Friday, March 23, 2012

Burger Time (NES)

Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: A rather unique casual puzzle game that's simple and easy to get into and play
Cons: Needs better graphics, more enemies, and a storyline overhaul... killer pickles and hotdogs?

BurgerTime is a classic arcade puzzle game created by Data East in 1982. It was ported to many different systems over the years, of which I have played two of the different ports. I used to enjoy playing the Intellivision port of BurgerTime when I was a kid, so when I found this Nintendo Entertainment System version online for a couple dollars I picked it up in hopes that it was similar to the Intellivision port. Much to my delight, I didn't notice any differences at all and the game was just as I remembered it.
The game consists of six levels that each takes place in a single screen. Each level is filled with various platforms and ladders that contain various hamburger ingredients (buns, burgers, lettuce, etc). Walking over the length of an ingredient causes it to fall down to the platform below, and walking over an ingredient on the lowest platform causes it to fall onto a platter below. The levels contain between 2 and 6 hamburgers to complete, some with as few as 3 different ingredients and some with as many as 8.
You play as a chef named Peter Pepper, and your goal is to make these perfect hamburgers while fending off various... food monsters... (Mr. Hot Dog, Mr. Egg and Mr. Pickle). While navigating the ladders and platforms in the game, the enemies will try to run into you and kill you; later levels are arranged in ways that make it easier for you to get trapped in corners and harder to work on making your burgers. You have a few shots of pepper that you can shoot at an enemy (with either the A or B button) that will stun them for a couple seconds, but these shots are limited in number. Occasionally a powerup will appear on the screen (ice cream, fries or coffee), and picking up one of these will give you an extra shot of pepper in addition to bonus points.
Dropping ingredients onto enemies will kill the enemies and make them respawn at the top of the screen. Dropping an ingredient with an enemy standing on it beside you will make it fall down an additional platform level and award you bonus points, and that's the key to getting higher scores. Obviously with enemies that close to you it's more dangerous and you're more likely to get hit or trapped, so you have to plan ahead where you are moving and pay attention to how the enemies move and follow you around.
BurgerTime is a pretty simple game that's unique, and well executed for the most part. A maze-like area with only a few enemies to deal with makes it remind me a lot of Pac-Man, which is never a bad thing. The controls could have used a little more work though. Moving from ladder to platform is often a little glitchy -- often you will be one tiny little step up or down a ladder and be unable to move to the platform on either side. By the time you realize you're hung up on the ladder, you may be hit by an enemy that was following you and die unnecessarily. It's not game-breaking and you will get used to it, but it's always annoying.
The graphics are really simplistic, with only a couple frames of animation and limited colors. Some of the ingredients are hard to even tell what they're supposed to be, despite being rather large hamburgers. Is that a tomato? A piece of cheese? A middle bun segment? Who knows, not that it matters for gameplay purposes. I wouldn't even know what the enemies were supposed to be if I hadn't read it in the instruction manual. At least the main character is easily recognizable as a chef with his white hat and apron. The platforms are simple lines and the ladders are made up of wide equal signs -- but we're not playing this game for it's brilliant aesthetics.
The sound effects are typical for an older Nintendo game, synthesized beeps and blips like Donkey Kong Classics or the original Mario Bros (not Super Mario Bros!). The background music is a little better, fast paced and upbeat. It sounds like it belongs in an arcade cabinet, but that's because it really does. Pretty average, but you cant expect much when you consider the game was made in 1982.
Overall BurgerTime is a fun little distraction, and fills the same casual gaming role as Tetris or Pac-Man. It's different enough to be interesting, fun enough to play, simple enough to be easy to get into, and short enough to complete in a reasonable time period. When you get to the end of level 6, it just starts right back over at the beginning and you play it again. It's an average game that's got enough going for it to be worth picking up, especially since it can be found so cheap online.

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