Recently I was taking a look at the Atari ST software available at AtariMania (reading Breaking the Borders got me in a state of nostalgia) when I stumbled on a new port of the classic arcade game, Pengo, for Atari’s 16-bit computers. It had good reviews and I am a big fan of Pengo and Pengo-style games so downloading it and firing it up in Hatari was a no-brainer.
My love of Pengo actually came from owning a Macintosh in college in the late 90s. The Macintosh game market was almost non-existent during the 90s, a time where everyone was counting down the time for when Apple would declare bankruptcy. While PC-owning friends of mine were playing Doom, I was latching onto the rare cross-platform hit like Warcraft or looking to Bungie to bring respectability to my machine.
Another small company also caught my eye by releasing revamped versions of arcade classics for the Mac with much-improved graphics and quirky sound effects. Ambrosia Software was first known for their remix of Atari’s classic coin-op, Asteroids, re-branded as Maelstrom. Their games reminded me of games by Jeff Minter and Dave Munsie on the Atari – retooling of arcade games with improved graphics and fun sounds. And Ambrosia made a really cool version of Pengo called Bubble Trouble. This is really where I really gained an affinity for Pengo and I played a lot of Bubble Trouble.
All of this is a really long-winded way to say that I like Pengo-style games. And if you do too, and you play games on an ST, you will likely like Iceblox Plus. IB has much of the Pengo formula. For one, you control a cute, waddling penguin who pushes ice blocks around the screen to dispatch of enemies. However, instead of having to take out a number of enemies to clear a screen, you need to collect all five of the golden coins trapped within blocks of ice. Indeed, it is very possible to avoid the enemies altogether and clear screens just by grabbing the coins.
When starting IB, you will see a nice introductory screen giving simple instructions and then displaying the high scores. The explanation of the game take only about five or six sentences. It is that straightforward. Which is a good thing, because the game itself comes with a very cursory set of instructions in a ReadMe file that I was unable to cajole my faux Atari STe into displaying in a readable format. Fortunately, the same instructions are printed on the game’s AtariMania page.
Controls could not be easier. Pixel Pete, your controllable digital penguin, will move in one of four directions according to the direction of the controller. That is it. The fire button is used simply to initiate a new game. Once you begin, you will be shown a level screen indicating your adversary (starting with a low number of moving flames). As you progress in levels, the enemies will get more numerous and deadly. Myself, I was only able to progress to the second enemy type, a spinning three-spoked disk of fire. The initial flame enemies are not aggressive and don’t seem to track you. The discs will relentlessly hunt you down.
When confronting just the wandering flames, life as Pixel Pete is pretty easy. I was able to progress through those levels pretty handily. This can get monotonous – to my knowledge, a new game always starts at the first level so getting back to the more challenging stages can seem like a chore at times. But, it is a lot like a classic arcade game in this way.
With the goal of just collecting the eggs, and not besting every enemy, a bit of the strategy of Pengo is simplified. In Pengo, when facing a large number of enemies, one needs to be judicious when using ice blocks. Enemies will destroy blocks and if you don’t aim well, you’ll run out of potential ammunition quickly. You can also arrange certain blocks in special patterns for big points in Pengo and there is a nice risk / reward calculation that the player needs to make. Because of these changes, I prefer the original Pengo formula over Iceblox Plus.
Another minor issue that I noticed while playing IB is that sometimes, enemies were trapped in a confined space at the beginning of a level. This allows Pete to complete the objectives pretty much unopposed. This isn’t a big deal but makes luck too big of a factor in some levels.
That said, Iceblox Plus is a charming and fun play. The boards change as you progress including desert and casino-themed venues. The graphics are colorful, detailed, and animated nicely. When Pete is burned to a pile of bones (in the cutest gruesome demise imaginable), it take a little bit of the sting out of losing a life. The Atari chiptunes in the background are very well done although I suspect Atari chiptunes may be an acquired taste outside of the of those nostalgic for them. And, sometimes, a simple game is just what you want.
In a strange coincidence, I had been playing Icebox Plus and heard that the next episode of The Atari 2600 Game by Game Podcast with Ferg will be covering Pengo for the venerable game console. Give it a listen!