Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Roswell, New Mexico and Wacko

Day 2 of the RV trip saw us driving through the town of Roswell - the little town in New Mexico where in 1947 the U.S. military recovered a crashed flying saucer along with the bodies of its alien pilots. Mogul shmogul - Jonathan Frakes said it's for real and that's good enough for me! 

So today's semi-randomly chosen featured game is - no not Area 51 - Wacko!  Ever heard of it?

Wacko was released by Bally/Midway in 1982 and has some unique features that make it stand out to me as a pretty cool game. The first thing you'll notice as you approach the game is the wacked out angle at which the entire cabinet slants.  Check out the picture in the flyer below.

It's not just the marquee, the entire control panel is slanted so that the right side is a full 3 inches lower than the left side!  In fact the slant of the control panel actually caused problems with the operation of the trackball so they had to install the trackball upside down in order for it to work properly.

The other unique feature of the game is the trackball/joystick combination controller. You use a trackball to 'krooz' around a lunar landscape in the the flying saucer of the breakfast-cereal-named alien Kap'n Krooz'r, and use the joystick to fire Robotron-style at cartoonish monsters ambling about.

Compared with other games released at the time the colorful cartoony graphics were quite impressive. Originally Midway planned to use a wizard shooting cute animals, but decided to go dark and shoot monsters instead. Then they switched the wizard to Kap'n Krooz'r (ugh) who was the main character from another Midway game called Kozmik Krooz'r. Midway hoped he would catch on as a popular mascot/franchise like Pac-Man did, but unfortunately for them it didn't quite work out.

To destroy the monsters you have to shoot them in matching pairs - there are two of several different kinds of monsters running around so for example, you would shoot a green dragon with your first shot which causes him to stop and shake for a couple of seconds and then you have to shot the other green dragon before he stops shaking for both of the dragons to be destroyed. If any monster touches you of course you die.

It sounds a little like a kid's game I suppose, but as the levels progress the rules get more complicated and it quickly get very challenging - if you shoot a dragon with your first shot but hit a vampire with your second shot the two creatures switch top halves resulting in two mutants that you have to unmix before you can kill them. Further levels introduce even more challenges.

I had never seen a Wacko machine before until I bumped into one at Joystix here in Houston one day, and I've pretty much played it on every return trip since then. Wacko was also featured fairly often on the TV show Starcade, either as the game that the contestants were playing or as the arcade prize.

Wacko was designed and programmed by Steve Meyer who, I discovered upon writing this, also designed and programmed Tapper and Timber, two other unique favorites of mine.

This is another game I wouldn't mind adding to my personal collection of arcade machines - if said collection ever begins. And what do you know, a working Wacko is currently being offered on eBay for the not too unreasonable buy-it-now price of $995. Of course shipping costs on that bad boy are gonna eat your lunch - but if you live in Connecticut and can pick up locally well that's something to consider.  Check out the auction HERE.

Wacko wasn't ported to any consoles at the time, but in 2004 it was included in the compilation title Midway Arcade Treasures 2 for Microsoft XBOX, Nintendo Gamecube, and Sony Playstation 2. It was also included in the 2006 Midway Arcade Treasures Deluxe Edition for PC.  You can pick those up dirt cheap and I assume it should play pretty well with a dual analog joystick setup - of course the best way to experience it is with the real trackball/joystick rig so if you're in Houston on the first or last Friday of the month check it out at Joystix (if it's still there).

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gnome said...

Excellent write-up on another truly obscure (well, from where I am standing at least) arcade game. Pretty impressive graphics, but what I mainly love is just how wild the arcade designers of yore went with their cabinets.

MadPlanet said...

Thanks Gnome. Yeah the crazy appearance of the cab is definitely what caught my eye when I first saw the game. That was the hook, then the unique control scheme and simple but addictive gameplay kept me coming back for more.

Fallguy40 said...

I tried this game at Joystix and the controls screwed with my mind. It was like trying to play guitar and sing at the same time.

MadPlanet said...

Yeah there is definitely a bit of rub your stomach while patting your head going on there, but after a few games you get used to it. The thing with Joystix is there are so many games to try there you don't really want to stick with one game for TOO long.

I've played so many generic games that have the joystick and a couple of buttons (or maybe 6 if it's a fighter) that I am more intrigued now by the games with unique control panels. That's one reason I always wanted to like Major Havok with it's funky cylindrical spinner - but I just don't.