Berzerk was an old arcade game released by Stern way back in 1980.

The story

Berzerk was Stern's first real big hit. One of the things that really made this game popular was the fact that it talked to the player. It would have been an even bigger hit if it was not for the simple fact that it shipped with defective joysticks. They used a large optical design that held up fine under testing, but quickly self-destructed once it got a little heavy use out on location. Stern gave away free kits to convert the stick to a standard leaf switch joystick, but it was too late, as nearly 5000 orders had already been canceled.

Two people are known to have died while playing this game. The first was Jeff Dailey, who suffered a heart attack while playing in 1981 (rumor has it that his score was 16,660 points), but I don't believe that. The second death came a year later, when 18 year old Peter Burkowski died of a heart attack in 1982 only seconds after putting his intials into Berzerk's high score table.

The game

Berzerk consists of many levels which are each a single room, populated by robots and walls. Everything is deadly, touching anything (wall, robot, laser shot, your own shot, Evil Otto, etc) will kill you. The object is to shoot all the robots, and then escape out of the room through one of the doorways. You must be quick in your mission, or else Evil Otto will appear (he is a big bouncing happy face, that kills everything that moves). He will move relentlessly towards you, speeding up after all the robots are killed. You cannot kill Evil Otto, you must instead escape to another level.

The robots live by the same set of rules that you do. They will also die if they touch anything at all, including a wall, another robot, Evil Otto, or a blast from your weapon (or even another robot's weapon). You can use this to your advantage by luring the robots into walls, and tricking them into shooting each other (you still get the points anyway). A good player can even manage to make Evil Otto smash the last few robots for him.

You get bonus points if you manage to kill all the robots on the level. This is simple at first, but the game quickly ramps up in difficulty to the point where you are simply trying to shoot a path to the exit (before Evil Otto shows up). It takes a very skilled player to consistantly kill all the robots on the higher levels (I certainly can't do it).

Berzerk speaks to you as you play (and no not a voice in your head type of thing either). It has a voice synthesizer that spouts lots of little phrases like "Stop the Humanoid", "Stop the Intruder", "Intruder Alert", "Chicken! Fight like a Robot", and "The humanoid must not escape". These were done in a monotone computer voice, that was difficult to understand when combined with other in-game sounds. (The voices were actually done using LPC encoding, which cost $1000 per word back in 1980). These phrases were also translated into several European languages for release in Europe.

Good luck in your attempt to beat this game. It has 64,000 levels, at the end of which the game will crash. Not that anyone has ever made it that far in real life.

The Machine

The Berzerk cabinet was the first in a series of cabinets from Stern that had a patented pull out drawer that allowed access to the games circuit boards from the front of the cabinet. (This makes an old Berzerk cabinet excellent for use as a JAMMA cabinet. I am quite sorry that I sold the converted one I used to own).

This title features rather primitive painted sideart that only uses two colors, but it makes up for it with the awesome comic book style art on the control panel and monitor bezel. The marquee is only a "Berzerk" logo, and it kind of looks like something that someone might have done in their high school airbrush class.

Berzerk is technically a monochrome game. It uses a special "color overlay" circuit board to add color to the games graphics before they go to the monitor. A side effect of this is that walking very close to a wall will cause that section of the wall to change to your color.

This title uses a Z80 processor, although it was originally written for the 6809E processor (until someone figured out that the processor didn't work correctly).

There were approximately 40,000 of these machines produced (only about 1000 of them were in cocktail format). But the vast majority of them have been converted, and I haven't seen one out in the wild in over ten years.

A Frenzy boardset will plug right into a Berzerk cabinet with no modification.

Where to play

Berzerk is going to be a hard game to add to your arcade game collection. It is very difficult to find, despite the popularity that it enjoyed in the early 80s. Prices are not that outrageous if you can actually locate a cabinet in the first place.

If you can't locate an actual arcade game then try playing the Atari 2600 version, or using the MAME emulator.

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