One day, in the distant past, a frog needed to cross a busy highway and a log-filled river in order to, I dunno, mate or something. This tale of bravery in the face of certain danger seized the imaginations of people everywhere. His story can be told in the game Frogger. However, all was not well in the universe. While this plucky amphibian might entertain the simple plebians with its down-to-earth humble story, what about the upper-middle class? How would it be even conceivable that a golf-playing junior executive with a Lacoste alligator polo, argyle sweater, cuffed chinos, and cordovan loafers would be remotely interested in something so below his station as a simple frog hopping across logs? The simple matter of the fact was: junior executives had no time for helping frogs! They didn’t preserve wetlands; they destroyed them to make room for their gated communities and exclusive country clubs! No game company had the guts to crack into this key demographic.
In Preppie you play Mr. Bigshot’s prep-schooled junior executive (read:golf caddy), who has to go get his stray balls and avoid paying that extra fee at the pro shop every time that the CEO, well, hit the ball. The problem is, in order to keep the fairways and greens looking their finest, there is a constant stream of lawnmowers, both manual and motorized, which are immediately fatal to anyone with a polo shirt. Sometimes the ball will be across the water hazard, but fortunately it is filled with canoes, logs, and alligators to cross. Our poor caddy only has enough room in his pocket for one ball at a time, though, so he has to pick up one at a time and bring it all the way back to the start before attempting to pick up another one. As levels go on the objects move faster and there are more balls to collect. To make matters worse, apparently the golf course was built over where the original Frogger takes place, because the frog himself jumps across the middle in later levels, trying to exact revenge on whoever stole his hopping grounds and mutated him until he was twice the size of any normal human being. Unfortunately, the developers aren’t around, so the frog will settle on maiming any caddies that cross its path. I tell ya, the life of a caddy is a hard one.
Fortunately, the whole thing is set to some upbeat tunes from the early 1900’s, including “I Was Strolling Through the Park One Day” and “Down Among the Sheltering Palms,” giving the whole thing a sort of box social feel. In short, while Preppie is basically just a Frogger clone, it is a well-realized catchy one, and I recommend it for anyone too bourgeois to take on the role of a lowly frog.
The first thing you may notice about Qix is its complete disregard for the precedents set by the English language. A Q without a U? How is that pronounced? Kix? Quix? Should I be controlling a kid-tested, mother-approved corn crunch ball? Am I to expect to be fighting windmills to win the heart of my beloved Dulcinea?
The true purpose of this game is both simpler and far stranger than either of those two scenarios. As a purple diamond thing, you must form boxes on the playing field. Each time you complete a box, it fills in with blue and becomes permanent. However, to menace you are little sparks (creatively named Sparx) that travel along the edge. Leaving the edge renders you safe from the Sparx but vulnerable to the Qix, a strange construct that looks like that old “dancing lines” screensaver that makes a noise that is a cross between a lawnmower, hairdryer, and annoying fly. If the Qix touches you or a line of an unfinished box trailing behind you, you’re toast. The object is to fill at least 75% of each playing field, at which point you move to the next level where everything goes faster. Also, after a few levels the Sparx can travel up your unfinished line and there are two Qix.
Qix is a simple game requiring fast reflexes and a whole lot of luck. Since the movement of the Qix is so unpredictable, especially on later levels, it’s anybody’s guess as to whether you can survive long enough to fill in the required amount or not, and it can get quite frustrating. Still, it’s a great little game, and I recommend it as well.
Hard Hat Mack
While Preppie appealed to the fortunate prep-schooled business executive, Hard Hat Mack targets the other end of the spectrum: the hard-working blue collar construction worker who’s just trying to get in a good day of work before he goes home to his split-level to watch some NASCAR. The game consists of three levels, in which our protagonist is trying to complete various construction-related tasks while avoiding vandals and OSHA representatives. In the first he is laying some flooring and hammering it in with a jack hammer, in the second he is grabbing everyone’s lunchboxes from a death-trap of a construction site, and in the third he is processing some scattered boxes into nails Any contact with the vandal or OSHA guy, as well as falling too far or contact with other dangerous objects such as spitting nailguns, giant chompers, and plain open flames spell doom for our hero, who will contract into his helmet like a turtle (or Bounty Bob). Hmm. With all these deathtraps around, maybe letting the OSHA guy inspect the place wouldn’t be a bad idea! It would beat having poor Mack live off workman’s comp for the rest of his life with a wrench imbedded in his spine, simply because the foreman didn’t have the foresight to leave his lunch in a place other than on the conveyor belt leading to the furnace!
Mixed messages about occupational safety and hazards aside, Hard Hat Mack is full of fun, Donkey Kong-esque gameplay. The controls are a little fussy, and many jumps have to be ridiculously well-timed in order to succeed, but that’s part of the challenge. The sound is well-done: a catchy little rhythmic ditty plays over and over again, but only when Mack is actually moving, compelling a musical person like myself to keep the guy active so as to not break the rhythm. After you’ve beat it once there’s not a whole lot to go back to except perhaps improving one’s time, but it’s still a pretty fun game.
That’s disk 10! Coming up next: side 1 of disk 11, with Kangaroo, Flying Ace, Mouse (aka Mouskattack), Tumble Bugs, and Galaxian. Catch you then!