The most first world problem there is today is that we (I assume that if you’re reading this video game blog you are firmly entrenched in the first world) have far too many entertainment choices. There is a new blockbuster movie literally every week. 24 hour networks flood the airwaves with show after show in numbers far exceeding the hundreds. The whole of Western music is available for download instantaneously. And video games, oh my beloved medium of choice… Well, this is entry #115 in the FGC, and I’ve covered less than 10% of my collection alone thus far. And that’s simply my physical collection, I’m not even counting digital releases (most of which I’ve purchased for less than a Lincoln). Point is, I would likely die of old age attempting to complete every video game I have right now, and that would be ignoring the five or so new games that drop every week. If you are not entertained, you are not trying hard enough.
Of course, in thinking of “video games” as some giant wad of thousands of games, I’m ignoring the great gulfs in content between some experiences. I’ve played Grand Theft Auto 3 off and on numerous times in the last fifteen years (that can’t be right…), and I still don’t think I’ve found everything in that world. Similarly, I watch some people play games I know by heart and see techniques I never would have considered. Final Fantasy 9 has new sidequests! Top Spin can be useful! A block can be hit for 416 years! I’ve somehow written thousands of words about one single game! Whether intended or not, it doesn’t seem absurd to say that you could ream infinity hours of enjoyment from some thoughtfully constructed games.
But this, obviously, hasn’t always been the way. Video games, in their earliest incarnations, were barely more than you could fit into a single screen. Pong was two paddles and a dot. Pac-Man was a maze, some dots, four larger dots, and a handful of moving pieces. Space Invaders was a fleet of invaders, barracks, and a ship that shot dots. I want to be clear that these games weren’t bad, they were merely very, very simple. Chess has endured for centuries, and it’s just a board and 32 pieces, so there’s nothing wrong with simple.
It was back in the age of Pac-Man and Space Invaders that Sun Electronics/Atari released Kangaroo in the arcades. Kangaroo is the eternal tale of a Kangaroo Mama getting separated from her Kangaroo Joey, and then Joey gets kidnapped by monkeys for some reason. Kangaroo Mama must now traverse four unique stages in an effort to rescue Joey and, if she’s feeling particularly saucy, collect fruit along the way. The only fruits Kangaroo Mama should avoid are the deluge of apple cores being tossed her way by a mass of malevolent monkeys. Heck, the final level practically becomes a bullet hell as Kangaroo Mama attempts to punch out a tower of chimps (a personal dream of mine, incidentally).
Kangaroo is actually a pretty fun arcade game. It has a protagonist that can do more than just jump (she can punch, too!) and you’ve got ducking options so you’re not stuck with only one way to “dodge”. By 1982 definitions, it’s pretty robust.
But that is the arcade game, and ROB chose Kangaroo for the Atari 2600. As you might expect, Atari Kangaroo is a severely stripped down version of the arcade game. The graphics are reduced to practically nothing, an entire level (the most interesting, monkey-punching one) is dropped, and Boxing Guerilla, the breakout star of Kangaroo Arcade, is left on the curb. All that’s left is a game where Kangaroo Mama climbs a trio of ladder obstacle courses while avoiding incoming apples (dots) and the occasional monkey.
And it’s Donkey Kong.
Kangaroo Arcade, at its base, is a Donkey Kong clone. It’s a good Donkey Kong clone, and it’s one that added enough that it’s not immediately obvious… but once you strip out a few of the arcade’s innovations, Kangaroo Atari 2600 reveals itself as “Donkey Kong with a punch button”. Hell, it even hosts decidedly simian antagonists! Horizontal barrels have become banana-gobblers, and the vertical barrels are replaced with dropping apple dots. And now it’s just a matter of going left to right, jumping when you need to, and climbing every ladder. Hop to collect fruit (that isn’t nearly as useful as a hammer) for bonus points!
And it’s funny to compare it to what we have today. I want to say Skyrim was the most recent “everybody imitate this” hit, and, since then, we’ve seen a number of game reviews that boil down to “this is a Skyrim clone”. Have you ever really considered what that means, though? There are so many moving parts in Skyrim, so many things to do and see, that, were you to “clone” even a tenth of that game, you’d still have an entirely different experience. The gameplay, layout, graphics, or general tone of a game may be a “clone” of Skyrim, but it still winds up being unique game. This has been going on since the age of “Mario clones” or “Sonic clones”. Hell, one of my favorite franchises started as nothing more than a “GTA clone”. Clones aren’t a bad thing!
But… they’re a bad thing when there isn’t much meat on those bones. While attempting to copy the Mona Lisa might yield an entirely new piece of art, copying a smiley face is just going to get you… a smiley face. It might be a different color, it might be a slightly different shape, but it’s still just going to be Boss Smiley. And that’s where Kangaroo lies. And where it dies. Kangaroo Atari 2600 is a lesser Donkey Kong, and that’s all it will ever be.
So, gentle reader, be glad we live in the advanced entertainment wonderland of today. A mere thirty years ago, games were so simple, the best we could hope for as a follow-up to a revolutionary title was “well, the same thing, but with a marsupial.” Sure, your death may eventually come at the hands of a collapsing cabinet of SNES cartridges, but you will not have died in vain, for you died in the name of sophisticated concepts, and the guarantee that we would never see a Kangaroo ever again.
This “first world problem” is more like “first world protection”.
FGC #115 Kangaroo
- System: Atari 2600 is where it shows its true stripes, but the arcade is available, too. There was a later Atari release that was “arcade perfect”, but I refuse to count higher than 2,600.
- Number of Players: Two player alternating. Go for that high score!
- Ringabel: Also, every stage contains a bell that will replenish or “upgrade” the obtainable fruit throughout the level. This creates an actual reason to return to earlier parts of the stage to get the highest score… if you want to ignore your poor, lost joey like some kind of monster, that is.
- Just play the gig, man: “Oh Susana!” and “Westminster Quarters” both get played at random points in the game. I have never understood why games past 1990 stopped using “classical” music.
- Did you know? “Kangaroo” was actually part of the CBS Supercade animated series during 1984. She joined the cartoon block with Space Ace, and she replaced Pitfall Harry, Frogger, and, ironically, Donkey Kong Junior. Huh, if you consider DKJ his own (forgotten) entity, none of the stars of the Supercade went on to do anything interesting. Well, I guess there was that Mario guy…
- Would I play again: No. I don’t even really like Donkey Kong that much.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen…SNK vs Capcom Chaos. Wow, we went a whole week without a fighting game, let’s get back to watching Ryu punch some Geese. Please look forward to it!