Thursday 17 February 2011


Because I can't resist a good Donkey Kong clone.

This is Kangaroo for the Atari 800 computer, because it's fun to dip into semi-obscure systems once in a while. It stands as GCC's take on Donkey Kong, minus the apes and carpenters, plus some Kanagroos and fruit. But does this stunning depiction of real life top Nintendo's classic?

Kangaroo was released in 1982, and like 90% of all console games released in 1982, is no longer widely discussed. This doesn't mean it's a bad game (quite the contrary in fact), but home console games originating from North America between about 1980-1983 are not what you would consider the high point of the video game industry. Too many stupid systems, too many bad games. It led to a crash and now Japan are in charge.

To prove a point, Kangaroo here was an Atari exclusive. Which meant that in 1982, it was released for three different platforms, all fighting for recognition in a market filled with a dozen others, surrounded by seas of half-baked video games all trying to be the best thing since sliced bread. Some were probably even engineered by sliced bread manufacturers.

As said, this is the computer-based Atari 800 version (though it's compatible with the majority of the Atari 8-bit family (forgive my naivity but it's one of the few platforms I know very little about)), and is almost identical to the console-based Atari 5200 version. Kangaroo also saw a release on the Atari 2600, but as you can imagine, that one's a little dated (or maybe you can't, since in this case, 800 is superior to 2600 - that's marketing for you).

But the 800 and 5200 versions are pretty much the same game because the hardware is almost identical. The benefit of an Atari 800 of course is that you don't have to deal with the horrific design flaws of the Atari 5200 - you're not wrestling with stupid controllers or a massive console, and you can sleep happily at night knowing you have in your possession a successful product.

And from my experience, Atari 8-bit computers are quite nice (or at least the emulator is). I have time for any 1980s computer which put ROM cartridges before cassettes - it might be one of Atari's few competant design choices of early 1980s.

Anyway, the goal within Kangaroo is to rescue the smaller Kangaroos from a group of monkeys. You typically have to traverse up to the top of the screen, avoiding enemy fire, with the option of collecting fruit along the way. Your Kangaroo is hopeless and will die straight away if hit, however you also have the option of killing your monkey rivals by punching them in the face with your boxing gloves.

But that of course requires you to be right next to a monkey. Most of the time you'll be avoiding apples that they've thrown from off-screen, and as they're typically much quicker and can run around three sides of the screen, they're usually at an advantage, especially if you're playing the game on a harder difficulty setting.

There are four levels in Kangaroo which are repeated endlessly, though as things get harder more monkeys are thrown into the mix and their firing rate increases. The game is able to offer quite a bit of challenge and although it's not quite as fun or memorable as Donkey Kong, I think it's a great attempt at trying to beat it, especially considering the time period and the platforms it was designed for. Gameplay is arguably more varied than Donkey Kong too, so there's definitely been an attempt to expand on the formula.

But I won't lie, it's not perfect. Your Kangaroo moves incredibly slowly and the sound effects can get tedious after a while. Though you can't really criticise the graphics because of the hardware restrictions, the monkeys in this Atari 800 port flash red and grey - I'm not sure if that's supposed to give the impression of more colours or whether it's an emulator problem, but it's an odd design choice to say the least.

Nevertheless, it's good to try something that's a bit different. Had it been released a little later we might have a classic on our hands, but as it stands this isn't all that shabby, just unloved. Give it a chance if you're ever looking for Atari 8-bit or 5200 games... however unlikely that may be.

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