Apr 30, 2023

Chase Or Be Chased

Keystone Kapers and Dolphin
Atari 2600 (1983)
Two of my favorite games from my early days of gaming have turned 40 years old this month.

Toy Chest advertisement - St. Louis Post Dispatch  (June 5, 1983)

Keystone Kapers was designed by Garry Kitchen.  He's the same programmer who was responsible for three of my other all-time favorites on the Atari 2600: Pressure Cooker, Space Jockey, and the 2600 port of Donkey Kong, and he was the co-designer of the NES classic A Boy And His Blob.

The concept of the game is very simple.  You play the role of a police officer who is chasing a crook through a department store.  The crook has a head start, so you have to run to catch up with him, but there's a ton of merchandise in the way that slow you down.  As you run through the store, you'll have to jump over radios and shopping carts while ducking under toy airplanes and beach balls, because hitting any of these items will take time off of the clock.  If the clock reaches zero before you've caught the crook, he will get away and the game is over.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution  (April 23, 1983)

This is the Garry Kitchen game that I've played the most when I was a kid, and it's the one that I have come back to the most as an adult.  It has a perfect combination of having a simple concept with easy controls, or as easy as an Atari 2600 joystick can be.  It also gradually increases in difficulty, which keeps the game from getting dull and makes you want to keep playing to top your previous high score.

Like most Activision games of this era, gamers could earn a free patch.  All you had to do was score 35,000 points, take a photo of the screen, and send it in to the company.  For as difficult as it may have been to hit the scoring goal, taking a photo of the screen was an even bigger challenge.  It may sound silly today because we all have smart phones and can take a photo of the television screen that comes out crystal clear every time, but back in the 80's, I was working with a CRT television with a glass screen and a 110 film camera, and you wouldn't find out if the picture you took was good enough until about a week later when your pictures came back after you got the film developed.  When I was a kid, I tried many times to take a photo of a high score from an Atari or Nintendo game, and not a single one ever came back from the photo lab where you could see what was on the screen.

Fort Worth Star Telegram - Fort Worth, TX  (September 1, 1983)

I don't play Dolphin quite as often as Keystone Kapers these days, but I did play it quite a bit when I was a kid and it was a lot of fun.  You play the role of a dolphin swimming through the ocean to escape a giant squid.  There are seahorses that you have to navigate through to prevent them from slowing you down, and currents that can either make you swim faster or push you back towards the squid.  A seagull will occasionally fly overhead, and it acts as the Pac Man power pellet in this game.  If you jump out of the water and catch the seagull, you will be able to swim directly at the squid to scare it away.
The Arizona Republic - Phoenix, AZ  (January 15, 1983)

There were two different patches that you could win by playing Dolphin.  The first is the Friends Of Dolphins patch, which could be won by sending a photo of your television showing that you scored 80,000 points.  However, if you managed to score over 300,000 points, you would receive the Secret Society Of Dolphins patch.

Keystone Kapers and Dolphin are included in many of the Atari 2600 and Activision compilations that have been released over the years.  Both games are among the 15 titles in Activision's Atari 2600 Action Pack: Volume 2, which was released for Windows 95.  They were also included on the 1998 release for the original Playstation that was called A Collection Of Activision Classic Games For The Atari 2600.  Four years later, they were included in one of my favorite retro collections, Activision Anthology, which was ported to Playstation 2PSPGame Boy AdvanceWindows XP and Macintosh.

These games can also be found on some, but not all, of the later Atari Flashback plug-and-play consoles, although it seems as if Keystone Kapers is included on more of them than Dolphin is.  There have been quite a few different models of these that have come out since the first one was released in 2004, so be sure to check the game list before buying, but if you're looking for one that has both Keystone Kapers and Dolphin, you'll want to pick up either the Flashback 8 Gold Activision Edition from 2017 or the Atari Flashback 50th Anniversary Edition from 2022.