Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I was reading Gnome's recent post about his brand-spanking new copy of Oil's Well, a great computer game by Sierra, and it reminded me of the old obscure arcade game that came out the year before the original Oil's Well that I assume was the inspiration for it - Anteater. And since Anteater is my second favorite Stern arcade game (Berzerk being number one of course) I thought I would do a post about it.

Anteater was released in 1982 by Stern and apparently licensed to Tago Electronics for release. It is one of those favorites of mine that I discovered on MAME - I've never seen a real one in person - and based on the pics of generic Anteater cabs I've seen and the arcade flyers like the one below - it appears possible that maybe ALL of the Anteaters were sold as conversion kits from Tago. I'm not sure, but either way it is a really enjoyable game that seems simplistic on the surface but actually has a fair amount of strategy involved.

In Anteater you play... anyone? anyone? an Anteater... and you extend your tongue throughout a large underground maze to catch and eat ant larvae, ants, and other creepy crawlies for points. The controls are simple - a single 4-way joystick to slowly probe the maze with your tongue and a single action button to rapidly retract your tongue back to your mouth. Stationary ant larvae are scattered throughout the maze in Pac-Man fashion for you to freely chomp for 10 points each with no fear of immediate reprisal, but ants are also patrolling the maze and are none too pleased with your activities. You can eat the ants (for 100 points) by running your tongue straight into them head-on, but if an ant touches any other part of your tongue while it is extended it delivers a painful bite to which you are apparently deathly allergic because it kills you right off. Not sure how that sort of hypersensitive tongue evolved on an Anteater, but there it is. So while you are sliding your tongue all around the maze you have to constantly be aware of ants approaching your tongue in the rest of the maze and if you see one coming you have to either retract your tongue to get out of the way or try to eat the ant before he gets to you.

The worms are a little different than the ants in that they have some sort of noxious substance on their head that kills you if you taste it head-on - so you have to hit them from behind to eat them (200 points). Although for some inexplicable reason they have absolutely no effect on the rest of your tongue so, unlike the ants, you don't have to worry about the worms running into you, just don't lick their head and you're good.

At the bottom of the underground maze there are two queen ants - they are fat and juicy and totally defenseless and if you eat them they are worth a whopping 1000 points each - but more importantly each time you eat one it destroys all the bugs on the screen. So you should save them for when you need to use a smart bomb to keep from getting killed.

After you complete a few anthills caterpillars start making an appearance too, but they are just ant-wannabes so treat them just like you would an ant - eat them however you like and don't let them touch any part of your tongue except the tip.

By far, the scariest member of the bug family in this game is the spider. As you play a level the sun is moving across the sky and when darkness falls the spider comes out. The spider can not be eaten and will follow your tongue down to the tip to deliver a killing bite when it gets there. So when the spider comes out your only choice is to either haul ass and finish eating all the ant larvae left on the screen to finish the level or eat a queen ant to kill the spider before he gets to the tip of your tongue.

At the end of each level you get an "ant times worm bonus" which is just what it says - the number of ants you ate multiplied by the number of worms you ate then multiplied by ten to make it respectable. Then the anteater wanders off to another anthill and starts again - with a change in color pallete for each new level. Every 20,000 points nets you an extra anteater.

Anteater was also released in Germany as "Ameisenbaer" and in the UK as "The Anteater" (not sure why the addition of the word "the" makes it more British but that's what I read). The original creator, Christian Oberth, followed up by writing a clone himself for the Apple II and Atari 800 in 1983 called "Ardy the Aardvark" and a prototype was created for the Atari 2600 in 1983 but was never released. Sierra Online's Oil's Well was also released in 1983 with a different premise but very similar gameplay (drill head drilling for oil instead of tongue eating bugs). A port was also released for the Commodore 64 in 1986 called "Aardvark" which was technically a port of Ardy, but Anteater begat Ardy begat Aardvark.

Freddie Morrish holds the world record for Anteater with 219,320 points on October 9, 1983. When I booted up the game last night to grab a few screenshots I actually hit my current high score (on a MAME cab) of 52,300.

I'm quite fond of Anteater. Yeah it is repetitive but I find it fun. There is something satisfying to me about slowly progressing in a considered manner taking out ants as I descend into the maze punctuated by brief hectic periods of action when ants are coming at me from multiple directions at once. The graphics are pretty simplistic but serviceable with some funky lime-green, orange, and hot-pink colors to give it a unique flavor. And the music?  Well, the only good thing I can say about the music is that it is sparse, because what there is of it is bad.

Overall, I give Anteater 7.9 ant-bitten swollen tongues out of 10. If you are a MAME guy I highly recommend you check it out and if you beat my high score let me know!

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter


gnome said...

7.9 swollen tongues you say? Why, I'd easily give this one a full 8 pf them, what with Oil's Well being a pretty blatant copy apparently. Oh, well. Heh.

BTW, thanks a ton for the link MadPlanet!

Mik said...

Looks so complicated! Why a poor ant eater should be attacked by such mean insects? :(

I'll give C64 version a shot, though :)

MadPlanet said...

Sure thing Gnome. Funny you should say that about the rating - I initially did give it an 8.0 on my totally arbitrary and unscientific scale - but then I rechecked my calculations and it actually came out to 7.94388 so I had to round down.

and don't get me wrong - I think Oil's Well is a great game and that new version you bought looks to be a very nice upgrade to the older one. I was just giving props to the pops.

MadPlanet said...

You're right Mik. Did you check out that marquee? Those bullies are showing the anteater no respect at all!

Let me know how you like Aardvark on C64. I've never actually given that one a go.

Mik said...

I managed to give Aardvark a shot, and as I expected it's damn hard! There are so many things to watch out for, expecially when the tongue goes past mid-screen, but this also means a fast-paced and surely funny game. Graphics are cute and controls are smooth, so it seems like a great conversion!

MadPlanet said...

Thanks for reporting back your thoughts on Aardvark Mik - it does sound like a good conversion. I'll check it out.

Yeah this game gets pretty darn challenging pretty fast. Even on my high score run I think I only got to Anthill 5 or 6. It's definitely a "well crap!" moment when your tongue is all snaked out near the bottom and you notice an ant about an inch away from your tongue at the top and there is no way in hell you can retract fast enough to escape.