Sunday, January 30, 2011


I'm afraid I'm not politically informed enough to be able to intelligently discuss Hosni Mubarak and the revolutionary demonstrations taking place in Egypt. But Egypt was in all the news, so I grabbed that thread and wove it into a much more trival discussion of the old arcade game Tutankham.

Konami created Tutankham in 1982 (and licensed it to Stern for the U.S. release). The game was originally to be entitled the more historically accurate 'Tutankhamon', but when the developers decided to change from a horizontal monitor to a vertical one they had to lop off the '-ON' to allow the title to fit on the narrower screen width. Why couldn't they have just reduced the font size of the title graphic? I dunno.

Even though I never saw the game in any of the arcades back in those days I was very aware of its existence due to a nice ad for the Atari VCS (Atari 2600) version that often appeared on the back cover of several of the comic books I was reading at the time.

In fact, I didn't even realize this was a port of an arcade game until I stumbled onto it in MAME a couple of years ago. I always just thought it was some Atari game. Here is an amusing old commercial for the Atari port.

In Tutankham you wander around the maze of King Tut's tomb trying to find as much treasure as you can while avoiding the bats, snakes, and monsters that are trying to kill you. In addition to your agile maneuvering you are equipped with a laser gun with which to shoot the creepy crawlies down. Don't ask me why they went with a laser instead of the more historically conventional handgun - cooler visual and sound effect I suppose. Also, for some reason you can only shoot to the left and right - not up and down. This little detail makes absolutely no sense and quite annoyed me at first, but it introduces a little more strategy into the game since you are basically helpless when you go up or down vertical tunnels, so I warmed up to it.

To complete a level you have to find the key or keys needed to open a large door at the end of the level and then you move on to the next maze. You also get bonus points depending on how quickly you are able to complete the level. Here is a little video of the gameplay.

Oh - and I almost forgot the secret weapon. Just like I always forget to use it in the game which pisses me off every time. You have a flash bomb that you can use once per level or once per life that destroys all creature on the screen. Don't let them go to waste!

I may not have been aware of this arcade game growing up, but a lot of other people out there apparently consider it a classic. It's one of the 6 arcade games featured in the famous 1982 Life Magazine photograph of the 'video game world champions' with the 5 others being the more universally recognized arcade classics Tempest, Defender, Ms. Pac-Man, Centipede, and Donkey Kong.

I finally got a chance to play the actual arcade game last October at the Houston Area Arcade Group Arcade Expo and although it didn't grab me at first, it did grow on me. The game is quite challenging but enjoyable. And I like the Robotron-esque dual-joystick controls.

In addition to the Atari 2600, Tutankham was also ported to the Colecovision and the Intellivision. There was also a prototype created for the Odyssey 2 that was not published. Computer ports were also released for the Atari 800, Commodore VIC-20, ZX Spectrum, Tandy Color Computer, and TI-99/4A. As if that weren't enough it was also released in 1983 as two different handheld LCD games and more recently for the Nintendo DS and in Game Room on Xbox LIVE and Games for Windows - LIVE.

So, if you'd like to check it out I would recommend trying it on MAME with some sort of dual joystick controller if possible, but as you can see there are a number of ports you can try too. In particular I was impressed by the Colecovision port - now THAT was a great system for arcade ports back in the day.

Oh - and if you want to own a real one check out the eBay auction for one for $550.

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gnome said...

Another excellent write-up! As for me, well, I'll be looking for the Speccy port.

Fallguy40 said...

Wow, I think I remember both the arcade game and the cheesy Atari commercial.

The Atari version reminds me of Intellivision's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game. I played the heck out of that one back in the day.

MadPlanet said...

@Gnome: Thanks Gnome. I suspected you might lean toward the Speccy! I didn't try that one but scoped it out on Youtube & it looked good too.

@Fallguy: Really? I do remember the old TV commercial, but I don't remember ever seeing the real machine anywhere. As with most Intellivision titles I remember AD&D being advertised but I never actually got to play it. Added to the list!

Fallguy40 said...

I must have seen it because it looks familiar.

Also, back then I had a subscription to Electronic Games Magazine so maybe I just saw it advertised.

Who knows?

MadPlanet said...

You actually had a subscription to EGM? Cool. I only bought them occasionally at the store.

Mik said...

That picture has anything I could want: cheerleaders, great arcades and a bunch of nerd to pummel just for the sake of being a bully.

Seriously, I never played Tutankham, but some screenshots I found actually do ring a bell... Is there something really similar for C64?

MadPlanet said...

Supposedly some of those cheerleaders made out with some of the gamers. They reportedly even had a few groupies back then!

I didn't see a C64 port anywhere which surprised me but maybe there was one. If not yeah I'm sure there were some very similar C64 games but offhand I don't recall any specific ones.

Anonymous said...

I programmed Tutankham at Western Technologies in Santa Monica, for Parker Brothers (and US Games).
First platform was VIC-20, 2nd was on C-64.
Steve Kotleba

MadPlanet said...

@Steve Kotleba, no kidding? That's cool. I saw the VIC-20 port and it looked pretty nifty. Haven't seen the C64 port - I'll try to track down the ROM and check it out. Thanks for the comment.