Saturday 21 August 2010

Penguin Land

I don't know about you but when I lay an egg I don't spend my days rolling it around on the surface of the moon. Somebody does though!

This is Penguin Land for the Sega Master System. It's part two of a history of Doki Doki Penguin Land games that nobody remembers (the Japanese name for this game is "Doki Doki Penguin Land: Uchuu Daibouken", and it follows "Doki Doki Penguin Land"). This one had the advantage of being released outside of Japan, though you'll still be struggling to find people who remember it as a classic.

I don't really know the history of Doki Doki Penguin Land, though I think I've made a reasonable assumption in thinking that it started off life on Japanese SG-1000 and MSX computers, before having a space-themed sequel on the SMS and finishing with the Japanese Mega Drive exclusive, "Ikazuse! Koi no Doki Doki Penguin Land MD" for the Sega Meganet service.

Either way I count three Sega Doki Doki Penguin Lands and a mysterious Game Boy title published by Pony Canyon, also annoyingly called "Penguin Land". I'd like to think it was a Sega IP, but Japan hasn't heard of it since 1992 and the rest of the world haven't seen it since 1987, so it could be anyone's.

So "Penguin Land" is the second Doki Doki Penguin Land game, clearly showing that Sega had no plans to release the SG-1000 original in any form in the western world. The awkward naming scheme means it's often the subject of abuse from game website databases which throw it along with its SG-1000 predecessor or Game Boy rival, which are both different games entirely.

Though the distinction isn't always that obvious. The gameplay rules have remained mostly unchanged throughout the series and only the settings and levels have been altered. Some of these games ship with level editors mind you, so you can be forgiven for thinking they're identical. Except wait, no you can't, because you've just read that they're not.

The idea behind Penguin Land is to move your egg to the bottom of the screen. To do this, you need to roll your egg around and dig holes for it to fall through, Lode Runner style. On the way there will be a variety of enemies (including Space Polar Bears) and obstacles which will attempt to crack your egg, and of course you need to be careful not to get it stuck or allow it to fall off a great height (of about 3 or four tiles). Get to the end of the course in the quickest time possible and you'll be rewarded with points.

Penguin Land on the Master System wipes the floor with anything that came either before or after it in the series. Doki Doki Penguin Land on the SG-1000/MSX (and some arcade systems) is great, but noticeably dated because of the hardware it's running on. It's understandable of course for 1985, but there's little point in bothering with it when there's a newer, nicer alternative (and don't forget, you could in theory make any of the SG-1000 levels in Penguin Land if you wanted).

The Mega Drive sequel to Penguin Land which should be better... isn't. This is because Sega fell out with the Mega Drive's YM2612 sound chip and produced painfully screechy tracks which make a mockery of the system. It does add a few things including easy levels and a minor graphical upgrade, but it's not as good as the SMS game.

Furthermore, Penguin Land on the SMS makes use of the FM sound add-on for the Sega Mark III (and Japanese Master System), resulting in higher quality sound than most Master System games. Though even if you don't have the benefit of this add-on, the music still doesn't sound too bad. Graphics wise things are a bit dull, with only the background bricks ever changing between the 30 levels, but this was to be expected from games of the time. Look at all those early NES games and then think how basic they might have been if more memory was put into nicer graphics.

The problem with the Doki Doki Penguin Land series is that it's not been touched in 18 years... well unless you count that Sega Saturn compilation... though that itself was 13 years ago. There might be obscure mobile phone releases somewhere but in the west, there's been no remakes, re-releases or even an acknowledgement that the series exists... unless you count those plug-in-and-play consoles licensed by AtGames.

And it's a shame, because Penguin Land is a very good game and definitely worth a look.

1 comment:

  1. Did you know they just edited this game for the US release into what we always thought was Super Penguin Bros. 2? The real SPB2 never left Japan until it was released in Super Penguin All-Stars for Genesis.