The image above is from an Atari 2600 game.
Before you continue reading, pause for a bit and let that really sink in.
As soon as you’re suitably dumbfounded, you may continue.
I have something of a love/hate relationship with homebrew arcade ports for the Atari 2600. Love because they are, without exception, phenomenal showpieces for what talented programmers can coax out of the 2600. Hate because I want to see that talent used to create new games rather than games I’ve played a million times, accurately emulated across countless platforms. When you consider local retrocades, arcade classics collections for modern consoles, those plug ‘n play joystick things and MAME, I have more options available to me to play an arcade game in its original form than I do when choosing an airline. An Atari 2600 port, no matter how new and flashy, is going to have a tough time competing with that.
The newest and flashiest arcade conversion on the scene is John Champeau’s Mappy, the 1983 cat and mouse game by Namco. As the founder of Champ Games, Champeau is no stranger to bringing the arcade home. He spent the 1990’s creating arcade clones for the PC, notably Pac-‘Em, Ms. Pac-‘Em and Champ Kong, before turning his attention to the Atari 2600. His ports of Ladybug, Scramble and Super Cobra are some of the most lauded homebrews available for the 2600 and Conquest of Mars, his adaptation of the Atari computer game Caverns of Mars, is a gem as well.
Now he’s set his sights and considerable talents on Mappy. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, here’s the obligatory brief description:
Mappy is a one-player arcade game in which the player controls a police mouse recovering stolen goods from a six-story mansion while avoiding a gang of cats called the Meowkies and their leader, Goro. The player and the cats move between floors by bouncing on trampolines placed throughout the building. Doors scattered throughout the mansion can be used to hinder the cats or stun them briefly. Once all of the loot has been collected, the player advances to the next level.
Some people will say this isn’t a “real” Atari 2600 game because it takes advantage of an in-cartridge ARM processor to handle the calculations required to move seventy zillion cats around a large, scrolling play area. These are the same confused individuals who believe David Crane created Pitfall in 4K out of some sense of duty to do things the “right” way and not because that’s all that was available to him at the time. When you encounter these people, kindly remind them that Crane also created the Display Processor Chip that lives in their beloved copies of Pitfall II and that the game wouldn’t be possible without it. And when they inevitably begin stumbling though a half thought out argument that Mappy violates some unwritten rule that Pitfall II somehow doesn’t, just shrug your shoulders, ignore them and go back to enjoying Mappy.
Because you can’t not enjoy Mappy. Even if you don’t actually like Mappy, it’s impossible to look at this port and not appreciate the work that went into capturing every little detail of the original game. That brief animation of Mappy turning to look at the trampoline while a question mark appears next to his head that starts the game? It’s here. Does it need to be here for this to be an accurate and impressive port? Absolutely not. But it is and that’s amazing. The gameplay feels spot-on. The controls are tight. The background scrolling is smooth.The sprites created by Nathan Strum are beautiful and well animated. The music by Michael Haas is astoundingly accurate and plays throughout the game. There’s literally nothing not to love about this game.
Except that it means in four months I’ll be buying yet another game I already own. Mappy will be available to purchase at this year’s Portland Retro Gaming Expo. In the meantime, you can follow the development and try out the latest version on the Atariage forums.