A rocket ship on a course for danger and destruction, Scramble was an action game lover’s dream come true. There were no princesses or hostages to rescue, no treasures to recover, no object other than the entire destruction of the “Scramble Defense Systems” and the base they protected, in this memorable arcade game, released by Stern Electronics in 1981.

A joystick gave 4-way control of your rocket as it raced through the six side-scrolling levels (five defense systems and the final base), while separate buttons launched laser blasts at foes in front and dropped bombs on targets below. Bomb-dropping was an acquired skill, since there were no targeting sights, but Scramble players soon learned to give the explosives enough lead time for a direct hit.

The enemy launched everything in its arsenal at your ship-rockets, tiny UFO’s, comets and more-and with two planes of action (lasers above, bombs below), it was sometimes hard to pay enough attention to worry about the safety of your own craft. And as if an armada of enemy warheads wasn’t enough to rattle your nerves, your ship also had a limited fuel supply. Refills were awarded for bombing or shooting enemy fuel tanks, but if supplies ran out, your ship was lost.

Scramble‘s furious pace made it an instant arcade classic, and the game’s manufacturer, Konami, scrambled (sorry) to make a sequel. Super Cobra was the result. Released only a few months after its predecessor, Super Cobra replaced the rocket ship with a helicopter, but the object remained the same. This time, ten stages of mayhem awaited, including tight catacombs, tall buildings that had to be flown over, gun turrets below, and even tougher challenges than the original Scramble. And to top it off, the game was faster.

Super Cobra was a much bigger challenge than Scramble, but it also offered a sliver of hope to discouraged players. For an extra quarter, the game would pick up where it left off, allowing players to continue their raids without starting back from the beginning. This, of course, became a standard feature of many arcade games in years to come, but back in 1981, it was a revolutionary move.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the similarities with its predecessor, Super Cobra became a classic in its own right, a favorite of those who liked their games plot-light and action-heavy. On that level, both Scramble and Super Cobra delivered the goods to millions of quarter-wielding arcade fans.

If you have fond memories of playing Scramble or Super Cobra in the arcades of your youth, we welcome all of your recollections in our comments section, as we tip our hats to another classic video game, here at Retroland.

3 Responses to “Scramble”

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  1. Drahken says:

    I had an LCD version of scramble called space crusher, back in the 80s. I really enjoyed it, and though it wasn’t until fairly recently that I realised it was a port of scramble. I wasn’t aware of scrmable until I got an arcade classics game for my GBA. That game gives me my space crusher fix these days, but I’d still love to have that old LCD game again.

    • I completed scramble back in the 80’s and was really gutted to find out it just got to the end then the game made a loud noise then crashed, the game actually crashed if you reached the end lol. I had to go back and do it again at another arcade just to check that it was the program and it was. No well done or congrats just half a black screen then game crashes. :(

  2. Mark R says:

    I was a pretty lousy video game player, and Scramble was the only game I ever finished with a single quarter. On that glorious day when I finally achieved victory, I was so excited that I crashed my spaceship, and then my sole spare spaceship, in the intermission while the game was restarting. Unlike @James Turnbull, I was the one at fault; the game itself did not crash.

    One aspect of the game that I did not like is that one of the very most difficult parts of the whole game came right at the beginning, early in level 1. You had to fly your spaceship through a very narrow gap – unfair for how close to the beginning it was. I lost a lot of quarters in the first few seconds.

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