The game itself is a hybrid between side-scrolling platformer and shoot-em-up: You run, jump, and shoot out the layer (your arsenal can be upgraded by picking up items), but you have no control over the screen scrolling, in fact the game always keeps the screen moving forward sans a few boss fights. Enemies will usually take advantage of this, and try to ambush you from everywhere, so you always need to stay on your feet to survive the stage.
While its small sprites and dull color choice make it look rather primitive on surface, even at the time when it's released, that didn't stop certain part of gaming public digging its strangely engrossing gameplay underneath it. Chelnov soon became cult favorite among arcade goers in Japan. Apparently, Data East loved it too, because they ported it to Sega Genesis in 1992, and kept putting this Russian miner to their games as cameo appearance (often alongside their de facto mascot Karnov).
Atomic Runner Chelnov provides examples of:
- Adjective Noun Fred: The game's title.
- Auto-Scrolling Level: The whole game consists of these stages.
- Bloodless Carnage: Many of the defeated bosses, including ones that were clearly organic, like the bird, fall apart at their death with the pieces falling through the screen. However, there'll never be any blood.
- Enemy Roll Call: The arcade version has credits featuring enemies throughout, minus the bosses.
- Feather Flechettes: A bird boss fought midway through will launch dozens of these at once as one of its attacks.
- Flash of Pain: The damaged enemies flash orange here.
- Flunky Boss: The third boss is a Deathtarian dropship that will periodically drop down groups of four assault troopers. If you are lucky, you can shoot them all down before they even hit the ground. Otherwise, you can also just jump at the right time and allow them to run offscreen.
- The bird boss can summon three tiny birds out of nowhere, though they'll again fly offscreen in a pattern if left unharmed.
- I Love Nuclear Power: Chelnov gained his super-power through a nuclear accident. Sega Genesis port rewrote his backstory, however.
- Market-Based Title: In Europe and North America, the Genesis port is simply known as Atomic Runner.
- Mayaintec: Much of the game is set amongst the South American jungles and temples styled in this manner.
- Monumental Battle: The final boss fight is a duel against the Statue Of Liberty.
- Rogue Protagonist: Appears in later Data East games as a villain, such as Fighter's History.
- Spread Shot: The Deathtarian dropship fought at the end of the jungle stage has a triple shot as one of its attacks.
- The third statue boss has a detachable head and can fire a spread of 8 stone shards downwards.
- Sudden Downer Ending: In the arcade version, just right after the Credits Running Sequence, a military helicopter comes out of nowhere and opens fire to Chelnov. Only the worst can be assumed, given the death sound is heard. The Genesis version retains and even slightly expands this ending with an alien ship hot on his heels and his death scream as his helmet flies in from off-screen, but also adds an extra scene where Chelnov is found to be pretty fine after all and reunites with his sister.