Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cheap Thrills: Tutankham (1982)

I've recently been playing Konami's 1982 arcade game, Tutankham, courtesy of Microsoft's Game Room on XBox Live Arcade.  It cost me 240 points, US$3.00 in real money, and I'm happy with the deal.  If you've never played Tutankham, suffice it to say that it's a 2-D maze game, pitting a plucky explorer against on onslaught of monsters as he searches for treasure in an Egyptian tomb.  It was developed in Japan by Konami and distributed to US arcades by Stern in 1982.  The Game Room trivia notes mention that the original title was Tutankhamen, but when the screen orientation was changed from horizontal to vertical, the existing title graphics wouldn't fit and the name was summarily truncated.

I always liked Tutankham back in the arcade era, but never spent enough time with it to get good at it; I recall playing it once or twice at an RV/boat show in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and getting my pith helmet handed to me rather quickly.  The graphics and scrolling hardware were just far enough ahead of home systems that there was never an accurate port released -- the Atari 2600 version was so approximate as to not even feel like the same game, with vertical rather than horizontal scrolling and tiny indistinct sprites, and the -- ahem -- "inspired by" version I bought for the TRS-80 Color Computer was no touch on the original.

So when Game Room arrived on the downloadable scene, Tutankham was the first game I opted to invest in.  And it's a solid, old-fashioned game, balancing risk and reward carefully, giving the player just enough freedom and temptation to get into serious trouble.  It's not a difficult game, but it's not easy either -- even with some practice under my belt, and all the gold Game Room medals earned, I still play an embarrassingly short round on occasion.

Old-school videogames are all about limitations, and Tutankham's most devilish feature is that the player's adventurer is armed with a laser that can only shoot to the left and to the right, with only one beam active in each direction at a time.  This means that timing is critical -- if you plan to dart up the corridor, shoot around the corner, and retreat, you have to execute those moves quickly and precisely.  It's far too easy to run around the corner, miss, and run into the approaching monster as the laser beam shoots harmlessly beneath its feet, or find oneself being chased down a long vertical corridor with no means of defense.  The player has a "magic lamp" smart bomb available, but only one per life, and it's possible to launch the weapon just a hair too late, so that the screen starts flashing with the explosion but the adventurer still gets taken out by an approaching bat or viper.

The game also doesn't make it easy to STOP moving -- unless the character runs into a wall, he's always on the go, meaning that just keeping him in one place while waiting for an enemy to wander away or come into range can be a challenge.  And the long vertical corridors in later levels ramp up the difficulty quite a bit -- the adventurer is defenseless while moving through these channels, so if a fast-moving bat is on his tail as he enters one, he's not likely to make it to a defensible position in time.

The Game Room medal standards for Tutankham aren't outrageously difficult to meet.  Getting through the first two levels and partway into the third is sufficient to earn the 30,000 Point Buster gold medal, and most likely the four-minute Survivalist gold as well.  The online leaderboards are another matter -- I've gotten nowhere near the fourth and final level, after which the levels recycle at a higher difficulty, but it's clear that some people have.  But like a lot of XBox 360 achievements, the motivation to continue playing tends to fade after these goals are reached.

I've gotten plenty of pleasure out of Tutankham, and will continue to do so when the mood strikes.  For three bucks, I can highly recommend this one.

1 comment:

  1. I've been playing this game recently. The audio brings back so many memories. I used to play this each day at the 7-11 before school. Such a hard game! Really enjoy it.