One of my other hobbies involves drawing animal characters. There's an entire community devoted to this called furry fandom... it's often maligned by those who don't understand it, but the truth is that furry fans produce a lot of great artwork that's fun for everybody, not just adults.
The best thing about the next three games is that they combine two of my favorite hobbies. They're not only fun to play, but star charismatic animal characters which helped inspire some of gaming's most important mascots.
"Ooh, ooh, ooh… Kangaroo! Punch out a monkey, eat a piece of fruit!" This lyric from an old Atari commercial perfectly describes this Donkey Kong variant, designed by Sun Corporation. We all remember the outstanding games Sun- or should I say, SunSOFT- made for the NES, but the company never made anything particularly impressive in the early 80's. Kangaroo was their best arcade game, and while it's fun, charismatic, and innovative, it falls well behind its inspiration Donkey Kong thanks to subpar graphics and less than reliable control. Mama Kangaroo's got a face only Joe Camel could love, and because there's only one button you have to press up to both jump and climb ladders. If you're next to a ladder you're going to climb it, even if you really wanted to leap over a low-flying apple tossed by one of the monkeys.
I grew up playing the 5200 version of Kangaroo, and while it played and looked like the arcade game, it was missing some features. Now that I've played the coin-op more extensively, I'm kind of glad Atari took these features out of the 5200 version, because they just make the game more aggravating than necessary. The worst of these is a hulking gorilla with his own pair of boxing gloves... he'd be fun to fight against, that is, IF the game let you fight him. The only way you'll get a clean shot on this marauding monkey is when his back is turned... if you meet him face to face, he'll just steal your boxing gloves, leaving you helpless. Instead of punching, Mama Kangaroo will present a white flag... it's a cute touch, but it doesn't protect you against the monkeys and their apples, and both get pretty thick in the later rounds. The extra music in the arcade game isn't much of a bonus, either... the crummy tune that plays in the middle of each round isn't at all necessary when you consider the musical nature of many of the sound effects.
Kangaroo's unique play mechanics and clever setting help distinguish it from other platformers available in the early 80's, but its sloppy artwork and unprofessional design prevent it from being on par with Donkey Kong, earning it a merely satisfactory six. Mama Kangaroo can hold her own against the dozens of monkeys in this game, but she'd never last three rounds with Nintendo's big ape.
You probably remember the 2600 game much more vividly than its coin-op counterpart. Fortunately, Springer wasn't nearly as bad in arcades, and stands as the best game the otherwise mediocre software company Orca ever released. It's certainly a leap forward from the completely pointless shooter The Percussor.
Just who is Springer, anyway? He's a little brown bunny with an Icarus complex... he's determined to reach the shifty-eyed sun on the top of the screen, regardless of the dangers involved. These not only include getting burned to a crisp but being caught by reptiles which hatch from eggs strewn throughout the screen. This is probably the game's best idea... these reptiles mature over time, becoming more dangerous and eventually sprouting wings that allow them to close the gaps between themselves and Springer. Luckily, this rabbit isn't helpless... his powerful jumping legs prove equally useful for kicking, letting you scramble any eggs and knock down any reptiles in your path. You'll still need to be careful, because there's a bird at the top of the screen which bombards you with junk that can't be kicked away. Also, watch those jumps! Springer easily loses his balance and will plunge to his death if he falls too far.
The platform hopping that was nearly impossible in the 2600 game is far easier here... when Springer leaps from one cloud to the next, there's a pretty good chance he'll reach it. This makes the game much more inviting, even if the graphics aren't up to Donkey Kong's standards and the repetitive music threatens your sanity after a couple of minutes. On the plus side, there are a lot of items to collect, ranging from toothbrushes to carrots, and the bug-eyed Springer has more personality here than he ever did in the 2600 game.
It's tough to decide whether to give Springer a six or a seven... it's ultimately just another Donkey Kong knock off, but at the same time it's so much better than the disasterous 2600 version and Orca's other games that you can't help but give the designers some credit for this. If you were unfortunate enough to play Springer on the 2600, give its arcade counterpart a seven.
Here's a game that's a bit more modern than the ones I reviewed previously... released in 1994, J.J. Squawkers naturally looks much better than Kangaroo or Springer. The colors are bright and vibrant, and the exaggerated animation and wacky weapons available to your heroes (a pair of brightly colored parrots on steroids) gives the game an even more authentic cartoon look.
However, the gameplay is nothing special, borrowing heavily from Ghouls 'n Ghosts but adding an almost inexhaustible number of enemies. You'll sometimes feel overwhelmed by the armies of bad guys, even if kangaroo rats and weasels aren't the world's most intimidating foes. On top of that, the game doesn't have a consistent setting... you'll be taken from a warm, inviting cartoon town called Pistachio Ville and dropped into everything from a virtual reality simulation controlled by a mad scientist (paging Dr. Muto... paging Dr. Muto) to outer space, where living constellations and constantly moving meteors will make the going much tougher for you than Buzz Aldrin ever had it. The further you go, the more difficult and less appealing the game becomes... it won't take long before you run out of patience and interest, then move on to something else.
I'd give J.J. Squawkers a six, and you this advice: play Three Wonders instead. There's a great platformer on this arcade compilation called Midnight Wanderers/Roosters, and it's more professionally designed and enjoyable than Squawkers.
MAME TIP: Remember, MAME will try to reset your current configuration every time you upgrade it. You may have to make some adjustments after the upgrade… check the default settings to ensure that your joystick is recognized, and examine the directories to make sure MAME knows where to find your ROMs.
Thirsty? Well, you will be when you read next month's MAMExpose. We'll examine a variety of seemingly unrelated games, which have one common bond… a familiar brand of soda that's just as popular in video games as it is in real life.