Starting this week, I'm kicking off a column devoted to the classic arcade games of yesteryear. I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in the 80s, when arcades were extremely popular and where there was always something new to discover with each successive visit.
I'm hoping you readers out there will enjoy these trips down memory lane, perhaps even taking the time out to rediscover them yourselves. Even better, I'm hoping that younger readers will discover them for the very first time! Today's PC and console games make these titles look primitive, but believe it or not, there was a time when arcade graphics crushed anything that was possible for the home market, such as the Atari 2600, Intellivision or Colecovision.
This week's inagural entry is devoted to BurgerTime, developed by the Japanese company Data East back in 1982. The game was licensed by Bally/Midway for American audiences. At the time, Midway had been riding a wave of Japanese hits such as Namco's Pac-Man, and BurgerTime proved to be no less lucrative a money maker at $.25 per play!
The premise of BurgerTime is simple. Players take on the role of Peter Pepper, chef extraordinare, who is charged with creating hamburgers while avoiding the deadly clutches of Mr.Egg, Mr. Hotdog and Mr. Pickle. Each burger's ingredients are draped over each level's multiple floors, and Peter must walk over them in order to make them drop down onto plates below. The ingredients will ultimately stack on top of each other to form complete hamburgers, and only after all burgers on a level have been completed, will the player progress to the next stage. For example, walking over a patty will cause it to droop, until the player has completely walked over it, causing it to plummet to the next level below. Dropping an ingredient while one enemy food is trapped on it will cause it to fall multiple levels. The more enemies trapped on a falling ingredient, the farther down it will drop.
The game cabinet was equipped with a standard joystick and one button, which when pressed allowed Peter to perform a pepper attack. Unlike other games of the time, such as Space Invaders, BurgerTime was unique in that pepper attacks were limited to five. Once you were out of pepper, that was it - unless you picked up an ice cream cone, coffee cup or french fries, all of which added one additional pepper attack to your arsenal. These goodies all resembled the bonus fruits in Pac-Man, and behaved similarly in that they would remain in a stationary position in each level. Players had to act fast to pick them up, as they would vanish quickly after appearing.
What made BurgerTime extremely challenging was how the enemy foods were programmed to seek out and attack the player. I hesitate to use the term "enemy AI" here, as that's giving Mr. Egg, Mr. Hotdog and Mr. Pickle too much credit, but they were insidious nonetheless. Instead of taking a direct line to the player, they would take right-angle routes, making planning attacks difficult. Also adding to the game's difficulty was the fact that there was little room for error when maneuvering around each level. If Peter isn't directly lined up with a floor or staircase, he won't go anywhere, allowing enemies in hot pursuit to catch him easily.
Twin Galaxies, which tracks gaming world records, maintains that the highest score ever earned in BurgerTime is more than 11,000,000 points! I can't even come close to matching that, but I do know that in order to progress deeply into the game, being able to memorize and process enemy movement patters on the fly is a MUST. A top player must also know when to use peppers and when to use restraint. While I don't have any proof to back this statement up, I believe professional players must even have the timing down as to when each pepper-awarding bonus item will appear and where they will appear.
Most old arcade games can be described as being easy to play, but difficult to master. This is especially true for BurgerTime. To get far, I encourage players to use the first stage as a place to stock up on peppers, while using none of them. The art of dropping ingredients while enemies are trapped on them is essential to success, and using peppers to waylay multiple enemies before sending them falling is literally the only way to clear later stages. Beginning with stage 6, Peter Pepper must venture into areas to drop ingredients from which there are no exits - he must go out the same way he went in, and without peppers to subdue his pursuers, he's as good as dead. Levels get progressively harder and movement becomes more constrained, and if that isn't enough, the burgers you are required to make become towering behemoths of cholesterol - quadruple and quintuple deckers!
The game ultimately went on to become a smash arcade hit, and was ultimately ported to the home consoles and computers of the day. The Apple II, Atari 2600, ColecoVision, Intellivision and Commodore 64 all saw home versions, but in most cases, they were graphically inferior to the official arcade release.
I hope you've enjoyed this look back at BurgerTime, and be sure to come back next week for another in-depth look at another arcade classic.