These are the three words you hear right before battle as you hurl volley after volley of cannonball fire at fleets of invading ships bent on destroying your lands.
A classic arcade game from the ?80s ported straight to the NES, Rampart combines strategy with elements of puzzle building. You basically build castles, defend them with cannons, and repel fleets of attacking ships from the shores of your lands before rebuilding your castles and doing it all over again. Though exceedingly simple in design, Rampart can be a thoroughly fun, albeit a very short, videogame experience.
The gameplay follows a simple interface split into two parts, a building phase and a battle phase. During the building phase, the player takes various Tetris-like pieces and places them on a map until he surrounds a castle – and whatever land lies immediately around it. The object of this phase is to enclose as many castles and as much land as possible. At the end of the building phase, the player is rewarded with cannons that they can then place inside the walls of their castle(s) to defend it, or them. After the building phase comes the fun part – the battle. It’s in this phase where you see successive volleys of cannonballs flying all over the map as you exchange fire with the fleet of ships attacking the shores of your empire. After surviving, rebuilding, and expanding two or three times, the player passes the first map and moves onto the next, where they will face progressively larger fleets of ships.
Since Rampart is based on an old arcade game, the controls are very easy to master. Just about every function requires only the controller’s ?A’ button, while during the building phase the player can press the ?B’ button to rotate pieces around for a better fit on the game map.
In terms of graphics, Rampart is neither flashy nor dull looking. The ships all look alike, and they would have appeared better if they’d been given more variety through their design. One of the nicer touches it does add is that you can see each individual cannonballs fired from every cannon, so during battle there is a degree of guilty pleasure in seeing the rain of fire you’re pouring onto your opponents. But alas, Rampart’s simple design means simple graphics and, aside from a victory screen where you see your opponent’s head being made ready for the guillotine, every stage looks almost the same as the next – except for the shape of the land you’re building on.
Sound wise, Rampart makes a better showing. This is one of the few existing NES games that actually has voice speech in it. While there are slight distortions to it, you can clearly hear the announcer telling you “Ready, aim, fire!” and “Cease fire!” at the beginning and end of the battle phase. The music isn’t that bad, either, even though there are only a handful of different tracks, but each one contributes to the mood of the game depending on what phase you’re in – such as the fast-paced midi track for when you’re frantically trying to put pieces together to create walls around your castle, or the military drumbeats signaling the calm before the storm of cannon fire.
Since it’s an identical copy of the original arcade game, Rampart’s length feels as long as a game at the arcade would if you only had a single quarter or – adjusting for chronological inflation – one dollar. Basically this is a very short game. Aside from the tutorial stage, there are only four areas in the entire game before it starts over again from the beginning. While in the short term it can be quite fun, after a while everything becomes rather repetitive.
The game’s one notable saving grace is its multiplayer, since it was designed with an arcade audience in mind. Whereas it’s easy to destroy fleets of slow-moving ships that fire randomly at your castle walls, playing against a human opponent is considerably harder since the ability to build faster and better planned walls around your castles becomes the key to victory. Also, while your cannons are impervious to attack in the single-player game, in the multiplayer you have the option of making your cannons vulnerable to cannon fire before they’re destroyed. This adds some strategy to the fight since destroyed cannons stay on the map during the build phase and can’t be built anew, thus taking up space where walls could normally be built or new cannons normally placed.
All in all, Rampart is as average as it gets for an NES game, even for its time. It can be fun if you like games where you blow things up, but it has as much replay value as Windows Solitaire – after a while you just grow bored with it.