Pursuit of the Pink Panther
By Steve Averitt
1984 was a year of chaos in the videogame world. Companies which had flourished making 2600 games a year earlier were folding and declaring bankruptcy. Data Age, Games by Apollo, Mythicon, and many other game companies dissolved under the
pressure of the big crash. A good number of games released by dying companies right before the big crash were lacking in originality and depth. Many were just re-hashes of older games. Though many 2600 games were nothing to get excited about, some 2600 games released in 1984 were unexpectedly imaginative and significantly better than the crop of games from 1983. Mountain King (by CBS), HERO (by Activision), Decathlon (by Activision), Battlezone (by Atari), Omega Race
(by CBS), Up 'N Down (by Sega), and Fathom (by Imagic) were just a few gems released in 1984 that did not get sucked into the whirlwind of mediocrity. Some companies, such as U.S. Games, CBS, and Parker Bros., were planning to produce games for the 2600 which would have much better graphics than what they had previously made for the 2600. Videogame magazines contained advertisements for the "upcoming" CBS game entitled Wings, which featured a "RAM plus" chip for a wonderful
flight/combat simulator. There were also rumors for new titles like Trail of the Pink Panther (by U.S. Games), The Incredible Hulk (by Parker Brothers), and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (by Fox) (Ed: This was actually released under the title Crash Dive). As most of you know, these titles went up in smoke as the big crash occurred. Well -- all but one.
It turns out that when U.S. Games went belly up (Quaker decided to stick with producing oats since videogames were not panning out), the rights to the Pink Panther game mentioned above were sold to Probe 2000/ North American Phillips. At the time, the Probe 2000 staff were busy manufacturing War Room for the Colecovision and Power Lords for the Odyssey2 system. According to the March 1983 issue of Electronic Games, Probe 2000 could not release Pink Panther for the 2600 due to a shortage of ROM chips. For years, it has been assumed that this ill-fated game never made it to cartridge status, until a successful venture to a thrift store landed the first-discovered prototype into the hands of one happy collector-me! Needless to say, recovering this game years after the crash is about the same as retrieving gold from a sunken ship.
The cartridge casing is the same as the one for War Room for the Colecovision, except an addition of two small plastic pegs that insert along with the circuit board into the 2600. Look at the open end of War Room cartridge and notice the two holes where these pegs are meant to be placed. No label is present, and there are no signs of one ever existing. The printing on the chip states "Engineering Sample" and "Internal Use Only".
What about the game? Is it any good? I must say that someone at U.S. Games or Probe 2000 knew how to program the 2600 just as well as the folks at Activision. The game features three screens of action and fluid gameplay. The first screen has a cityscape background, and Inspector Clouseau is on an upper level, walking around and dropping bricks down to a lower level. The Pink Panther must walk to the left or right on a floor with chunks missing out of it, which he can fall into. The object is to catch the falling bricks so the gaps disappear. Missing a brick causes another chunk to be taken out of the floor. Once the floor is complete, you can direct the cool cat to the right and begin screen two. The smoothness of character movement is excellent and comparable to how well the Smurf moves-bobbing up and down with each step-in his 2600 cartridge by Coleco.
The inspector is well-animated and drawn, and the Pink Panther is about 25 percent taller than the character in Smurf. He is possibly the tallest walking or running character in an Atari 2600 game. With the joystick, you can make the Pink Panther walk, jump, and duck. Pressing the fire button extends his tail-a more difficult manner to catch falling bricks which is rewarded with higher points. The fire button would have been better served had it been a jump button. Diagonal joystick pushing for jumping to the right or left is sort of a pain, and this is the only negative aspect of the game.
Screen two has three floors and three elevator doors per floor. Direct the Pink Panther to one of these doors and press the fire button to find out if it will take him up to the next floor. If you choose an incorrect door, a small, running bulldog, a cream pie, or a lit stick of dynamite will appear. Hurry and try another elevator. Once through the correct third floor elevator, it's on to screen three.
Screen three reminds me of the swinging vine scene in Pitfall (by Activision). The difference is that the swamp level slowly rises and lowers. At the precise time, the Pink Panther must jump and land on a moving rock, and jump again to grab the long, swinging vine. Once this is done, turn the Pink Panther upside down and grab the big diamond located on a pedestal at the center of the screen. For completing this amazing feat, the game rewards you with a cute intermission. "We're In The Money" plays while the happy cat looks at the diamond and kisses it. The kiss produces the best "smooch" sound I've ever heard on an Atari videogame system. The inspector then drops a rope down and lowers himself to snatch the diamond from the paws of the fuchsia furball. The game returns back to screen one where the fun begins at a harder skill level.
Each screen has its own sound effects-crashing bricks, walking sounds, stretching panther tail, barking dog, sizzling fuse, etc.-and there's a continuous-play musical score for each of the three screens. One of these is the famous Pink Panther theme, of course. All the music is done in two parts and comes off as flawlessly as the music in Frogger (by Parker Brothers). It's really too bad this game wasn't officially released for the 2600. I think it would have been a hit-definitely up there with the best of what was released in 1984.
Photos of Steve Averitt's Pink Panther prototype showing the same pcb and ROM chip
(which is marked "ENGINEERING SAMPLE") but doesn't have the resistor packs on the bottom.
Return to main menu