Thursday, June 17, 2021

Game 266: Antarctic Adventure

In 1983, a joint venture between ASCII Corporation and Microsoft published a standard architecture for 8-bit Japanese home computers, which had such a fractured market and confusing mess of incompatible models that it made the cutthroat stateside market look straightforward. Dubbed MSX and featuring the same CPU and video hardware used in ColecoVision, over 20 manufacturers, including Mitsubishi, Sony, and Fujitsu, had their own MSX-compatible machines. It didn't exactly succeed in becoming the national standard, and barely made a dent in NEC's dominating market share, but thanks to a strong degree of consistency and compatibility across models in its own series, and to prolific work on the system by arcade juggernaut (and future third party console force) Konami, the MSX enjoys some worldwide fame even as the NEC computers and the many games that they played remain internationally obscure. Incidentally, the MSX is much simpler to emulate, and its library friendlier to English-reading audiences.

Antarctic Adventure is one of Konami's first MSX-compatible computer games, and despite the ingame 1984 copyright date, is cited as a 1983 release by both Mobygames and Wikipedia. I played the original Japanese version, as the level set appears to be different from the European version, and everything I need to read is in English here anyway.


This feels a lot like Sega's Turbo from 1981, but slower paced (never mind that your penguin waddles across Antarctica's coast at 17km per second), and less abrupt feeling with its graphical transitions. Instead of dodging erratic drivers, you dodge stationary holes in the ice.

Antarctic Adventure looks really nice for a computer game of its era, with a somewhat convincing 3D perspective and a well animated penguin, but two gameplay problems hurt it. First, it's repetitive, even for an arcade-style game. You have holes. You have crevasses, which always spawn in front of you, usually forcing you to jump over them. You can collect flags and mackerels for points. You have those damned seals that always pop out of holes at the last second before you slam into them at mach 50. That's it - there's only so much you can do with this toolset. And the whole time, you're listening to a 30-second muzak clip on infinite repeat.

Second, much like in Turbo, crashes feel unavoidable. Even though the pits and crevasses are stationary, the draw distance is poor enough and hitboxes sketchy enough to be a problem at any decent speed. Too often, the penguin would stumble over hole that looked to be nowhere near his feet, or be forced to jump over a crevasse at full speed, only to land in another that popped-in before there was time to adjust speed, or to smack into a seal that popped-out mid jump when it was too late to change course. You could always run slower, but you'd have to be moving pretty slowly to ensure that you can react to everything, so I found it better to run at top speed most of the time.

At the very least, the time limit is pretty generous, and despite bumping into things all the time, I had little trouble clearing the first nine levels. The final level, though, is a beast, twice as long as any other, and dense with hazards. Finishing that one took several tries and I had to mostly abandon the point-scoring pickups, which usually spawned too far out of my way. Real mastery of the game, one suspects, would involve memorizing each course, knowing exactly when and where you'd need to slow down and exactly how much, and where to position yourself so that you can dodge or jump every hazard and collect every flag and fish.

GAB rating: Average. Antarctic Adventure is an inoffensive, pleasant looking bit of arcade-style fun, and only overstays its welcome a little, but like many arcade games, the lasting value isn't there. After beating the tenth level, the game loops back to stage 1, and after accomplishing this (and recording the video of it correctly) I just didn't feel like playing any more.

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