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by Bobinator and Kurt Kalata, January 26, 2015

Pengo (ペンゴ) - Arcade, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 8-Bit, Game Gear (1982)

Arcade Flyer

Game Gear Cover

Atari 2600 Cover

In Pengo, one of Sega's first big arcade hits, you play as the titular little red penguin forever trapped in a maze of ice. Your goal is to hold off the blob-like monsters known as the Sno-bees for as long as you can, advancing through the levels, before you are inevitably overwhelmed by them.

Each level is made up of a maze of blocks, a few eggs that the Sno-bees will hatch from soon after the level starts, and more eggs hidden under the ice that will hatch sometime during the level. You control Pengo with the joystick, with the fire button being used to kick in whatever direction Pengo's facing. If a block's in front of him when he kicks, it値l slide until it hits something, and if a block is trapped against something when he kicks it, it'll shatter. You kill Sno-Bees by kicking ice blocks into them, and if you can get more than one with one block, that'll earn you a lot of extra bonus points. Besides the regular ice blocks, there are also a few diamond blocks scattered around the maze. Not only are the diamond blocks unbreakable, but if Pengo can line them up in a horizontal or vertical line, he'll get a ton of bonus points. If you池e having trouble killing Sno-Bees with the ice blocks, you might want to try lining up the diamond blocks, since lining them up will also stun all the Sno-Bees on screen, letting you walk over them to kill them.

The Sno-Bees make a pretty valiant effort to not get killed, and they tend to alternate between wandering the maze and actively hunting you down at a moment's notice. Either way, they're making things harder for you. When the Sno-Bees aren't chasing you, they're wandering around, smashing all your ice blocks, and generally making it so it's harder to kill them. When they're chasing you, they will amost always take the most direct path possible towards you, smashing through as many blocks as they need to reach you. Some Sno-Bees are also hidden inside ice blocks, indicated by the blocks that flash different colors and a meter that shows how many eggs are left on a board. Once you kill off so many Sno-Bees, more will hatch from the ice blocks and come after you. You can stop more Sno-Bees from spawning by shattering an ice block with an egg in it, which means less enemies for you to deal with. You also need to be quick about clearing the board, because taking too long mean all the Sno-Bees become even faster, along with making it so you don稚 get any bonus points for clearing a level.

So, what you basically have is a game about monsters who alternate between actively making things more difficult for you by destroying the things you can actually kill them with, and hunting you down as efficiently as possible. It's like if the ghosts In Pac-Man went around placing more pellets for you in between homing in on your position all the time. There is one trick that'll help a bit, where Pengo can kick the borders of the screen to stun any Sno-Bee hanging near them, leaving them open for Pengo to walk over them and destroy them. This isn't something you'll always be able to rely on, though, since you won't always be near the screen borders. You also get a lot less points for walking onto a Sno-Bee, so keep that in mind if you're playing for score. The Sno-Bees move pretty quickly, about as fast as you do, which means it's often likely you'll try to kick a block into them, only to have them smash it at that exact moment, leaving you without anything to defend yourself with.

In certain versions of Pengo, the theme that plays throughout the game is the pop song "Popcorn". The remix is pretty catchy, enough that you'll hardly notice it's the only song that plays through the game, aside from a few short jingles. In later revisions, it's replaced with an original tune. This song doesn't sound bad, even if it's not quite as infectious as "Popcorn" was. I's likely due to the fact that the song was unlicensed for use outside of Japan, but the developers didn't realize it (or care) until after it had been released. The graphics are pretty simple, like a lot of arcade games of the time, but the sprites are bright and colorful, and it's easy to tell what everything is. Much like Pac-Man, there are also have little intermission cutscenes at the end of every level, and while they're not amazing, they'll give you at least a little motivation to reach the higher levels.

For a while, the only official ports would hit Atari systems. The versions released for the Atari 5200 and Atari 8-bit computers are pretty much identical, and they play reasonably closely to the arcade. The playfield has been made a little smaller than the arcade version. The speed of the game is a lot slower, which does thankfully make the game a lot easier, but also makes it a bit less frantic. It's also missing the intermission cutscenes, which, while not a huge loss, were still nice to see in the arcade version.

The Atari 2600 version is substantially weaker. That's not to say it's an awful port, and it's leagues better than, say, Pac-Man. It has the same smaller playfield as the Atari 5200, meaning you don't have a whole lot of room to move. To compensate, the Sno-Bees are a lot slower and not as agressive, and there's only three on screen at once. They did manage to fit most of the gameplay elements in, though, like the diamond blocks and the ability to kick the sides of the screen. It's not nearly as difficult as the arcade version overall, which isn't entirely a bad thing. They even managed to get the theme from the newer arcade version in, but only five seconds worth of it. Since this is the Atari sound hardware we're talking about, this is not something you want to hear looped again and again.

The Game Gear version is more or less a direct port of the arcade version, and one that's much closer to the arcade than Atari ever did. The playfield is about the same size of the arcade version, with the sprites being made smaller to compensate for the Gear's smaller screen. If you enjoy Pengo so much you want to take it everywhere you go, this isn't a bad version to own. Interestingly, the Japanese version has a version of "Popcorn" with it, along with a new tune, but the Western versions only have the new song. It's a pretty nice tune, its frantic tempo matching up pretty well with the actual game, but, well, it's not "Popcorn".

A port is also found in the Mega Drive sequel Pepenga Pengo, under the "Classic Mode". It's not a complete replication, mostly because it feels a little different. It's easier, for one thing. The whole maze also doesn't fit on one screen, meaning you have to move towards the bottom of the screen to see the rest of it. The real tragedy is that they don't use "Popcorn" or the track from the Game Gear version, but yet another new track that isn't nearly as catchy as either.

The best port is the Saturn version, found on the Sega Memorial Collection Vol. 1, along with a handful of other early Sega arcade classics. It recolors the graphics a bit, and resizes them slightly so the entirely playing field can fit into a single screen, plus the score display is rearranged on the side screen. It plays almost perfectly, and includes the "Popcorn" track. This is also included on assorted Windows compilations released only in Japan.

There are also two mobile ports of Pengo: one under the Sega Ages label, and the other under Sonic Cafe.

There's also a minigame based on Pengo in the Dreamcast game Segagaga. It's named DTTT: DC wo Teinei ni Truck ni Tsumou (Kindly Load the DCs onto the Truck). The goal is to load Dreamcast boxes into a truck by kicking them around. There are no enemies, so it's just a matter of moving everything into the corner. The music sounds a lot like "Popcorn", but is actually an original piece of music.

Those are the only official Pengo ports, but there are dozens of unofficial clones created for numerous platforms. Screenshots, names and platforms for many of these are listed below. Most of these keep the arctic theme, but some change things up a bit. Hopper for the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A features a kangaroo instead of a penguin. Rubble Trouble for the BBC Micro has a dark post-apocalyptic theme. Atom Smasher for the Amiga steals a number of sprites from other games, including casting Bomberman as the main character.

One of the clones for the Commodore 64 by Colosoftware was distributed under the name Pengo. However, these were leaked copies by beta testers and were circulated only as pirated copies. The official version of the game was released as Petch. Some clones different names in different terroties - for example, Petch was known as Bingo Bongo in Italy, and Percy Penguin is also known as Charlie Penguin and Il Penguino.

Pengo is also the subject of a handful of Windows freeware remakes, many of which add new mechanics. These are some of the most noteable.

Frostbyte Freddy

Developed in 2002 by Brien King, Frostbyte Freddy has an absolutely gigantic board, plus the snobees come in different colors, which indicate their intelligence. Power-ups can also be found in flashing red ice blocks. Besides stuff like bonus multipliers and extra points, but there are also items that let you smash more blocks at once, boost your speed, or even kill every Sno-Bee on the level. There's also a co-operative mode, where you can either play to clear the stages, or to get the best score. The graphics are mostly ripped from the arcade game, but due to the higher resolution and playing field, everything is smaller. The music is in MOD format, with many remixes of "Popcorn".

Push Push Penguin

Released in 2004 by Black Cat, this has adorably colorful spritework and some catchy chiptunes. Enemies include trolls, octopi, pandas and bunnies, all adorable. There are many more score collectiables, and a few extra power-ups. Plus, if you can connect all of the star blocks, you collect another bonus item for that stage. Includes two playable characters: Pen Pen for player 1 and the pink Deda-Deda for player 2. Home page

Pengo 3D

Produced as part of a competition to remake retro games in 2003, Pengo 3D is...not good. Beyond the fact that the 3D perspective makes a game like this incredibly difficult to play, the level construction is incredibly cluttered. Stages spawn so many Sno-Bees that they can barely move, and the ice blocks seem to be randomly placed. Interesting for a proof of concept, at least.

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Ninku Gaiden: Hiroyuki Daikatsugeki (忍空外伝 ヒロユキ大活劇) - Game Gear (1995)

Japanese Cover

Sega created a Pengo sequel in the unlikeliest of places - as a licensed tie-in with the anime/manga Ninku. The basic gameplay is almost exactly the same, except the graphics and music are different, and you now play as Hiroyuki, the flatulent penguin. The playing fiels is smaller than the original Game Gear release of Pengo, since the sprites and blocks are larger. It's a much more visually attractive game.

Enemies include walruses and octopi. There are bumpers around the playing field, which will bounce back any kicked ice block, potentially squashing Hiroyuki if you're not careful. You can also fart and create a toxic gas cloud, which will temporarily stun enemies. In addition to the regular levels, where the goal is to kill all of the enemies, there are also Puzzle stages, where you need to kick blocks into a certain pattern, and Boss levels, where you need to kill a large enemy by tossing blocks at it. There are brief cutscenes every once in awhile, and the scenery changes every few levels.

Ninku Gaiden

Since subsequent Pengo games went off in different directions, this is probably the closest that Sega ever created to a true Pengo sequel. Note that there are two other Ninku games on the Game Gear published by Sega, though they are entirely different and are actually fighting games.

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Pepenga Pengo (ぺぺんがPENGO) - Mega Drive, Wii (1995)

Mega Drive Cover

The 16-bit revival of Pengo is basically a Bomberman ripoff, and a pretty blatant one, at that. Just like Bomberman, you've got a single player mode with some ridiculous plot, even though everybody plays these for the multiplayer alone. 13 years after Pengo single-handedly exterminated the Sno-Bees, a passing meteorite smashes a magical crystal the penguins apparently use to ward off global warming. The rise in temperature causes the last Sno-Bee alive (At least, that's what one assumes it is) to melt from the block of ice it was trapped inside. After it grabs the pieces of the shattered crystal, or "Cristals" as the game refers to them, it leaps into another dimension. It's up to either one or two penguins to make their way through stages like Ice World, Sand World, and Toy World.

Much like the original game, the goal of each board is to destroy every enemy on the board using whatever ice cubes you have on hand. This time around, however, you've only got a few ice blocks on each board to use against your enemies, instead of a whole maze worth of them. Each level now has its own unique layout, made up of solid walls and small obstacles that have to be destroyed with ice blocks before Pengo can pass over them. Much like the original game, you've still got eggs that enemies will hatch out of once the board starts to empty out, but this time, the only way to deal with them is to get out of the way once they hatch. The diamond blocks also return, clearing the screen of enemies if you can match three of them in a row. Take care this time, though, because they're not quite so unbreakable anymore.

Much like Bomberman drops, well, bombs, hitting the B button will make Pengo drop an ice crystal wherever he's standing. After a couple of seconds, the crystal will form into a new ice block. Keep in mind that while you can kill enemies by having them walk over an ice crystal just as it forms, having Pengo do the same will freeze him in place for a few seconds. You can still kick around blocks by using the A or C buttons, and just like the original Pengo, this is your main way of dispatching enemies. This time around, however, the ice blocks have a few new quirks for you to keep in mind.

Whenever an ice block is destroyed, it'll shatter, letting off an ice cloud on its opposite sides. This ice cloud will not only kill enemies (and Pengo, if he's too close), but it can also push around other blocks, causing some big chain reactions if you can set it up right. There's also a trick you can pull where if you have a row of blocks lined up, hitting the one closest to Pengo will only cause the furthest to slide. This is pretty handy if you ever end up in a situation that calls for more than one block. You can also kick one block into another, causing the other block to slide forward. Physics, and all that.

The ice block gimmick is the one thing keeping Pepenga Pengo from being a total Bomberman clone, and to its credit, it does give it a different feel. Since you don't have to worry about your ice blocks blowing up and killing you, you have a bit more time to think about what you want to do with them. The way you can set up blocks in just the right pattern to make a big chain reaction is pretty interesting, too. Much like Bomberman, you'll also occasionally find some power-ups hidden across the board, which let Pengo drop more ice blocks, make him invincible, award him points, or freeze the enemies for a few moments. The game's nice enough to let you keep your powerups if you die, too, so you'll only lose your ice upgrades if you have to continue.

The story mode is split up into eight worlds, each with three levels and ending in a boss fight. Each level has its own unique layout, and the further in you get, the more gimmicks start getting placed onto the board to make things tougher for you. There are things like arrow blocks, which carry your blocks around, whirlpools that warp you around the board, and rotating sawblades, which, uh, kill you. Since you're not dealing with the Sno-Bees anymore, each world also has its own enemies to deal with. Thankfully, this time, they don't hunt you down like a bunch of cute, fuzzy Terminators. Some will charge at you if you get in their line of sight, while others fly over obstacles, shoot projectiles, or just wander around at random. The bosses don't really have much to speak of, as they all tend to move back and forth, pulling off the one attack they have over and over.

It's generally a lot fairer than your average Bomberman game, which is good news for people who tend to be awful at it. The big difference is that you don't have to time your ice blocks quite as perfectly as the bombs, so that generally makes things a lot easier on you. You also don't have to do the entire board over again if you die or continue, which is a big improvement. You only get four continues to beat the game with, but considering that you get passwords that let you start off at the beginning of each world, you can still work your way through easily. You also have the option of doing the story mode with two players, and you thankfully don't share continues. Oddly enough, it's the Player 2 penguin that's the red one, even though you always played as the red penguin in the original Pengo.

If you ever get tired of doing the story mode, however, you always have the Battle mode to try out. If you thought the single player mode sounded familiar, this is where the whole "Bomberman ripoff" part really becomes evident. You can have up to four players, either controlled by the AI, or four human players, if you happen to have a multi-tap on you. Once you start a battle, your goal is to use your ice blocks to slay the other multicolored penguins on the board. The last penguin alive wins the round, and the first one to win three rounds is the winner of the match. In true Bomberman fashion, there's also different items that either help or hurt you, and some stages have hazards to avoid. Much like the single player mode, the battle mode's best described as "Bomberman, but slightly different".

The game looks decent enough, although there's hardly anything that's going to stretch the hardware to its limits. Each world has a unique look, even if everything falls under the usual game cliché from the '90s. Since you're not dealing with the Sno-Bees anymore, each world has its own unique enemies to fight, like walruses, fish, or dinosaurs. The theme for each world, while mostly distinctive, isn't really all that catchy, especially since none of the themes from the original arcade games make an appearance.

Overall, Pepenga Pengo isn't a bad game, it's just incredibly unoriginal. Sure, the ice blocks give the game its own twist, but in the end, you're just playing Bomberman variant. It was not released outside of Japan, and it's also one of the most expensive titles on the Mega Drive, so it's really hard to justify the high price tag. It is available on the Japanese Wii Virtual Console, at a much cheaper price of course.

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Pepenga Pengo (Mega Drive)


Pengo! (ペンゴ!) - Arcade, Xbox 360 (2012)

Xbox 360 Cover

Eighteen years after the original arcade release, Pengo was revived yet again with a new arcade game named Pengo!, this time developed by Triangle Service. It has been reinvented again as a multiplayer Bomberman-style game, sort of like Pepenga Pengo, but hewing closer to the original arcade game. In fact, the visuals are basically identical to the original arcade game. The main difference is that it runs on a modern widescreen HD monitor, so the viewpoint is zoomed out. It doesn't use any of the old music, though the soundtrack was composed in a similar style of an early 1980s arcade game...which is to say, screechy and not entirely pleasant.

Up to eight Pengos are on the field at the same time. Each match last sixty seconds - the goal is to score as many points as possible. You get some points by destroying bricks or killing Sno-Bees, but you gain much more by taking down other Pengos. Hitting a Sno-Bee won't kill you, but will stun you for a few seconds, leaving you suspectible to be squashed by someone else. If you are killed by an ice brick, you're taken out of the game for a few seconds, then return as a Ghost Pengo, making you invincible. Most score values are halved when you're a ghost, except when killing other Pengos, in which case you get double points. This form last for a short period of time before you resume your corporeal form. When the time is up, the winners and losers are determined based on your points - if you end up on the losing side, you lose a star. Lose all three stars and the game is over. There are also bonus stages, where the game briefly highlights the position of hidden eggs, and you need to remember them and collect them before time runs out.

Pengo! is sort of fun, and its rules make it seem a little less of a ripoff than Pepenga Pengo was, but it's still fairly basic, and there's no single player mode at all, not even a rendition of the original arcade game.

Initially released in arcades, it was ported to the Xbox 360 and bundled in the Geesen Love Plus Pengo! package, which also includes Action Skill Test, Shooting Skill Test, and Combat Zeal. Unfortunately there is no network play. It was only released in Japan, but the disc is region free. A limited edition includes a soundtrack CD with music from all included games.

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Pengo was going to make his first 3D appearance as a cameo in Sonic the Fighters, with a 3D model that looked just like his 1982 sprite. For whatever reason, he never actually made it in, but if he did, it would have likely been in Bark the Polar Bear's ice-themed stage. Image from The Cutting Room Floor.

Sonic the Fighters



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