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Armchair Arcade TV: Episode 1 - Route 16

Hello, everyone. I'm debuting a new regular video series entitled, "Armchair Arcade TV". The first one, with the surprising name of "Episode 1" is on little known Centuri arcade game, Route 16 (Route-16), from 1981, with feature coverage of its first home translation for the Emerson Arcadia-2001 and its family of systems. Other games and systems are also featured. This is my first time on Adobe Premiere and on a new computer system, so the usual issues cropped up in the creation of this, but naturally these will improve in all ways over time, including the host segments. In the mean-time, enjoy the first episode. The full transcript follows the video.


(Host Intro)

Today I'd like to take a look at little known arcade game, Route 16, which received two similarly little known official home conversions. I'll be focusing on one home conversion in particular for the Emerson Arcadia-2001 and its family of systems. Now, the Arcadia-2001 was basically a failed 1982 attempt at competing with the Intellivision and Atari 2600, but in doing so never accounted for the ColecoVision, which kicked technological butt at the time and had far hotter arcade conversions.

Route 16 was published by Centuri in 1981 and developed by a company called Tehkan, better known today as Tecmo, along with Sun Electronics, which would become better known as Sunsoft. Centuri was rarely known for the audio-visuals in the games they published, and Route 16 is certainly no exception, with somewhat amateurish production values. Its gameplay is clearly inspired by the far better known Rally-X from Namco and even took inspiration from Rally-X's brother, Pac-Man, by having what is clearly a Pac-Man-style ghost appear as one of the enemy types, and, perhaps more telling, when capturing a checkered flag, the enemy cars turn into money bags for a short time and can be chased down. Of course, the developers of Route 16 did exercise some IP restraint by not hyphenating the name. Again, what it didn't borrow was those two game's production values, as particularly its graphics are far below even those two visually modest games. Of course Centuri would be involved in some capacity in some better known classics, like the shooters' Phoenix from 1980, and its follow-up, Pleiads, also from 1981, both of which would themselves be converted to home systems, though that's a story for another day.

Interestingly, Exidy would release cult classic Venture in the same year as Route 16, and though I don't know who was first, it's difficult to see how one couldn't have inspired the other in some manner, as their screen setups and item collection gameplay are strikingly similar. While Venture is best described as a deliberate game of offense, Route 16 is best described as a high speed game of mostly evasion. Coleco famously ported Venture to the ColecoVision, Atari 2600 and Mattel Intellivision, and did a solid, if unremarkable job of it each time. Of course as one other point of distinction, Venture is a mostly free roaming game utilizing an 8-way joystick, while Route 16's action adheres to slots and utilizes a 4-way joystick, again, very much like Rally-X.

As you probably know, Atari scooped up all the prime licenses, with their competitors getting the leftovers, though of course Mattel and, particularly Coleco, had some coups of their own. That left little more than scraps for the lower rung of the competition, which is no doubt how Route 16 ended up on the still-born Arcadia-2001 in 1983, licensed from Tekhan and developed by UA Limited, which was responsible for most of the platform's library. It's only other conversion was to the Famicom by original co-developer Sunsoft in 1985 as Route-16 Turbo, with a much-needed adjustable difficulty level and improved graphics and sound. It's arguable whether it really is a better game, though, as it takes some liberties with the mazes and other gameplay elements. While the Arcadia-2001 port is fairly faithful on a basic level visually to the original and is aptly named the same as its arcade forebearer, it's missing some key features, making for changes to the gameplay.

Controls are simple. Use the joystick to move your car in what essentially amounts to predetermined slots. Avoid the enemies and hazards, and pick up the loot. You can press the action button to go turbo and speed up both your car and the music, but that uses precious fuel. Once the fuel runs out, no more turbo, and you become extremely vulnerable to your pursuers, and also lose out on quite a few bonus points at the end of a round for any fuel left. The transition from overworld map or radar view to the - for lack of a better term - zoomed in view, can be a bit jarring, even with a brief pause in the action, and often results in suprise crashes. The difficulty level is also pretty high, as the enemy cars will relentlessly hunt you down, and there are occasionally dead ends in the mazes, which are almost automatic death if you don't recover before an enemy car targets you. There is a type of automatic, almost "bounce" gameplay mechanic, where essentially the car will keep on moving, and will often change direction if you're not careful and constantly moving with the joystick. Again, this is an obvious holdover from Rally-X.

The Arcadia-2001 port of Route 16 eliminates the turbo button, making the player evade pursuit on joystick - or disc - and wits alone. Music is mostly absent. While there are two lanes in the map view on both versions, Route 16 on the Arcadia-2001 - with its lower resolution - actually uses one of the walls of the mazes as a lane, which is a bit confusing. By dropping the turbo button, UA Limited had to make adjustments to the difficulty level, and with that the player is given a choice of four, where in the highest the pursuing cars are actually faster than you, making the game all but impossible, though on the two lowest levels you're definitely given a fighting chance. You can also pick the number of lives you start with and there's even a trial mode for unlimited lives. Unlike the arcade game, there is no option for two alternating players, but at least the Arcadia-2001 port uses the second controller's keypad to enable a nice pause feature.

Dollar signs are always worth points, but red dollar signs can change into oil, which slows you down for a short time. The question mark represents a surprise and can be either points, oil, or a fatal skull and crossbones. Enemy types are pared down to just the pursuing cars. you can drive into an X where you'll hear a supercharge noise and be able to crash into your pursuers for points, just like in the arcade game.

As a huge fan of Rally-X and New Rally-X, I was pleasantly surprised by Route 16, no matter how crude it is or how unforgiving the difficulty at times. I often don't care for games with an element of luck to them and more than a little bit of frustration inherent in their designs, but despite this the game definitely has that "one more play" element to it. I enjoy it both on my MAME arcade machine, where it's emulated well, and on the featured Arcadia-2001 version, which, assuming your joysticks are in good working order, is for what it's worth, a fun, if surprisingly unfaithful, take off on the original. I definitely recommend you check any of the three available versions of the game out and wonder along with me what could have been if the road crew spent a little more time developing Route 16 or it made an early appearance with a more faithful conversion on a more popular platform.

(Host Outro)


Production: Bill Loguidice
Host Camera: Christina Loguidice
Original Episode 1 Score: C.P.U. Bach
Copyright: 2010


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