A few years ago, when gaming on smartphones took off in a big way, a new sub-genre of games emerged, the tower defence game. These touchscreen-friendly affairs lacked the complexity of fully blown strategy games, but still provided enough of a mental work out to be fun and challenging. There are hundreds of tower defence games out there, with titles such as Plants vs Zombies, Defence Grid and Kingdom Rush being among the best the genre has to offer. Bizarrely, despite being a sub-genre to begin with, there is now a sub-genre of tower defence games, which include elements of first and third person shoot 'em ups. These include the brilliant Orcs Must Die, Monday Night Combat and Sanctum.
It would be easy to think of tower defence as being a relatively new genre, born out of the need to create strategy games that aren't as demanding as games like Star Craft, Civilisation or Total War, but like most modern games, tower defence games can trace their roots back to arcade gaming. And for tower defence, Atari's Rampart is that game.
The game is set in some unspecified medieval period and charges players with both defending and expanding their territory. At the start of the game, players must choose one of several castles situated on a coastline. When they make their choice, an initial rampart is built around the castle and players are given a handful of seconds to place their cannons along the walls. In true tower defence style, the placement of your guns is key to effectively defending your castle, because after that comes the onslaught. The nature of this onslaught depends on whether you play alone or against others.
In single player mode, your castle walls initially are attacked by a fleet of ships, attempting to land on the shore around your castle. As the ships come in, they fire their cannons at you - and in turn you fire back at them. Unlike (most) modern tower defence games, you actually get to aim. If you were lucky enough to find a trackball version of this game, that was a considerably easier task than with the joystick version. Once the enemies are vanquished, you are given a few seconds to place a number of randomly shaped walls. You could use these to thicken your walls or alternatively expand your territory and eventually capture additional castles. You're then awarded a few more cannons to mount and the whole thing starts again. If you successfully fend off the invaders, you get to move on to a new territory and things start to get tougher.
If the invading ships make it to land, they then have the opportunity to overrun undefended castles. Fail to protect your home castle and it's game over. The video below shows just how quickly things can unravel, once the invaders make land.
In multiplayer mode, things are a little different. This time there are no ships, just two or three territories going at it, building ramparts, placing cannons and knocking seven shades of chivalry out of each other. Here's a video of three people using netplay on MAME to play multiplayer rampart - for 40 mins.