kept them at the controls.
The premise was simple. A lone green humanoid is stuck in a series of rooms while being pursued by a squad of deadly robots. Making things more difficult, the walls are deadly to the humanoid and he must avoid them at all costs, as he uses an eight-directional gun to clear the room of the predators. Luckily, these weren’t the smartest robots on the block. They also weren’t immune to the surrounding walls and would occasionally take themselves out of commission. They also engaged in some friendly-fire and took each other out. The problem was, a player couldn’t just stand around waiting for them to annihilate themselves – Evil Otto stood in the wings, waiting to make an appearance.
Now, Otto didn’t look so evil. He appeared to be a happy smiley face. But everything Otto touched, died – humanoids, robots, whatever. And it was in a player’s best interest to clear the room before Otto decided to bounce his way around. And as the player moved up in levels, the number of robots increased, the room mazes became more difficult, and Otto came bouncing in sooner and sooner. All of this served to create a very nerve-wracking but enjoyable game experience.
Stern Electronics was rewarded nicely for their innovative 1980 game, which sold tens of thousands of units and became their biggest success story. It was even immortalized in song, “Goin’ Berzerk,” which was featured on the fondly remembered Pac-Man Fever album by Buckner and Garcia. A sequel to Berzerk arrived in 1983 called Frenzy, which increased the intelligence of the robots substantially. Unfortunately, it was released right before the industry suffered a major crash and is far less remembered than its predecessor.
“Chicken! Fight like a robot!”
If you dumped a few quarters into this memorable arcade game back in the day, we’d love for you to share those memories in our comments section as we pay tribute to this taunting game.