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Posted on Mar 11th 2011 at 05:00:00 AM by (singlebanana)
Posted under Atari, 2600, Pengo, Classic Gaming, Game Review, Retro Gaming


Game:  Pengo
Year:  1984
Publisher:  Atari, Inc.
Developer:  Coreland, Sega Enterprises, Ltd.
Designer(s)/Programmer:  Mark Hahn
Sound: Andrew Fuchs & Jeff Gusman
Graphics: Courtney Granner
Rarity (according to AtariAge): 6 = Rare+
Controls:  Joystick
Number of Players: 1-2 players, alternating turns
Average Cost:  currently $25 - $45 loose 
Also Available On:  coin-op arcade, Atari 8-bit, Atari 5200, Commodore 64, Game Gear, also released as "Pengon" for the Dragon 32/64 and TRS-80 CoCo, released as "Pepen ga Pengo" on the Sega Mega Drive (Japan)

Tagline/Description:  "Go skating on thin ice!  Race Pengo, the lovable penguin, around a frozen lake.  Rearrange huge blocks of ice.  Your goal: Line up three jewel-embedded blocks for dazzling points!  Your enemies: SNO-BEES!  Their touch puts you in deep freeze!"

With a tagline/description that would make Elaine Benes cringe (due to its overuse of exclamation points), Pengo is a game that actually delivers the fun and excitement promised on the back of the box.  You control Pengo, a red, tuxedo wearing penguin whose job it is to clear each level by avoiding and crushing the evil Sno-bees out to get you.  In Pengo, you begin with 5 lives, which are represented at the bottom left-hand side of your screen by the small, red blocks.  You can destroy blocks of ice (except the jeweled ones - the three blocks with the flashing centers) to escape or gain a side on a block so that you can slide it at your enemies.  Sno-bees can be crushed between ice blocks or between an ice block and the wall.  The wall also plays an important roll in Pengo; if you are being chased along the wall by a Sno-bee, you can simply kick the wall to stun/freeze the enemy.  While a Sno-bee is frozen, you may push an ice block at them, or simply walk over them to remove them from play and earn points.  Pengo is mainly a level progression game, but on top of that it is also timed; you have approximately 2 minutes to complete each level by eliminating all of the enemies.     

While there are typically no more than three enemies on the screen at a time, Sno-bee eggs must also be taken into consideration during gameplay.  These eggs hatch randomly during play and are identified before the start of each round by the flashing ice blocks.  If you destroy the ice blocks before they hatch, then you have a few less enemies to worry about that round, but if they hatch, you will have to eliminate these new Sno-bees as well before finishing the level or time runs out.  The small yellow blocks on the bottom right-hand corner of your screen represent the number of Sno-bee eggs remaining in the current level. 

Pengo is a game in which the main focus is not only level progression, but is also racking up as many points as possible.  The possibilities of scoring points in Pengo are not only plentiful, but they allow for multiple strategies for attacking each level.  To acquire the maximum points per level, players can attempt to line up the three jewel blocks, either vertically or horizontally; you earn more points for lining them up without using the walls.  Other means of earning points in Pengo are as follows:

Basic Points:
Crushing an ice block = 30 pts.
Squashing Sno-bees between an ice block:
1 Sno-bee = 400 pts.
2 Sno-bees at once = 1600 pts.
3 Sno-bees at once = 3200 pts.
Running over a frozen Sno-bee = 100 pts.
Crushing an ice block containing a Sno-Bee egg = 500 pts.
Lining up jewel blocks:
Against a wall = 5,000 pts.
Inside the ice field = 10,000 pts.

Time bonuses for finishing rounds:
0 - 19 secs. = 5,000 pts.
20 - 29 secs. = 2,000 pts.
30 - 39 secs. = 1,000 pts.
40 - 49 secs. = 500 pts.
50 - 59 secs. = 10 pts.
60 secs. or more = No Bonus

Pengo is a strong title for the Atari 2600 and there are few, if any, negative qualities that I can point out.  The graphics are superb, every item and character is well-defined and recognizable.  The controls are simple and work well with the boxy movement of the game in conjunction with the 2600 joystick.  The combination of level progression and point accumulation makes for some exciting 2-player action and greatly enhances the games replay value.  The sound effects in Pengo are great and the music, though on a fairly quick loop, plays constantly throughout the games and adds a fun vibe to the gameplay.

One the few criticisms I have with the game is that there is no timer.  While many points depend on the time that you finish a round and because you only have 2 minutes to complete each round, having no means of keeping track of time can be a concern.  The cartridge design (the later silver Atari design) is annoying and almost impossible to clean without damaging the label; if condition is a concern, this may be an important factor to note before purchasing.  Also, what the "H"-"E" double hockey sticks is a Sno-bee anyway?  Some variations of Pengo has sea lions as enemies, which really makes more sense.  But overall, there's not much to complain about. 

A "Sno-bee" is a dead bee....

Pengo is one of the rarer titles for the Atari 2600, because it was released in 1984, at the cusp of the video game crash.  Because less copies were released before the crash, Pengo tends to be one of the more expensive titles.  However, if you are a 2600 enthusiast, or a fan of puzzle/strategy games that succeeded Pengo, like Kickle Cubicle or the Adventures of Lola series for the NES, it's definitely worth picking up.  Hopefully, those of you who are interested will be as lucky as I was in scoring a $3 copy.

RATINGS (on a scale of 1-4: 4 being the highest):

Controls: 4
Graphics: 4
Sound Effects/Music: 3
Concept: 4
Replay Value: 4
Cart/Box Art: 2
Overall Score: 3.50

**video courtesy of Highretrogamelord89**

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Also, what the "H"-"E" double hockey sticks is a Sno-bee anyway?

God, I hate it when a person spells that word out like that. it just annoys the-- well, you know-- outta me.

My best friend does it just to bug me... as friends are wont to do.

Just say the freakin' word you prude! What is this, the nineteenth century?!

Anyhoo: while I'm not as wowed by your description of Pengo as I have prior Atari games you've brought up, I won't hesitate to try it out should the opportunity--and a reasonable asking price-- arise.

Oh, and I'm sorry for bein' on the rag at the beginning of this post...

Oh god! The stage start song! Now it'll get stuck in my head, as it took me forever to figure out where it came from originally (it's reproduced in a lot of Nintendo games).

I love Kickle Cubicle and Adventures of Lolo (not Lola, btw...she only came about in Lolo 3, if I remember). It does remind me of Kickle Cubicle, except without the requirement of solving puzzles to collect the items.

The timer would've definitely helped this game, but I'm more familiar with the Arcade graphics. The later versions also added the timer.
Errrrr....Yeah, Lola is my dog's name, so there apparently is the reason for the slip.  You're right, it's not so much a puzzle game like Kickle Cubicle (though there are still a few similarities in gameplay), but like the majority of 2600 titles, it's more about racking up points.  Ah, the days of just playing for points and not worrying about the princess being in another castle....I
Wait, one of the guys who did the sound was Andrew Fuchs? I guess Fred Fuchs has a brother.
I played this quite a bit as a hacked variant on the ol' Commodore 64 called Chilly Willy.  I wasn't impressed with the Atari versions, but the Game Gear and Mega Drive versions are pretty fun. 

Also, apparently I'm one of those prudes concerning swearing, at least for Front Page material.  Kids and Grannies play too, especially a game as fun as Pengo. Wink

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