Shockway Rider is a 1987 arcade-style game for the Spectrum, Amstrad or C=64. As ever I’m looking at the Speccy version here.
The game’s name is pinched from John Brunner‘s proto-cyberpunk ’70s novel The Shockwave Rider, but it has no other connection which I’m aware of. In fact the game’s aesthetic is ’50s sci-fi reimagined as straight-up punk, if anything, from the cracked brickwork and basic graffiti to the bovver boys and builders riding the shockways with you.
The premise is simple, do a complete circuit of the city by travelling on the human conveyor-belt “shockways” over 12 levels. Promotional material and other versions use the slogan “Riders go full circle” to illustrate the point.
You have five lives, each starts on the pavement, where much-needed projectiles can also be found. The three moving lanes of the shockway travel slow, medium and fast respectively as you leap sideways out of the screen. The character graphics have a rounded cartoony appearance and people in the foreground are drawn larger than those further back the screen, not simply scaled up/down.
As you play you’ll encounter other travellers, on some levels these can be killed for a bonus life. There are also innumerable aggressive shades-wearing, jumpsuit-clad foes, who approach from either side of the screen, leaping between lanes to catch you. Ordinary passengers on the shockway can also spontaneously turn into these enemies, like Agent Smith in The Matrix. Contact with anything is instantly explosively fatal, be it foes, passengers, road-barriers or the occasional bouncing ball. Amusingly, instead of leaving behind nothing but the traditional smoking pair of boots your head is your sole part which remains.
Combat amounts to throwing bricks or spheres forwards or back along the shockway. A single pickup gives you an unlimited supply for that life. You can also throw projectiles sideways, arcing into or out of the screen, but it’s seemingly impossible to get a kill this way, only hit the roadside bonus targets on some levels.
I hadn’t realised before that you can also defeat foes by throwing a punch close-up if you have no ammo. Collision detection horizontally is forgiving and you always have time to attack. Jumping lane-to-lane is another story though. If you haven’t fully completed your jump whatever oncoming hazard you sought to avoid will kill you. Similarly if a foe jumps into you from beside then there’s no way to escape death.
There’s plenty of challenge in the game, possibly too much on the lane changes. The high score table is pre-populated with a robust set of scores to beat too. Excessive repetition will likely be your greatest enemy though as there’s not much variation between levels and the practice mode means you can skip ahead to see what most of the levels consist of. Largely that’s a different combination of random oncoming hazards with a tweaked skyline and signage.
In its time Shockwave Rider was given away on both Your Sinclair and Sinclair User covertapes and is presumably well known via that avenue. If you haven’t played it do give it a go though. The concept is simple, simpler than Frogger, it’s cleverly implemented and it’s definitely fun for the ten minutes until it becomes frustrating.
Shock-wave Ri-der, see what you have done!