Tron Arcade Documents

The Arcade Blogger recently spotlighted some documents related to the design process of the classic 1983 arcade game Tron, including information on some dropped minigames for it. Tron is such an interesting production. It is of course based on the movie of the same name, which has become a cultural landmark despite not actually doing that well in theaters upon its release. One of the interesting facts revealed in the article is that the arcade game actually outperformed the movie, despite being released while interest in US arcade gaming was falling.

Arcade Mermaid: Vs. Castlevania

Arcade Mermaid is our classic arcade weirdness and obscurity column! Once a month we aim to bring you an interesting and odd arcade game to wonder at.

You are reading the words of a Castlevania fanatic. Your standard fan who came into the series with the Igavanias will tell you its pinnacles are Symphony of the Night or, if they’re really trying to impress, Rondo of Blood. Truthfully, both of those are fine games. But I am of the opinion that the best the series has ever been was the first and third Famicom/NES games, and that series creator Hitoshi Akamatsu got a raw deal. The first game particularly is an especially brilliant gem among the jewels of the early Famicom’s library. Every moment of it shows care and attention to detail.

Just a few examples. While many people curse the stream of Medusa Heads that harry Simon Belmont at several places in the game, the game is actually quite sparing with their use, easing up with them at certain telling moments. One particular place this happens is climbing the staircases in the second stage of Block 3: while you’re on the staircases there, interestingly, the Medusa Heads don’t attack.

Also, the Fish Men in the first and fourth blocks, on the first loop, are kind enough never to jump from beneath the player’s location. And while on the second and later loops through the game they will happily emerge right beneath your feet and bump you into the water, there is a tell even for this: except for a brief section where there are no candles, Fish Men only emerge from the water directly beneath candle locations. (I gained a small amount of internet notoriety when an online friend pointed out where I had observed this fact in a Metafilter thread.)

I could go on, and will for a few more sentences, even though this kind of stuff makes for boring writing. The subweapons are very precisely designed, each filling a specific role in the game. All of the game’s platforms are supported by background elements, and when the player climbs stairs to a new area, background pillars in the upper area mostly line up with those from the lower area. You can see the crumbling spire that’s the site of the Dracula fight far in the background in block 3, half of the game before you get to climb up there yourself, and it’s such an iconic piece of level design that almost every Castlevania game that follows includes it. Much of its brilliance is recounted by Jeremy Parish in his book on the NES Castlevania games. (An earlier version of the Castlevania material can be seen linked here on the Internet Archive, but please consider his book if you are able to buy it.)

All of this is just preamble though, to the true subject of this post: the port for Nintendo’s Unisystem arcade hardware, Vs. Castlevania.

Castlevania is renowned as a tough game. While it only has six “blocks,” broken down into 19 stages, the game ramps up in difficulty pretty quickly through that thin territory. I’ve played through it all dozens of times. I’ve completed the game on one life before, but I still find the last level challenging. Even so, I’ve rolled both the score counter and stage counter. I’m good at Castlevania, not speedrunner-level, but, no offense intended to those who are, I have other things that I have to do. I cannot devote huge blocks of time to mastering individual games like I could as a teenager.

If you enjoy the original Castlevania, you might want to have a look at the Vs. variant, which is available via the Arcade Archives series for current consoles. Especially if you count yourself a master at it, this version will probably put you in your place.

In terms of hardware, the Unisystem is very close to a NES, and Vs. Castlevania doesn’t use any tricks that its home version doesn’t. Here is video of me playing through the first level:

The first block of Vs. Castlevania (Stages 00-03)

People familiar with the original will notice that the game looks slightly different. The colors are different, which is something that was frequently the case of the arcade versions of NES software. It’s likely that the Unisystem’s hardware is responsible for this: as a protection against bootlegging, which was rife in the arcade industry, each Unisystem arcade board had, in addition to the ROMs with the code for each game, a specific, custom PPU chip with the palette for that game embedded within it. People who copied the ROM chips into EPROMs in order to run a game without buying it from Nintendo would have something that could technically run, but the palette would be for the original game, not the copied one, and make the colors look funny. While I don’t know if this is true for Vs. Castlevania, it might explain the difference if the whole game had to use a single palette set.

Two major differences between Vs. Castlevania and its home version are immediately evident. One, in the first level enemies do four bars of damage on each hit to protagonist Simon Belmont. The first couple of levels of NES Castlevania are mostly just a warmup. Enemies in both blocks only do two bars of damage, meaning even without health powerups Simon can take seven hits without dying. The increased damage is the same as on the game’s second loop, after finishing the whole thing and starting from the beginning. The arcade sensibility, to keep players putting in money in order to learn the game and see its later stages, means it doesn’t have time to let the player acclimate themselves to its heated waters. The fire is lit; the soup is boiling.

Block 4 (Stages 10-12)

Even worse though is that, for each of the first three blocks of the game, the player only has 170 seconds to finish. It’s quite a shock if you’re used to the original, where time is practically never an issue! Even if you’ve mastered the levels on the NES, you’ll find, if you don’t constantly work towards reaching the door of each stage, you will easily run out of time. Expect the warning alarm to be ringing through the boss fights until you get used to the constant progress the game demands.

I don’t know what it is about the later blocks, but they have much more generous time limits, along the lines of the NES version. For these levels, the challenge goes back to surviving enemy attacks. Starting with Block 3, the game increases the damage done by enemies to levels never seen in the NES game even at its hardest: six bars, enough to kill Simon in just three hits. This makes Dracula at the end of the game quite a challenge.

If you manage to loop the game, you get to see something quite amazing. Desperate to end the player’s credit now, the game increases the damage done by enemies to eight bars, killing Simon Belmont in just two hits. More than that, the game pulls off the stops with nuisance enemies. You even have to face bats in the outside area before entering the castle! Take a look at this:

Block 1 revisited and the beginning of Block 2 (Stages 19-23)

The extra nuisance enemies are an especially interesting addition, since NES Castlevania never uses so many, even on the second loop and beyond. It’s exactly the kind of ludicrous challenge that people who have mastered the original game should seek out!

Castlevania is not the only Vs. game with substantial differences from the arcade version. Vs. Excitebike has many niceties over the home version, including some clever bonus stages. Vs. Balloon Fight in the arcade is a vertically-scrolling game, that played with two players gives each its own monitor. There’s lots mot to say about these games, but I’ve got to save some material for later.

Developer’s Menu in Arcade Mortal Kombat Games

The news about this broke some time ago, but Set Side B is only a few months old at the moment and we weren’t around then. It’s still worth mentioning though!

Ed Boon put secret codes in a number of his games to allow him to check on individual machines while out in the public. He revealed his code for Mortal Kombat II some time back, which is listed on The Cutting Room Floor. The code is entered entirely with the 1P and 2P Block buttons: P1 Block 5 times, P2 Block 10 times, P1 Block 2 times, P2 Block 8 times, and P1 Block 2 times. The timing is tight, so keep trying.

All image credits for this post: The Cutting Room Floor

One way to remember part of the code is in the menu’s name, the EJB Menu. The E and B of that stand for Ed Boon. E is the 5th letter of the alphabet, J is the 10th, and B is the second, and those are the number of button pressed needed for the first three parts of the code.. The whole code would thus be EJBHB. Using initials as part of a code seems to have been part of the culture at Bally and Williams at the time. A number of pinball games have hidden displays that can be called up from attract mode if you press buttons as if you were entering a developer’s initials in the high score screen.

The EJB menu offers a lot of information on how a machine has been performing on location! It’s much like the operator’s menu, but with even more options! You can even call up the ending for any character, would certainly would have made any kid who knew that code back then the star of the arcade.

Of particular note is, a couple of the items in the menus are red herrings. The developers loved taunting kids by putting fake hidden features in the operator menus. “Shawn Attacks” is one of them (there is no character called Shawn in the game); “Kano Transformations” is another (Kano is not playable in MKII).

Other EJB menu codes:

Mortal Kombat 1, it’s 1PB x 5, 2PB x`10, 1PB x 2, 2PB once, 1PB x 2, 2 PB x 3, then 1 PB x 4. The page notes that, converted to letters, this code would be EJBABCD.

In Mortal Kombat 3, it’s 1PB x 5, 2PB x 10, 1PB x 3 (it’s EJC this time!), then 2PB once, 1PB x 2, 2PB x 2, 1PB x 3, and 2PB x 3. EJCABBCC. This code also works in Mortal Kombat 3 Ultimate.

The Cutting Room Floor does not list a EJB code for Mortal Kombat 4. Smash T.V. does have a code for a developer’s menu.

The Bubble Bobble Info Pages

There was once a time where game information was really hard to find on the internet.

Before Fandom née Wikia started automatically generating wikis for everything in existence, before even GameFAQs, which started in 1995 and is still chugging away after all these years, became sorta-big, there were the shrines sites. Some enthusiast (obsessive?) would build a website to document literally everything about the game they could find. Early free hosting site Geocities was a haven for that kind of thing.

Geocities is gone now, although much of its content has been preserved through the efforts of Archiveteam. By the way, if you’re feeling nostalgic for those days, or wasn’t around then but think it sounds like something you’d like to get involved with, I will just drop here this link to Neocities.

Not all of these sites were on Geocities, or other host short-lived free host. Some of them survive today. I personally think these sites are an essential part of the soul of the World Wide Web (yes, I’m old enough to call it that), and proudly link to some of them from our hard-wrought Links page.

One of my favorite of these shrines is the Bubble Bobble Info Pages, created back in 1998, and its companion site the Rainbow Islands Info Pages. It’s not just their old-school web design that I love, although that’s hugely charming to me. It’s that it’s the source of a great quantity of information on a couple of extremely opaque games.

The arcade game Bubble Bobble is absolutely filled with mysteries, most of which are practically undiscoverable without diving into the game’s code, and it’s known that even its manufacturer Taito lost its source code many years ago. This leaves BBIP as nearly the sole source for a lot of important game data.

My favorite of these facts is the information on how Bubble Bobble decides which special item to generate each game. These are not random but chaotic, influenced by unseen patterns, that gives a kind of sense of them. Some items tend to be generated on certain levels, but they’re not hard-coded that way, so that the player’s actions can influence them without relying on them.

The game keeps count of a huge array of things that the players can do or cause during the game. The number of times they jump, the number of times they shoot bubbles, the number of times the pop bubbles, the number of times they jump on bubbles, the number of steps they take, the number of times they wrap the screen, and so on.

At the start of each level, the game goes down the list, finds the first value that exceeds a certain limit (which generally increases with the game’s difficulty, both explicitly-set and dynamically-rising), will set that item to generate during that level, and resets the counter. Some of these things can only happen in certain levels, like screen-wrapping or popping water bubbles, and that gives the history of generated powerups throughout a game a shape, that the players can influence, even without knowing exactly how. These counters are not even reset when the game ends! They carry on to the next, and in fact a few of the counters probably won’t trigger for several games.

It’s a significant factor in what makes Bubble Bobble so much fun, but interestingly, it means it’s more fun when played in an arcade setting, where the actions of past players contribute to add uncertainty to the powerup schedule. This is a terrific design pattern that I don’t think nearly enough developers know about, and one of the few places in the world where you can find out about it now is the Bubble Bubble Info Pages.

Video: Classic Game Repairs

The YouTube channel Classic Game Repairs fixes and restores old arcade units, especially those from the classic age and before. There’s a number of such things out there, but this is a whole channel of nothing but! Many of the units are really old too, like from the 70s. Those are a whole slew of games that are much in need of current-day love.

The video linked above is of Universal’s Mr. Do!, which is kind of like more-awesome Dig Dug. Most of these videos, I should make it clear, are not of gameplay footage, but of circuit boards and soldering irons, but that kind of thing is like ASMR to me. Maybe it will be to you too?

Arcade Mermaid: Pepper II

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Arcade Mermaid is our classic arcade weirdness and obscurity column! Once a month we aim to bring you an interesting and odd arcade game to wonder at.

Released in 1982, a couple of years after a little game called Pac-Man, Pepper II is a maze game set in a four-screen world. You’re a blobby angel thing called Pepper, obeying an edict from the Powers Above: zip up four screens’ worth of boxes. The box borders are made of un-zipped zippers, and by zooming around each one it’s zipped up and captured, filled with a pattern.

Opposing your efforts are a bunch of roving eyes and a weird pink creature callled “the Whippersnapper.” It was the golden age of arcades, and realistic scenarios were on the outs for a time.

Its box-surrounding play looks similar to Amidar at first, but it’s really quite a different game. Amidar‘s enemies move according to a set and inviolate plan, but the eyes of Pepper II rove mostly randomly, with a slight bias towards chasing you. Amidar only lets you attack your enemies once per board, after you’ve surrounded all four corners, but Pepper gets this power after capturing just one of the corners, or the box in the center, up to five times per maze. This means that you’re invincible a lot of the time! Play carefully and you’re almost always invincible, which is important because you’re really vulnerable when you’re not. There are up to three more enemies after you at a time than in Pac-Man, and their unpredictable meandering means you often get caught right as you’re finishing a box.

Pepper’s world isn’t a single screen, but consists of four interconnected mazes. The arcade manual calls them cubes, and when you clear one you get a little cube icon in the bottom-right corner of the screen, but it isn’t a cube really; there’s only four sides. The game world is more like a horizontal strip. When you go off-screen to the left or right, you enter the next screen in the strip, but if you go up or down you skip ahead/behind one screen. From Screen 1, left goes to 4, right goes to 2, but both up and down go to 3. Enemies don’t have an off-screen existence beyond a few seconds after you change mazes, but your progress on other screens is remembered, so you can solve each maze a bit at a time if you choose.

The best thing Pepper II has going for it is its speed. It is incredibly fast! It makes Pac-Man feel creaky by comparison! Surrounding an energizer box gets you only four seconds of invincibility, but it’s long enough to surround multiple other boxes.

Pepper likes to overshoot intersections, and even with attention you’ll still probably miss them sometimes. When you enter a new maze, enemies enter from the four sides randomly after only a second, and at the game’s speeds this makes them very dangerous at that time. You could start capturing a box, and by the time you’re all the way around it a roving pair of eyes have both entered and moved over into your path. The eyes are not focused pursuers, but their large number and randomness make them plenty deadly enough.

The Whippersnapper is a little special. When you activate an energizer you can destroy the eyes for points, but will just pass through the Whippersnapper. The Whippersnapper exists to prevent you from zipping up tracks randomly. It undoes your work as it moves through the maze! Once you’ve completely captured a box it’s safe and cannot be unzipped, but until then it’s easy for it to mess up your work. It also moves much faster than the eyes.

There’s a couple more nuances to play. If you go back over your own trail you’ll unzip it. There are bonus items you can surround for ever-increasing bonuses as the game continues. The energizer in the center of the board flips between a stronger version that also kills all the enemies on the screen. These play quirks don’t really amount to all that much. Pepper II is a game about careening at full tilt around a board, clearing it piece by piece, and frantically racing between energizers to keep your invincibility going, and the other details tend to get lost in the rush.

Extra lives are awarded at 40,000 and 80,000 points. A good early score is around 50,000. I can regularly break 200,000, clearing two cubes, but the difficulty goes up rapidly from there. Both as you continue in each board and as the game goes on the enemies speed up a lot, and starting with the second cube the unzipped trails turn invisible for short periods.

About Exidy

Exidy was founded by in the very early days of arcade gaming. Some of their better known games include Star Fire, Mouse Trap, and Venture. They were never known for their graphics, although some of their products were among the earliest arcade games to use digitized sound. Many of Exidy’s games made up for their lack of visual flair with strong gameplay fundamentals. Venture, particularly, is a minor classic. Exidy was known to court controversy at times, with games like Death Race, in which the player runs down pedestrians, and the excessively-gory Chiller, where the player uses a light gun to dismember helpless victims in a torture room. Chiller received an unlicensed port to the NES by AGC (“American Game Cartridges”).

Coleco ported Mouse Trap, Pepper II, and Venture to the Colecovision console, where they were met by an appreciative audience. Their port of Pepper II is especially good. It’s very much like the arcade game, just a little slower.

Exidy games from the time of Pepper II tend to have a visual look akin to DOS games played through a CGA card. Pepper II is like this, but it certainly can’t be called slow. It takes sharp reflexes just to get around its mazes.

Info on Knights of the Round & Warlock’s Tower Romhack

Scattered throughout the World Wide Web (which, I remind you, is not the same thing as “the internet”) is a wealth of game information, although as old sites die out increasing this info is really hosted on the Wayback Machine. I previously presented the Bubble Bobble Info Pages, which are among my favorite game sites of all.

Image from hardcoregaming101

A relatively recent addition is this description of the great nuance in Capcom’s 1991 fantasy brawler Knights of the Round by Sebastian Mihai. It should be remembered that at that time Street Fighter II was already out and making it harder for games that weren’t one-on-one fighters to succeed. Capcom had a lot of experience with belt scrollers at that time, having made Final Fight and Dynasty Wars by then. A few years after they’d make the (IMO) even better Dungeons & Dragons brawlers Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara, which I think are probably the pinnacle of the genre.

Image from site

As just one example of the thought that went into Knights of the Round, most of the pickups in the game can be struck with your character’s weapon, and this splits them up into multiple smaller treasures, that are both usually worth slightly more than the original, and if desired can be shared with other players. It’s the only brawler I know of that does this!

Last year hackaday reported on Sebastian’s project to create a improved version of the game by hacking the game’s roms. The project page for it is interesting reading for people of a technical frame of mind, going into detail of the hacking process.

Nicole Express Presents: The World’s Most Popular Arcade Board?

Awesome retro gaming blog Nicole Express wonders, what is the best-selling arcade board of all time? It’s gotta be Pac-Man, right? It sold over 100,000 units back in the day, and every Ms. Pac-Man machine contains it inside it. But Nicole offers that it may actually be a bootleg board called the 60-in-1.

Image from Nicole Express

The 60-in-1 is often recognizable by its distinctive menu system, but it can actually be set to play one of its games in a stand-alone mode, in which case its menu never appears. It’s actually an ARM board running MAME, which means its games have distinctive quirks. All the information is there, so go acquaint yourself with ubiquitous gray-market arcade hardware!

Link: The World’s Most Popular Arcade Board?

Arcade Donkey Kong Romhacks

The website Donkey Kong Hacks has a number of interesting modifications of the original Donkey Kong arcade game. Some of these are intended for use in training, such as Free Run Edition (which removes all the enemies and deadly obstacles) and Skipstart (begins play at maximum difficulty). There are versions that only contain randomly-selected versions of the Girders (a.k.a. Barrels) screen, versions that change the maps, and more. Some, like Donkey Kong Wizardry, change the graphics and change the cutscenes too! The Readme for the Crazy Barrels version explains how to play these hacks in emulators.

There are other fan-made hacks floating around, some available as installable kits from the site DK Remix. Deranged Edition keeps getting harder after difficulty level 5, and Remix and Christmas Remix change the game up a lot, adding alternate maps, bonus stages, and some Rivets stages that fall apart as you remove rivets.

BREAKING: Marble Madness II now in MAME, video on YouTube

This is not some fan game made to play like Marble Madness, but the real deal, a legendary lost prototype from the Silver Age of Atari Games! Cancelled because of the great arcade fervor at the time around fighting games, meaning little Atari released in that era performed well on test.

Word is that the rom has been released somewhere on the internet, although I do not know where. It had been known that all the surviving Marble Madness II cabinets were owned by old Atari staff or collectors who were averse to allowing the rom images to be released. Whether one of them had a change of heart or, as has been speculated with Akka Arrh, another legendary prototype, they may have been obtained through nefarious means.

Technically the rights are still owned by Warner Media, I believe. I’ve long been amazed that the current rights holders haven’t seeked out the owners of these prototypes and offered them a big payday to dump the roms and release something like a Midway Arcade Treasures 4. Sure, it’d only be a matter of time before someone broke the roms out of such a package, but they’d still sell a ton of units and the prototype owners would be properly rewarded for both maintaining their machines and for lost collector value, and importantly, the games would be out there among people who would enjoy them and be protected against further loss and obscurity.

YouTube: Marble Madness II (Atari prototype arcade game) is now playable in MAME

Homebrew Atari VCS/2600 Arcade Ports

The long-running Atari fansite AtariAge sells a number of carts that run on classic Atari VCS systems that make it do things you might not expect that system could do. Some of the most impressive of these are remakes of classic arcade games that go far beyond what was possible at the time. A number of these were developed by Champ Games. Here are links to a number of videos showing them off, although sone of the may not currently be in their store:

Galagon” – Wizard of WorZoo KeeperAvalancheScrambleSuper CobraMappy (especially this one!)

A few others, not from Champ Games: Aardvark (Anteater) – Venture ReloadedSpace Rocks (Asteroids) – Star CastlePac-ManDraconian (Bosconian)

Arcade Mermaid: Amidar

Arcade Mermaid is a recurring feature where we look at weird classic arcade games. The word weird has many meanings; sometimes it means bizarre or ludicrous, but sometimes it means of a really unusual design.

Our game this time easily fulfills multiple senses of the word. Konami’s Amidar was released in 1982, putting it near the end of the arcade boom in the US. It still came out early enough to get an Atari VCS/2600 port from Parker Bros., the source of many of the better arcade ports of the time that didn’t come from Atari or Coleco.

Odd Boards: Gorilla and Spearmen

Amidar‘s game world is both abstract and evocative. You’re a gorilla, tasked with collecting all the dots on a board made of lines, while evading hostile spearmen called “Amidar” (plural) and “Tracer.” Unlike as in Pac-Man, the playfield isn’t a maze as it is a bunch of adjoining boxes, with you and the enemies walking along their border lines.

People who have played a lot of Mario Party might find something oddly familiar about this layout. We’ll get to that.

When you collect all of the dots around one of those boxes, it fills in with a solid color. These boards you can play somewhat like Pac-Man. There are differences, though. The “turn the tables” mode that lets you attack your pursuers activates when you fill in the four squares in the corner of the screen. You only get one such period every level, and it takes a lot of effort and some foresight to achieve it. If the last box you fill in is one of those corners, you complete the level immediately and don’t get any bonus points for chasing down the enemies.

Even Boards: Paint Roller and Pigs

There is another kind of level in Amidar, however, that plays similarly, but with a significant difference. In these, for some reason, you’re not a gorilla but a paint roller, and you’re avoiding not natives but bipedal pigs. No reason is given for the change of graphics, although they’re still called “Amidar” and “Tracer.”

In these alternate boards, each of the rectangles has a number in the middle, which is a bonus score you earn for filling it in. On the gorilla boards, you only get points for collecting dots and capturing enemies during the attack period. Here, you get points for surrounding boxes and capturing them, so these score a lot better.

The trade-off, that makes these boards a lot harder to complete, is that you can’t just collect dots however and expect your progress to stick. There are no dots.

Instead, you have to extend the colored border away from already-colored lines, surrounding boxes one at a time. If you leave the border of the box you’re currently coloring, your progress will disappear! You’ll have to go back to one of your established lines and start over. Because you can’t just color them at any time but instead have to extend your territory out to them one box at a time, it’s a lot harder to take advantage of the attack phase granted by coloring the four corner boxes. It’s a lot harder in general. Most games end on Pig boards.

You have final aid to help you get through each level. Each board and each life, you get three uses of a “Jump” button that allows you to slip by the Amidar and Tracer. But, in keeping with a game where you alternate playing as a gorilla and a paint roller, the Jump button doesn’t allow you to jump over enemies. Instead, it causes the enemies to all jump, allowing you to pass beneath them.

Amidakuji

After you’ve played a couple of games of Amidar, you might catch on to an unusual property of the enemies. They don’t chase you. The have a specific route they follow through the board. Pac-Man may have patterns you can use to evade its ghosts, but Amidar makes the pattern followed by the enemies explicit, and the whole point of the game.

The motion of the normal enemies is entirely deterministic and uncaring of your location. Instead, they move in a specific, meandering pattern. They actually follow the routes of the Chinese “Ghost Leg,” or as it’s called in Japan, Amidakuji lottery. (You see? Amidakuji? Amidar?) They move down along vertical paths until they reach a horizontal intersection, which they will always take and then continue downward. When they reach the bottom of the board, they reverse their vertical progress, going up to reach the top again, still taking horizontal paths when they encounter them.

This is where Mario Party players might find this familiar. The Amidakuji lottery is simulated in the minigame Pipe Maze. In this, the four players are randomly arranged at the bottom of a network of pipes, and one of them must drop a treasure chest down one of the entrances at the top. The treasure travels down in the manner of the Amidar, and whichever player it reaches at the bottom gets the treasure.

The Amidakuji lottery has some interesting characteristics. It matches up each of the vertical paths at the top with exactly one path at the bottom. It doesn’t matter how many side connections there are, there will always be one way through for each path at the top.

To emphasize this, between each board of Amidar there is a bonus round that works more directly like the Amidakuji. You pick one of the routes for an Amidar to begin winding down, trying to guide it to a bunch of bananas at the bottom. Once you learn the knack of these stages it’s not hard to get the bananas most of the time. With your eyes, try to quickly trace the path in reverse, starting from the bananas.

The key to success at Amidar is focus and practice. With experience you’ll get better at figuring out where the Amidar will go in real time, and can avoid them more easily. Later levels increase the number of Amidar. Also, since a player can avoid the Amidar pretty consistently, there’s a failsafe timer in play. If you take too long to finish a level, the Tracer, which usually only moves along the outer boarder, will leave its patrol route and start following your prior movements through the level. This really starts to be a problem with Level 4. It’s good to save the corner blocks for when this happens.

Once you internalize the rules to Amidakuji, you may find yourself progressing deep into the game. I’ve been as far as Level 6! The game also has charming, melodic music in the style of Frogger. At the time of its release it was a minor hit for Stern, its licensee in the U.S., and now can be seen as a highlight of its genre.

Level 6! Notice how all the lanes at the top are blocked off. You have to squeeze by when they’re taking horizontal routes or use the Jump button to get by them.

A post-script. I searched for information on Parker Bros. Atari VCS port of Amidar, the only one made during the classic era of arcades, and found a page on the fandom.com wiki that gets many key facts wrong. It mentions coconuts: no version of Amidar has coconuts in it. It mentions the Jump button making enemies jump and not you: this is not at all evident in the VCS version. It mentions a bonus stage after every round: this doesn’t exist in the VCS version. This is one of the reasons I hate fandom.com!