Data East’s BurgerTime was one of my go-to arcade games as a kid. I dug the concept of controlling the frantic and portly chef Peter Pepper, moving up, down and left and right across the stages, or dropping ingredients (buns, lettuce, tomatoes, burgers, etc.) down from above by walking over them to make hamburgers at the bottom of the screen. For some unexplained reason, food has come to life in the form of hot dogs, pickles and eggs, and they are mightily pissed off with the chef. My best interpretation of this phenomenon is that they don’t want to be eaten so they’ve somehow managed to use this fear of consumption to will themselves to come to life and chase after who they believe to be their tormentor.
Thankfully, the wily chef has a few options up his apron to stop the pesky food from ending his career (and life). He can either drop ingredients on top of them by walking over them, lure the enemies onto ingredients and then walk over them causing them all to fall, or throw pepper at them to temporarily stun them. You rack up the points for dropping ingredients while enemies are on top or underneath them but no points are given for using the pepper. All of these attacks only temporarily keep chef Pepper safe as all enemies will re-spawn. There is a finite amount of pepper you have on hand so it’s wise to save them for when you’re cornered and really need it. Mercifully, you can earn more pepper by grabbing bonus food items such as coffee, French fries, and ice cream when they appear on screen. The stages get more difficult based on how the ladders and ingredients are situated on the board as well as the food becoming more relentless in their attacks.
BurgerTime is no slouch in the difficulty department, but I generally did well in the arcades when I would play. I found it better to head towards the top of the screen and lure as many food items onto the ingredients as I drop them in order to have them fall multiple levels based on how many enemies were standing on them. I have a harder time performing as well as I did in the arcades when playing the excellent Colecovision or Intellivision ports, mostly due to the controllers. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who is familiar with the controllers for these consoles. Data East licensed BurgerTime for development on consoles and computers by several companies, most notably Mattel. Mattel developed and released a number of the early ’80s ports of the game onto consoles and computers, including the Intellivision version. The Colecovision’s version of BurgerTime has the better graphics, but I find the controls to be much more responsive on the Intellivision version. I am attributing much of that to the Intellivision’s disc controller vs. Colecovision’s mini joystick knob, which can be difficult to maneuver. I find that rolling your thumb along the disc allows you to move Peter Pepper up and down those ladders with a level of precision and timing that Colecovision’s controller cannot handle. This is especially important when attempting tricky escapes and complex burger component drops.
I am not a fan of how some enemies respawn right in the middle of certain platforms, which can lead to some very cheap and irritating deaths. Through trial and error, you eventually learn to avoid certain platforms if you know an enemy will be respawning soon. Other than that, I really have no complaints about either the Intellivison or the Colecovision ports. Mattel was so proud of their version that they bundled it as the pack-in for the Intellivision II.
The enemies in BurgerTime are an eclectic bunch for sure. Mr. Pickle, Mr. Hot Dog and Mr. Egg all have equally malevolent dispositions, and none of them appear to be smarter or more difficult than the others. However, there’s something about the way Mr. Pickle spins around as he moves that makes him appear a bit disturbed and deranged. The fact that he doesn’t show up until the third stage makes him the most intriguing enemy for me. Not to mention that pickles are common hamburger toppings, so his motivation for stopping Chef Pepper is more understandable.
No single BurgerTime sequence is more satisfying to me than luring several enemies up to the highest level, waiting for them to step onto the top of a bun, and then dropping them all the way to the very bottom. You get huge points for this move. Plus, it clears a vertical hamburger in an instant. The cherry on top is that by performing this difficult-to-pull-off move you often reach the point total needed for your bonus food item to show up on screen, making it extra special.
Without a doubt the hardest level to clear is level 6. This is the last unique level before the game begins cycling back through, and its design is completely intended to trap Chef Pepper on various ledges. The layout of the stage includes ladders in the middle and 5 finger-like ledges on each side of the screen, with only one way on and one way off. The only way to survive this level is to save up your reserve pepper supply and do your best to lure enemies onto the ledges with you so you can drop them down with the ingredients. Some of the enemies will re-spawn on those same ledges, so you have to be careful to never stay on them too long. Not that you’d want to anyway!
BurgerTime is one of my favorite arcade games and easily one of my top 5 second console generation-era games. While the arcade version is the gold standard, I do prefer the Intellivision port slightly over Colecovision’s due to the controls and the wider screen size which makes the game slightly easier. The Colecovision version seems a little cramped to me, giving you less room to work in order to avoid the food enemies. I can lure enemies to one side of the screen on the Intellivision version if necessary, and I have a much harder time doing that on Colecovision. The Intellivision overlays don’t add much to the gameplay as you only really need the disc for movement and the side buttons to throw peppers at the enemies. The keypad buttons are used to select number of players and to start the game and that’s it. Nevertheless, the overlays are attractive and worth having if you’re a huge BurgerTime fan like myself. In my opinion, this is the definitive home console version of this classic arcade title.