The Game: You’re alone in a maze filled with armed, hostile robots who only have one mission – to kill you. If you even so much as touch the walls, you’ll wind up dead. You’re a little bit faster than the robots, and you have human instinct on your side…but even that won’t help you when Evil Otto, a deceptively friendly and completely indestructible smiley face, appears to destroy you if you linger too long in any one part of the maze. The object of the game? Try to stay alive however long you can. (Stern, 1980)
Memories: If Berzerk sounds a little bit familiar, it’s no coincidence. To some extent, the running-alone-through-an-enemy-filled-maze premise had been mined by Midway’s Wizard Of Wor (a game released around the same time), which even looked somewhat similar. Unlike the glut of Pac-Man clones, it’s probably not so much a question of plagiarism as a question of several game designers arriving at the same good idea at the same time.
Berzerk was followed up in 1982 by a similar, but much faster and more complex game called Frenzy. In Frenzy, you could shoot through certain walls (and the robots could shoot right back at you), while other walls would ricochet your lasers (just as dangerous to you as to your enemies). It was quite an adrenaline rush compared to the slower original!
Berzerk‘s exceedingly simple graphics made it possible for Atari to translate it easily and faithfully to the 2600, among other home game platforms. And the game was also the subject of one of the tamest songs on Buckner & Garcia’s Pac-Man Fever tribute album.