Atomic Runner is the Genesis version of the arcade game known as Atomic Runner Chelnov. The game was developed by Data East, but the rights are now owned by Paon, as Data East closed in 2003. The Genesis version of the game is the first home port of the title, though the game was eventually released on the Sharp X68000. This game was known for its character animation, which, at the time, was among the best in any video game.
In this arcade game, Chelnov is a coal miner who survives the malfunction and explosion of a nuclear power plant and gains superhuman abilities. He must fight off a secret organization that wants to use his power for their own agenda.
The original version of Chelnov was criticized by many in Japan because it seemed to parody the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The game visibly presented the Soviet flag on the opening screen, the plot revolved around a nuclear disaster, and the title is similar to Chernobyl. Data East explained that the name "Chelnov" was chosen to show that the character was a relative of another Data East character, Karnov, and the controversial elements were coincidence. Later, employees stated that the company had known that the name was controversial and had roughly a year and a half until the game’s release to revise the name and plot, but decided not to.
The Genesis port of the game removed all the controversial elements and re-wrote the story. In the Genesis version, the Chelnov is a regular human who wears a special combat suit to fight the enemies that have kidnapped his younger sister. The game's enemies and background images were also changed to make the setting an ancient civilization.
The game is a side scrolling action title, where the screen continually scrolls to the right. The player can move ahead to face enemies that enter the area, but their movement does not affect the rate in which the screen scrolls, and they can never travel backwards.
Chelnov can jump, attack, and turn to attack enemies behind him. There are power-ups throughout the stages that can improve Chelnov's attack power, rapid-firing capability, attack range, or jumping height.
The games contains 7 levels.
A direct port of the arcade game to the Sega Saturn was cancelled in Japan, but some copies made it to stores in Akihabara.
Chelnov has no sequels, but makes cameos in other Data East games developed in the late 80's and early 90's He appears as an enemy character in Trio The Punch, Tumble Pop (1991), and Fighter's History: Mizoguchi Kiki Ippatsu!!, and can be seen being transported in a frozen container on a freight train in Bad Dudes Vs. Dragon Ninja. Sly Spy also contains a poster showing Chelnov.