Monday, 16 August 2010

Pipe Mania

If you've not played Pipe Mania before there's clearly something wrong with you. Perhaps you should do the world a favour and jump of a bridge - we don't need you in our society, you haven't connected bits of tubing together in an unconventional manner to redirect sludge.

My Pipe Mania, the one that I remember and love, is the DOS version. It's been released in numerous formats for numerous systems, sometimes under the title of "Pipe Dream", but the DOS copy is, as far as I'm concerned, the best. Most versions either underperform on the hardware, look or sound awful or screw up the formula, whereas the DOS game has none of those issues. It's great.

Conservative cuts have left the sewage system in a mess. Your job? Construct pipes. Slime slowly comes out of a starting point after a bit, and it needs a place to go, so you have to make a "long-ish" path to keep it flowing. How do you do this? Randomly generated pieces, which can be placed anywhere on screen, assuming a) there's not an obstacle in the way or b) the slime hasn't reached the tile you want to replace. You need to construct a path that's long enough in order to progress to the next round, and so on, and so forth.

But it's not always all that simple. In order to rank up a high score you need to build big paths, ones that often cross or make use of the pre-positioned tiles on screen. Sometimes you need to take into consideration the end node that may be present, and often the sludge's movement is faster than you might expect. But having said that, that's about as complicated as the game gets. It was, after all, first released in 1989 and targeted at the worst systems on the market as well as the best. Gameplay isn't overly deep, and although the scenery does change in the DOS game, it only changes twice.

But there are bonus levels, which take a book from the page of Tetris. Rather than being given the right to place a tile anywhere, tiles scroll back and forth at the top of the screen and pressing enter will release them downwards. It's good clean fun.

The thing I love about my version of Pipe Mania is that even though it's an 16-colour EGA DOS game... it stands up very well against its rivals. The Amiga version, despite the potential for improved graphics and sound... isn't much better. The NES version doesn't have the same appeal, the Windows 3.1 version is extremely basic in nature, the SNES version is a bit meh, the arcade version isn't also meh. All these versions that should blow the DOS game out of the water... just don't, and the versions for the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 were always bound to be worse off.

The original batch of Pipe Mania games had screaming (see box), chaos and explosions. Later revisions... were a lot more soft, and that ruined Pipe Mania's image somewhat. Now it's just seen as a bit of mindless shovelware, probably panned by critics on the basis that everything that surrounds the core gameplay is boring. Once upon a time it was a desperate struggle to contain deadly chemicals, now it's just five minutes of fun on your iPhone, and that's terrible.

This game entertained me for years, and still does. It's a classic in my eyes, just a shame it'll never reach that status with future generations. Apparently there's something similar within Bioshock as a minigame but that'll be forgettable too. The final nail on the coffin is that this is a game presented in 16-colours and reliant solely on the built-in PC speaker. It's difficult to market that to current gamers. To them, it just looks like an old waste of space, or they're too lazy to understand the simplicity of DOSBox. Sad times. The Amiga/Atari ST versions are good substitutes though.

But this is my blog, and on my blog, my views are worth double. Pipe Mania is probably one of my favourite DOS games, and since it's so easy to find and download, it could easily be one of yours. Check it out sometime.


  1. hey hey, I liked the Windows port quite a bit thank you very much :(

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