Have you got ants in your pants?
The most interesting thing about Ant Eater, a fairly obscure game for the Atari 8-bit computers, is that is was programmed by none other than Ed Fries. For those that don’t know, he’s the man who would later become the Vice President of Microsoft’s games division and was largely responsible for the success of the Xbox consoles! It never ceases to amaze me just how many legendary programmers out there cut their teeth on the Atari home computers and Ed Fries is another name to add to an already prestigious list that includes such luminaries likes of Rob Fulop, Jeff Minter and Archer MacLean. It was even more incredible to learn that Ed programmed all his Atari 8-bit games (including Ant Eater) when he was still in full-time education; you certainly don’t see many commercial games these days coded by school kids!
At first this Ant Eater seems to be nothing more than a simple Dig Dug clone, but once you start playing it you realise that it’s actually quite a different game. You play the part of an ant whose eggs have been stolen by a greedy anteater. You are deep underground in your nest while the anteater roams the ground above looking for some nice juicy ants to eat! The long nose protagonist has carefully stashed the eggs in a pile on the left hand side of the screen and wandered off, so they are there for the taking. The object of the game is to dig your way to the surface from your lair in the bottom right and grab your eggs, one at a time, then take them back to the nest. But be warned that the anteater will lay chase as soon as he notices one is gone so you will have to be cunning if you want to succeed. The only way to stop your foe is by dropping boulder on his head – this part is very like Dig Dug and Boulderdash as you have to dig under it with him in chase and time it just right to crush him. This is only a temporary fix though, because he will come back looking to suck you into his tummy once more! The only other way to escape the ravenous foe is by digging a series of complex tunnels. If you do this the anteater will soon get frustrated and return to the surface. There are definitely a number of very different tactics that can be mastered in order to succeed in Ant Eater.
Ant Eater is nothing special in either the graphics or sound department. In fact, it’s pretty simple. The sprites are nothing more than plain stick-like figures with no animation, and there is also very little variation in the landscape. The sound effects add very little to the proceedings and hardly make use of the brilliant POKEY chip. But where this game succeeds is in the compelling gameplay. I really liked the way you can learn the behaviour of the anteater and master the tactics you have to employ to win. What first seems like nothing more than a rip-off of the classic Namco arcade game soon turns out to be a great little game in its own right that requires further examination. Ant Eater is an interesting and fun title that will definitely appeal to fans of other classic digging games such as Mr. Do!, Boulderdash and Dig Dug.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Atari XL/XE (reviewed), Texas Instruments TI-99 4/A, Commodore VIC-20 ; Publisher: ROMOX ; Developer: Ed Fries ; Players: 1 ; Released: 1983 ; ESRB: N/A ; MSRP: N/A