Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dow Plummets - Stock Brokers Shoot Tanks

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost another 420 points today. Oh if only someone made an arcade game about stock brokers jumping out of Wall Street buildings where it was your job to position a trampoline below them to bounce them from certain death into a waiting ambulance - how awesome would that be?!  Well not that awesome it turns out - but in my never-ending quest to play every arcade game ever made now seemed the perfect time to hit up "Wall Street".

Wall Street was produced by Century Electronics in 1982.  What?  Never heard of Century Electronics? Well not many have, although it's possible that some of our European readers may have played the Ocean port of one of their other arcade games - Hunchback. Their body of work goes quickly downhill after that though.

There are two different levels in Wall Street - creatively named "City" and "Maze". "City" is the only level that makes any sense - it's not much fun - but it makes sense. In the City level you maneuver a safety net / trampoline left and right to catch stressed-out guilt-ridden stock brokers that have leaped to their deaths. You position the trampoline under them and they bounce off at varying angles and heights depending on how they hit the trampoline. You can continue bouncing them around for points but if you can position it so that they hit near the right side of the trampoline you can bounce them over into the waiting ambulance for big points and one step closer to completing the level.

I guess it is a bit of a cross between the arcade games Kick (aka Kick Man) and Clowns. Or - a complete and utter ripoff of the old Nintendo Game & Watch "Fire" where you are saving people jumping from a burning building. From what I read online Fire came out the year before Wall Street.

If you're able to unwisely save enough of the slimy brokers before the Dow Jones Index reduced to zero you move on to level 2 - "Maze" (I hope the guy that came up with these names got a bonus that year).  Maze is where the game really falls apart. You are now the stock broker (I think) and apparently after being saved you a) discounted the promise you made to God on the way down of being a better person and b) determined to make your money back as quickly as possible.  So you are running around a maze to find bags of money - people's savings that you bilked them out of no doubt - that you must pick up and deposit in your safe. Unfortunately for you, the military has had quite enough and instead of a fiscal bailout have decided to simply kill you this time. And they're done screwing around so they send out a battalion of tanks to do the job, but luckily you had the foresight to bring your anti-tank RPG with you to work this morning so you're good to go. In true Tutankham fashion you can only shoot left and right, not up and down, but it's quite easy. This is a complete throwaway level.

If you're wiley enough to grab all the money in the maze and not get killed by the tanks well then it's back to level 1 for more "City". And actually the second round of City is a little better as multiple brokers start jumping off the buildings at the same time, so it gets more challenging and almost even a little fun. And rescue helicopters start making an appearance on the third time through the City level that you can try and land the brokers in, but I lost interest in the game before I was able to get that done.

And oh lord the music. Grating bleep bloop renditions of Oh Susanna, Dixie, and what I'm pretty sure is Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (..they go uppity up up, they go downditty down down - am I the only one who knows what song I'm talking about here?)  The music made me want to jump off a building myself.

So... I had to play it to rate it and check it off my list because it's what I do, but I certainly wouldn't advise you to make the same investment. My rating? A lowly 4.0.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Monday, August 1, 2011

New World Record on Nibbler

Over the weekend there were new world record high scores set on four different arcade video games:

Frenzy: Joel West with 4,933,702
Snake Pit: Mark Alpiger with 317,350
Tron:  David Cruz with 14,007,645
Nibbler: Rick Carter with 1,002,222,360

[*12/26/2011 Update: Tim McVey took up the challenge and recaptured his high score crown on Nibbler by crushing Rick's score with 1,041,767,060. Congrats Tim and thanks for setting the record straight about the bogus passing out story!]

Congrats to all those guys, but since I've never been overly interested in the first 3 games I'd like to chat a bit specifically about the fourth one - Nibbler.

Hats off to Rick Carter who took a little over 49 hours to amass that score. 49 hours! That breaks the old high score of 1,000,042,270 set by Tim McVey way back in 1984.

Nibbler was the first game to support a billion point score and to spotlight this Rock-ola offered a free Nibbler machine to the first player to turn the game over by scoring a billion. The early favorite to surpass the mark was U.S. National Video Game Team member Tom Asaki, who came close but failed in attempts at Walter Day's Twin Galaxies arcade in Ottumwa, IA (once when the joystick broke after he had scored 793 million points). Tim McVey (not Timothy McVeigh!) had six unsuccessful attempts before he finally broke the billion-point barrier with 1,000,042,270 points. To commemorate the achievement Ottumwa declared January 28, 1984 as Tim McVey Day.

Tim McVey held the official high-score record for the next 27 years until Rick Carter broke it last weekend. McVey tried to one-up himself in 2009 but only mustered a paltry 648 million. But now that he has officially been dethroned by Carter I'm guessing he will come back out of retirement for another shot.

And now to the game itself - Nibbler is another one of those arcade games that I discovered on MAME and enjoyed but still have never actually seen in person - not even at the ACAM. Pac-Man fever was still running rampant when Rock-Ola released it back in 1982 so it's not surprising that it is a simplistic maze-based eat the dots type of game controlled only by a 4-way joystick - but it far from a Pac-Man clone.

In the game you play as Nibbler the snake and must slither around a maze eating the food that is scattered about. You must eat all the food in the maze before time runs out but with each piece of food you eat, Nibbler gets longer and ultimately starts getting in his own way. If Nibbler runs into his own body or if the time runs out he loses a life. Once you've eaten all the food the level is completed and a new maze full of food begins. Don't ask me what kind of food it's supposed to be - apparently a radioactive fruit of some sort because it radiates with a multicolored glow. I saw someone call the food/dots "croutons" online once, but I have no idea where the hell they got that from - maybe the manual who knows.

Anyway, to make things more difficult the uranium-soaked fruit is evidently laced with methamphetamines because you cannot stop Nibbler and he just keeps going faster and faster the more he eats. He does pause very slightly every time he runs into a wall to let you gather your thoughts but he's tweaking hard so like any good meth head he is off and running in a split second, consequences be damned!

Obviously the gameplay is pretty redundant, but it is somewhat addictive and the mazes change up a little at each level to add a little variety. The second you look at the graphics you say - oh this must be from 1982. Or at least that's what I said when I first played it.  Is that wrong to not only think that but to actually say it out loud to myself while I'm sitting alone playing it?  The sound, though not great, is tolerable for a while. But it doesn't take long for the 8-bit rendition of La Cumparsita to wear on the nerves.  If they'd let the song play on I think I'd have liked it fine but it only loops the first couple of bars over and over and over like a broken record until I just want to tango into the kitchen and stuff my head in the oven. The microwave oven.

The game isn't nearly as easy as you might think. Since you can't stop you have to strategically think ahead to plot your course as Nibbler keeps getting longer and faster and it gets quite challenging very quickly, assuming you aren't Rick Carter, which I am not - my high score is a mere 52,170 (casts eyes down in shame).

Nibbler was ported to the Apple II in 1983 and the Amstrad CPC in 1984. So if you're not a MAMER you might want to check out those ports. In 2005, JMD developed a freeware themable clone of the game (the Amstrad CPC port of the game anyway) for the Sega Dreamcast - although I've never seen that one.

Overall I think it's a decent little game with a certain charm.  Reminiscent of the old Snake games that have been around forever but all Pac-Manned up.  To me it tastes like Anteater (although Anteater is the superior game) with some Tron light cycles thrown in, except there are no ants or MCP hooligans trying to kill you - just your own ever-growing body. I don't hit this game on the MAME cab very often but will brink it up every great once in a while for a quickie. I give it 6.9 bulimic boa constrictors out of 10.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter