Monday, February 22, 2010

Other People's Lives (Arch-Rivals and Archon)

I have never been one for sports games.

A few exceptions exist: Blades of Steel, NBA Jam, Mega Man Soccer, and the FIFA series. We have exhausted that list.

And so I never played Arch-Rivals. Even though it is a sort of proto-NBA Jam, in that it's a straight 2 on 2, and there is nothing resembling a ref, making tactics like "punching your opponents" an acceptable approach. The appeal of sports games, as I understand it, is the fact that they have a sort of continual difficulty curve. That is, where other games get to a point where you beat them. The idea behind a sports game is that, because of a combination of the virtue of competition with another human being and cheating AIs that scale to most difficulty levels, the game remains fun basically forever.

It's just not a genre I particularly love. Video games have generally been a solitary pursuit for me, in no small part because I've never felt like I'm at the same point on the skill curve as most of my friends, making the competition less than satisfying. And as I also wasn't into any sports until recently, there wasn't much motivation to try these games.

Arch-Rivals, though, is clearly pretty good. (And I'm curious, in this regard, what I'll think of Blades of Steel when it comes around) And playing it, I realize that for all I grew up on video games, vast depths of the medium eluded me at the time. I may be a video game geek, but there are limitless paths that could have taken. I am defined by video games the same way that a video game is defined by playing - a path unfolds. Programming designed to lead to vast configurability collapses inevitably towards a single experience.


No, seriously. This is one of the best games I've played on the NES, period, and its status as a minor classic of video gaming history is wholly underserved - this should be a major, recognized, iconic classic of the medium. Archon is a combination of chess and a 2-D fighting game, in which you play a turn-based chess-like strategy game, but captures of pieces are determined via single combat between the pieces. The pieces have varying attacks, speeds, move rates, and hit points, and furthermore about half the squares on the board shift steadily from black to white, granting increased power to one side or the other if they are standing on those squares.

It's a relatively simple game to pick up with just a little bit of awkwardness. The computer AI is way too hard for beginners, but playing against a friend should result in a fairly satisfying difficulty curve all around. But there's a real, real depth of tactics and strategy here, both in combat and in the main game. This is an absolutely delightful game, and one I missed growing up in part because of my lack of two-player gameplaying, and in part because I just missed it.

I should note that Archon has an iPhone port and a $15 Windows version, both at It's definitely worth the $3 for the iPhone version, and may be worth $15 for the Windows version if you like the genre.


  1. I had Archon for the Apple IIe as a kid. Single-player was hard, but a joystick made it doable and there was something so satisfying about winning a duel and a game. Good, good stuff, with lots of strategic depth.

  2. The earlier versions of Archon on other systems were big hits -- heck, the Atari version was a killer app.

    Also, interesting trivia: Archon is also a Paul Reiche III game, like Star Control 2 and Skylanders.

  3. My Dad and I bonded over Archon (the Atari 800 version). I got him a copy of the new-ish PC update and... seriously, how come that thing doesn't have an online PvP setup? There are nights when I just want to summon an elemental against my father's Golem without trekking 35 miles out into the suburbs.

    Then you probably need MORE coins!
    Start auto-trading using FUT Millionaire.