For those of you less informed, August 8th has been deemed “Review A Bad Game Day” by the folks over at 1 More Castle, a site dedicated to the gaming of yesteryear. I’m participating for the first time this year, and though it was a tough decision on which game I should slam, I finally decided on a game that has given me much frustration in the short time I’ve owned it: Kangaroo for the Atari 2600.
Make no mistake, I enjoy my Atari 2600 and most of its library. I have fond memories of playing Fishing Derby and Space Invaders as a child on my dad’s old Atari, and I enjoy a good bout of Keystone Kapers or Bowling on my own system today. Shoot, I’ll even play the infamous Atari port of Pac-Man once in a while. Even so, my personal library is not without its share of stinkers, and Kangaroo takes the cake.
A Donkey Kong clone at first glance, Kangaroo rapidly proves itself to be an ambitious and decidedly inferior attempt to mimic Mario’s first foray into the arcades. Just replace “Mario” with “Mama Marsupial” and you’ve basically got the game. The villains are even monkeys, although you’ll probably mistake them for flopping fish in-game. Instead of barrels and fireballs, the Kangaroo must dodge apples that randomly spawn from the top of the screen in inconvenient locations. Oh yes, and the fish-monkeys throw them sometimes, too. While apples are clearly lethal weapons of destruction, the Kangaroo can snag other fruits like strawberries for bonus points. In addition, you can also punch the mugger monkeys to both KO them and scrape up a few extra points. Good luck reaching them before taking an apple core (represented by an itty-bitty patch of pixels) to the face, though.
Annoyingly enough, because the one button on the Atari 2600 joystick is reserved for a barely-usable jab, the jumping function–the CRUX of platformers–is relegated to tilting up on the control stick. This results in some very difficult jumps (pushing up and then quickly left or right on the stick), as a single misstep over a gap between platforms results in instant death. Between the relentless barrage of apples, fish monkeys, and tricky jumps, the poor Kangaroo is hard-pressed to make it any reasonable amount of time before meeting an untimely end.
The graphics are an even bigger disappointment than the controls. For a game made in 1983, everything about the way it looks just screams “lazy.” Your questionable-looking kangaroo putters up and down lethargically like a worn-down car while moving. Jumping results in a high-pitched “boing” and makes the kangaroo retract its legs into its head (well, maybe not, but that’s sure what it looks like). I’ve already touched on the pixel-apples and fish-monkeys, but fortunately the items like bells and strawberries are at least discernible. Sadly, the stages themselves–again, one of the more important aspects of platormers–are a royal mess. It’s not so noticeable in the first scene, which is basically 3 long platforms with ladder-looking things at opposite ends of the screen. However, in the second scene, there’s a whole mess of rectangular platforms all mashed up against each other. Which ones are the ladders? Where are the platforms? Good luck trying to separate the two, because they’re all the same color! That color, by the way, is a drab brown. I know they’re supposed to be trees (and only because I’ve played the much prettier arcade version), but come on!
The sound is possibly the only redeeming point of this entire game. For one, it’s almost unique in the fact that it’s an Atari game with music clips. Not only that, but they don’t sound too bad, either. The kangaroo’s vapid bouncing is aided by a consistent “bwoop-bwip,” which is only slightly grating. Punching, climbing ladders, and falling each have their own run-of-the-mill Atari sound effects. The reward for completing a level is a few measures of “Oh, Susannah.”
Ultimately, there are far better games on the system. This particular game is especially nothing worth pining after. Unless, of course, you really like kangaroos, hate monkeys that look like fish, or don’t mind extremely lackluster platforming. But even your hatred of monkeys can be sated by the Atari port of Donkey Kong, especially if you hate monkeys that look like the Gingerbread Man. Crikey!