Trog - Arcade, NES, IBM PC (1990)

There have been countless times when a game has been scrapped entirely because it just didn’t work. Maybe nobody could grasp the main mechanic, or maybe the game just wasn’t working out. Usually, when this happens, these games end up forgotten, lost to gaming history for decades’ or possibly forever. Sometimes, however, these games get a second chance. Trog is one of these games, as while it’s original idea never made it to most arcades, it did manage to survive in some form or another. For the most part, however, it’s been left to obscurity, probably only known to most as that one arcade game that showed up in Terminator 2. But before we discuss what Trog was, we should start by discussing what Trog is.

Somewhere in the prehistoric land of Og live four colorful dinosaurs named Spike, Bloop, Gwen, and Rex. They’re all pretty much identical aside from their colors and a few animations, so it’s more of a matter of preference or where you end up on the cabinet on which one you should play as. Their only want in life is to collect a bunch of eggs that happen to be the same color as them. The problem is that the race of one-eyed cavemen known as the Trog who want to eat the dinosaurs alive. Seriously, they pull out a fork and knife and eat them right down to the bone. It’s a little brutal, really.

On each of the game’s 50 islands, your goal is to collect all the eggs of your dinosaur’s color, and then get to the exit that shows up. If you’re playing by yourself, the screen be filled with only eggs of your color. If you have two players or more, however, eggs of multiple colors will show up, with each player only able to grab eggs of their own color. Once all the eggs of a certain color are off the screen, an exit for that color dinosaur will open up. The level ends as soon as the first dinosaur makes it to the exit, but the first one also get a huge point bonus for being first. You also get to watch your dinosaur do a goofy dance, which should be all the motivation you need in the first place.

Complicating matters are the Trog that constantly spawn in and try to kill you. They’re generally never as smart as the ghosts from Pac-Man, and they tend to wander around the island more than anything else. Occasionally, they’ll start focusing their attention on you and start following you, which is when they’re at their most dangerous. Since the Trogs have to actually land a hit on you to kill you, however, they’re generally only dangerous in numbers. Not that they aren’t a threat, since the game tends to spawn them by the half-dozen, and one generally pops in right after you kill one. There is a “punch” button that lets you knock Trogs off the screen with a few punches, but if you’ve got more than one Trog closing in on you, you’ll most likely get whacked before you can kill all of them.

The further you go, the more ways the Trogs will invent to kill you. Every so often they’ll invent something that they can use against you. Trogs with clubs can break open holes in the ground, while Trogs with spring shoes bounce around the screen at random, occasionally on your skull. Some Trogs will throw wheels out that turn when they hit a wall, and can’t be punched out like a normal Trog. The game’s pretty slow in general to introduce new enemy types, but it does give you enough time to get used to the ones you’re already fighting, which helps.

Besides the Trogs, there are a few other things that can kill you, like falling into holes and tar pits that sometimes spawn on the island. Or, you could just be a dummy and walk off the edge of the island entirely. Keep in mind, however, that unlike a lot of games, the Trogs aren’t immune to level hazards, even if it’s not incredibly common for it to happen.

You’re not entirely helpless, though, since there are a few powerups will occasionally spawn in. Red flowers will speed you up, while gray mushrooms slow you down. Since they both give point bonuses for picking them up, it’s up to you to decide how much you actually need them. Horseshoes give you a shield that’ll protect you for a few seconds, ice cubes freeze Trogs, while peppers let you shoot fire at them from a distance. And filling in for the power pellet today is the pineapple, which turns your dinosaur into an unstoppable T-Rex, capable of chomping down hordes of Trogs for huge point bonuses. Since every 500,000 points earns you an extra life on factory settings, you’ll want to go out of your way to grab these.

The island layouts get more complicated as you progress through the game, as well. The early stages are usually nothing but a big, empty field, with maybe a few walls thrown here and there. As you get further in, however, things like teleporters show up, capable of moving dino and Trog alike across the island. Springs can be used to bounce from place to place, and any unlucky spring Trog who hops onto one will find their face meeting the screen. There are fifty islands in total to play through, and every so often you’ll get a bonus stage that gives you a break from the action. These are generally pretty simple affairs, which usually involve killing as many Trogs as you can before a timer expires.

After these bonus stages, you get an intermission at “Trog’s Cave”, where a random Trog draws up a new way to kill you. That’s supposedly what they’re for, as sometimes you’ll get weirdness like the intermission that reveals that the Trogs want to eat you. Yeah, we found that out way before Level 7, thanks. The final island takes place at Trog’s Cave itself, where the game sends horde after horde of Trogs at you to punch out to win the game. The ending’s nothing spectacular, but this is more the sort of game you play for score.

The further you get, the tougher the game gets, and it can get pretty nasty around the end. Generally, what will kill you is that the game will spawn so many Trogs at once that they’ll corner you from all ends and conk you over the head. It doesn’t help that the Trogs slowly get faster as you get further in, or that the powerups you collect stay active for less time. Thankfully, however, if you’re using factory settings, you’re free to continue as many times as you’d like, with your score intact. And you’ll need that if you want to reach the very end of the game.

What makes Trog really special is how it looks, more than anything. It was actually one of the first games to use claymation, and it gives the game a very unique look. The Trogs are probably more interesting to look at than the dinosaurs themselves, mostly because of how many animations they actually have. There’s the goofy waddle they use to move around, the way they burp after killing off your dino, or the way they crumble into ash when you hit one with a fireball. Not that the dinosaurs don’t look good, but it’s clear that the Trogs had the most love into them. It’s fair, really. Since the game itself is named after them. The islands themselves don’t have quite as much detail in them, but since they come in themes like grasslands, temples, and volcano island, they never get too samey, too quickly. enough variety in the level times things never get too samey.

The sound’s pretty good, and the game makes heavy use of speech, mostly from the Trog. It adds a nice little touch to things to hear their screams slowly fading out as they fall down a random hole, or the “Oh yeah!” you get whenever you insert a coin. The music isn’t quite as special, since it plays over Midway’s standard Yamaha chip of the time, which makes it sound a little tinny. There’s also only one main theme that plays throughout the game, and while it’s long enough to not get repetitive, a few moer songs would have been nice.

Overall, if you enjoy Pac-Man, or one of the many, many maze chase games to come out in its wake, you’ll probably like Trog. The support for four players adds a nice touch to things, and its Claymation look really helps it stand out. However, that’s not the end of Trog. In fact, the Pac-Man style game we got was a last-ditch effort to save the game from cancellation entirely. So, what happened?

During the game’s development, it actually started out as a game where you didn’t control the dinosaur, but a hand that placed bones to direct a path for it. Testers, for whatever reason, just didn’t like it. It didn’t help that they kept adding an ‘R’ to the ‘Bone’ button. (See, Namco thought ahead for this sort of thing with Pac-Man.) Since the game was a flop, the only thing saving it from cancellation was just how much money was put into the project. And so, the programmers took the assets they had, and fashioned a more traditional game out of it.

Thankfully, thinks to the efforts of dedicated ROM dumpers, this prototype is still floating around on the internet. Labeled ‘Revision 4.00’ on bootup, this forgotten version of Trog isn’t that far off from what we actually got. It looks and sounds almost exactly the same, aside from a few animations that didn’t reach the final version. When the first Trog in the game shows up, for example, it waves at you, which is a nice extra touch. It also explains why the Trog have the intermission about getting the idea to eat you, since in this version, this scene only plays BEFORE the Trog show up in the game.

Instead of controlling the dinosaur, you control a hand moved by the joystick. By moving the hand between two ‘pegs’ and hitting the Bone button, (stop laughing, this is why this whole version got canned) you drop down a bone. When your dinosaur touches a bone, it’ll turn in another direction. It seems random in what direction it’ll generally go, and while it’ll usually go towards eggs and away from the edge, you can’t always count on this to happen. Sometimes your dinosaur will happily walk its dumb self right off of the island, and there’s not much you can do about it. Since you don’t have a Punch button, the Trogs are now much more dangerous, but if you can maneuver your dinosaur into walking behind them, it’ll punch them in the back a few times, stunning them and earning you some extra points.

Since you’re not directly controlling your character in this version, it’s actually a lot harder to play. Sometimes there will be times when you end up placing a bone between the wrong pegs, which means you won’t be able to do anything about stopping yourself from walking right into a Trog. It’s also much harder to get away from anything dangerous, since your dinosaur usually moves just a little slower than the hand you control. You’re generally a lot better at a game when you’re actually controlling your character, but when you’re kind of vaguely leading it around, hoping it does what you want, it generally gets a lot more frustrating. Just take Lemmings, for example.

It’s an interesting idea, and one that should have been expanded on for a separate mode, but as it is, maybe it’s better that they canned it. It actually feels pretty much like a fully finished game, although it could have done with some touching up. Some kind of time limit would have helped, since there are times when you can box up your dino with bones to keep them from getting out. It’s not a very useful tactic, and any Trogs with clubs can break through, eventually. But, used often enough, it could that could still the flow of the game entirely, theoretically. About the only thing we lost were some extra animations and a pinball-style score tally at the end of each island. Still, if the game were polished up a bit more, it could have been a lot of fun. A trackball probably would have helped, although fitting four trackballs on one arcade cabinet might have been too tricky for Midway to handle.

The NES version done by Visual Concepts takes a few hits, but it still ends up being a pretty fun game to play. The Claymation graphics obviously wouldn’t transfer over too well, but the cartoony sprites that replace them still look pretty great, and they’ve kept all the animation of the arcade game. Two of the dinosaurs are missing, since this version only supports two players, and only four Trogs can be on screen at a time. The tradeoff is that you only get two continues to finish the game with, so you have to be a lot more careful, regardless. The music is the worst part about the whole port, since none of it sounds like the arcade version in the slightest, and the music that replaces it is pretty bland. Still, it’s a surprisingly good port, technicial limitations and all. Visual Concepts must have really liked the Claymation idea, apparently, since they’d go on to make Clay Fighter and Claymates.

The DOS version, brought out by Software Creations, looks almost exactly like the arcade original, although you’re still stuck with only two players. What’s unusual about this version is that it’s stuck on “Free Play” mode, meaning that there’s pretty much no way you can’t finish the game, given enough time and effort. So the focus here is strictly on getting the best scores, not seeing how long you can last, apparently. The music sounds a lot closer to the arcade version, but sadly, even though this version could have easily supported it, the game has no digitized sound effects of any sort. It really makes the game sound a lot quieter without them. It’s also not quite as smooth, which makes the game feel a little slower than it should. Still, it’s a surprisingly good port during a time when computer ports weren’t always guaranteed to be all that accurate.





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