Squashing in a winter wonderland!
Pengo is a conversion of the classic Sega arcade game that was originally released way back in 1982. It was hugely popular at the time, but rather strangely, it never saw many official releases for home platforms of the age. However a string of clones appeared on the many home computers of the early eighties and Atari licensed the game for its own platforms. Sega brought the game back in the nineties releasing this Gear Gear port as well as a Mega Drive sequel that was sadly only ever sold in Japan. Pengo is a highly original title starring a cute penguin that was no doubt the inspiration for the weird children’s cartoon series Pingu, even the name is similar. It’s almost impossible to put the game into a standard genre, I suppose it could be best described as a squash ‘em up!
Pengo plays a little bit like Dig Dug on ice but don’t let that throw you, as it’s every bit as quirky as Namco’s game in both concept and execution. The idea of the game is to clear each level of the bad guys before all the ice melts. The screen is made up of frozen blocks arranged in a series of different patterns. Pengo can instantly melt a block of ice to get it out the way and push blocks of ice into the bad guys in order to squash them. When you do shove a block it will keep moving in that direction until it either hits the side of the screen or smashes into another giant ice cube. This means that if you are cleaver and the path is clear you can shove them a whole screen’s width for some really epic kills! Some of the blocks have a little square on them and if you leave these too long they will create another monster (basically a generator). Be aware though because the baddies in Pengo can also melt blocks in order to get to you and if they do manage to touch you then you will lose a life. You also need to try and clear the levels quickly because if they are able to melt all the blocks then you can’t kill them and it’s game over! But for some unknown reason in this Game Gear port Sega added another small element to the gameplay. You now have to push the three diamond blocks together before you can move to the next level and bonuses are awarded depending on how quick you do this. That makes this version of the game more like a puzzle game as you have to figure out a strategy to do this. Personally I feel that they should have just stuck with the original game, as the saying goes – if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it. It’s not that it ruins the game or anything, it’s still great fun, but it was just better off without it.
Graphically Pengo is pretty faithful to the original, just very downsized. The sprites are nicely animated but are much bigger than the blocks for some reason so it all looks a bit out of proportion. You do feel the programmers could have made a bit more effort in this area. Pengo does fair a bit better in the audio department though, there’s some really jaunty music playing throughout and also a host of excellent sound effects. Most importantly though Pengo gets the gameplay just right with tight controls, which is very important as this game requires very precise movements, and a well-paced difficulty curve. The Game Gear version of Pengo, despite its small changes, is very addictive and will be one of those titles you come back to again and again. A lot people scoffed at a game as old as Pengo being ported to Sega’s new handheld back 1991. But you can see why it was resurrected, as it makes for an almost perfect handheld experience.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Sega Game Gear (Reviewed), Atari 2600, Atari 400/800, Atari 5200; Publisher: Sega ; Developer: Sega ; Players: 1 ; Released: 1991 ; ESRB: N/A ; MSRP: N/A