S.T.U.N. RUNNER / Atari / Arcade
STUN Runner is one of those games that old-school gamers are still waiting for an arcade-perfect home port of, almost 25 years after the fact. The unique cabinet was key to the experience, but accurate emulation has been even more of a problem; MAME has gotten it to a playable state, but with slight choppiness and serious music/sound issues, and Midway has only taken one stab at porting it to a console collection in the mid-00s (with Midway Arcade Treasures 3), and that version also suffers from frameskipping and inadequately responsive controls as well. The game is designed like Yu Suzuki's old arcade racers, in that you're racing between checkpoints with a very tight time limit, which affords you very little room for any sort of screw-ups. Thus, even relatively minor imperfections in the emulation really hurt the playability.
If you were around for the original arcade release back in 1989, though, you were in for quite the treat. It was an alternate version of the hardware that Hard Drivin' used (which also debuted that year), but instead of Hard Drivin's modern automobile touring style, S.T.U.N. Runner sends us far into the future to race hovercars at high speeds on magnetic tracks. It's basically F-Zero done before F-Zero was even a twinkle in some Nintendo developer's eye. Aside from the shift in tone, STUN feels like it's moving much faster than Hard Drivin' ever does ... and also outfits you with laser cannons and a varying secondary weapon, which you mostly use to destroy commuter trains that are sharing the racetrack for some reason. Suck it down, working stiffs!
STUN probably could have gotten away with just racing you through tunnels and done pretty well for itself, but part of the fun of progressing through the game's 23 levels is the varying background terrain you encounter. Sometimes you're in tunnels, sometimes you're outdoors on Earth, sometimes you move between the two in one level ... for me the "WOW THIS GAME IS BOSS" moment when I was a little kid was when you get to level 5 and you're launched into space in a transparent wireframe tube. Like many Atari games of the time, at the outset you're given the option to skip straight ahead to either level 7 or level 15, but this comes at the cost of not carrying over potential time boosts and extra secondary weapons won from the previous tracks.
4/5 for the original arcade release, though I wouldn't give as high a rating to any home port of it. Unfortunately, as of 2013 at least, this is still one of those games where if you really want to get the experience of it, you have to seek out an actual cabinet at a classic arcade mecca like Funspot or somesuch. Or get chummy with a rich collector.
* Gameplay Video
- (sound is garbage in this video but the emulation looks pretty good)