Cutesy puzzlers and single screen arcade games are the perfect match for hand held consoles. When done well they offer short bursts of fun and head-scratching action that's perfectly suited to gaming on the move. Games like Amidar, Qix, Tetris, Bomb Jack, Bubble Bobble, Catrap and Boulderdash are all great examples of this. And so too is Amazing Penguin.
Developed by Natsume and released in 1990, Amazing Penguin is an exceptionally fun single screen arcade puzzler starring a cute Arctic bird wearing a beret. Why he is wearing such inappropriate head wear is unexplained, but I would imagine if he were a human character he would be called something very different from 'amazing'. It would still begin with an 'A' though.
At first glance it looks like your average run of the mill Amidar clone, a title which involves moving around the lines of a grid to 'colour' in the squares, but here the mechanic is different. While the levels do resemble line drawn grids, instead of colouring them in by moving around the outside line, you have to move over and destroy the dots on them. Both white and black dots can be removed by pressing A over them, while black dots can also be kicked with the B button. Removal of all dots around a square grid will colour it in, with the objective to colour in everything to beat the stage. Enemies patrol the lines and colliding with one spells instant death for our flightless hero. Amazing Penguin is not completely defenceless, though. Removing white dots reverses the movement direction of all the foes on-screen, and kicking a black dot sends it hurtling across the screen, temporarily eliminating any enemies in its path. Colouring in a square also kills any adversaries currently moving around its lines.
As you progress the levels become larger and more complex and the enemies faster and greater in numbers. It is a challenging game and also a very addictive one that will keep you coming back for another quick go, or to beat your score, even after finishing the main quest. There are over 40 stages in total, with every fourth stage revealing a twee picture as you colour in the squares. The graphics are basic, but very clear and appealing (essential for games of this style) and the music is insanely catchy and will stick in your head long after you turn off the console.
Amazing penguin is a great example of the simplest ideas being the best, and while it clearly owes a debt to games such as Amidar and Qix, it has enough personality and ideas of its own to hold its head high in the world of hand held arcade puzzle games.
Developer : Natsume
Publisher : Natsume
Year : 1990