A naive youth underscores the importance of safe food preparation and intuitive button layouts.
As a child of roughly kindergarten age at the opening of the 90s, I spent much of my time playing video games. At that age, I understood that there were two types of games, platform games, and puzzle games. That was all we owned, so that was all I played. In that narrow field of vision I came across a classic arcade game. It was BurgerTime.
The game seemed to appear out of nowhere (though, in reality, it was probably a game that my older brother borrowed from a friend, and not a gift from the divinity of God to bestow video games on those who really really like video games). I popped the cartridge into the NES, and quickly understood the simple objectives of creating burgers, avoiding eggs, and pepper spraying hot dogs in the face. Some kids wanted games about space adventurers, or daring gunslingers, I just wanted to make hamburgers. For a small time of my life, I could aspire to nothing greater than cooking burgers for a fast food joint. Ah the lofty dreams of children eh?
Walk across different floors and climb ladders, step on various burger pieces. It can't be sanitary. He's just walking all over them! Come on dude... I was going to eat that.
Peter Pepper, as the chubby chef protagonist is known, did have one weapon from his pantry. As his namesake implies, Pepper would shoot a cloud of pepper, incapacitating the vile sentient foods before they could let their uncouth intensions known, but only for a few precious moments. The pepper spray is finite though, making it more of a last ditch effort rather than an offensive measure.
Much like most arcade games of the day, emphasis was placed on the design itself, the abstract graphics allowing as much as possible with such ancient technology. Like most early games, imagination was a must. The ridiculous face of the game melts away once enthralled in the actual platforming.
Looking back on the game now, with no imagination, it definitely leaves me with a ton of questions.
For instance, I assume that Peter Pepper is a tiny human running across ordinary burgers. A hypothesis I believe is corroborated by the egg and hot dog that are trying to murder you, and presumably try to get in, and ruin a customers burger. Why these foods want so badly to be eaten is anyone's guess, though they are food. Perhaps they aspire only to be eaten.
Of course, the concurrent hypothesis would be that Peter Pepper is a man sized man, and those burgers are so large they have to be constructed one story at a time. Proponents of this hypothesis (of which I know none, because who cares about this stuff except me) claim that the egg and hot dog are people in food costumes.
This is clear because these things have legs and free will. Why would eggs and hot dogs come to life?
Yeah, it's just as ridiculous as burgers that are forty feet tall! You would need a chef/marathon runner to make those! And why would the mascots be trying to stop him? It's clearly implying that Peter Pepper is a delusional chef, who crashes into restaurants with wild abandon!
So a sentient egg and hot dog have it out for Peter Pepper why?
They want to ruin burgers! With too much egg and hot dog.
What if the customer wants a hot dog?
We don't serve hot dogs!
...We're getting off track.
It should also be noted, that in both scenarios, the burgers are still created in conditions so bad I can imagine Gordon Ramsey yelling strings of obscenities in Hell's Kitchen: BurgerTime.
The previous exchange begs another question I have, within BurgerTime as well as many old games in which I never read the official story in the instruction booklet. That question is, who is the real bad guy here? People have made arguments that Pac-Man is the true monster, or that the paperboy in Paperboy was actually a plague on a quiet neighborhood. Nintendo even reversed the role of Mario (or Jumpman or Mr. Video, or whatever) in Donkey Kong Jr. just because! It begs the question, why aren't the egg and hot dog (and pickle eventually) the good guys? Get this psycho chef off my burgers! When was the last time the health inspector was here? No wonder this place got a B.
BurgerTime was almost ten years old before I got my grubby child hands on it. Created and released to arcades in 1982 by the somewhat controversial Japanese game company Data East. It was one in a line of hit games coming out of the golden age of arcades. It was a time when every electronics company in Japan and America seemed to have an arcade division. It would be a long steady decline for arcades from here, with the exception of a few revivals along the way. Just saying the phrase 'arcade-perfect port' makes me feel like a dinosaur.
This game debuted about thirty years ago. It's no secret that the capabilities of this arcade game are a laughably insignificant speck of processing power by today's standards. This game came from a time before most people had ever even imagined a D-Pad. All most games had back then was a ball, knob, or joystick. In many coin-ops of the early 80s, a game with directional input and two buttons could be seen as daunting. In those days, a person would simply step into the arcade, see a game they hadn't played before, and drop in a quarter. A simple 'get ready' screen would pop up and get ready to move in whatever fashion possible and hope to avoid a cheap death before you came to grips with all of that one button. Hell, the joystick in BurgerTime only moved in three directions! I'm not even sure that could be called joyful. It had barely been a year before BurgerTime's debut when people even began to grasp the concept of the fear of 'hardcore' games and multiple buttons in Defender.
Data East cut a name for itself by creating a slew of both fun and strange arcade games for Japan. Many of those games found similar success stateside. Like most well known arcade games of the time, Data East began to earn some nice paychecks by porting their various coin-ops in various forms on various consoles and computers. This helped them brave the video game crash of the early 80s long enough to begin porting these same games to the NES and other 'first' generation* consoles, as well as more home computers. Unfortunately Data East finally succumbed to bankruptcy in 2003.
This game is totally fun still. Simple controls, intuitive gameplay, obvious objective. In essence everything that a great arcade game needs to suck in those quarters. Though like most games of BurgerTime's day, it can be tough. Don't expect a walk in the park, this thing was designed to steal quarters from you as quickly as reasonably possible.
It can also become repetitious. Unlike my youth, I have plenty of games to play now, but I still have absolutely no attention span. If you go back today and give this a try, I guarantee a few solid minutes of food based fun. After that, you'll probably want to go back to League of Legends, Dragon Quest, or whatever other meatier experience you have waiting for you after reading this.
The graphics are terrible, even if you somehow have the original arcade cabinet to play on. Of course such a statement is clearly opinion, but look at it. No one was raving about the graphics of BurgerTime when it came out, and I'm not going to now. Sadly, arcade games also don't quite seem to spark the nostalgia factor console sprites do. Although, this game is from a time when isometric shapes could pass for graphics in a game, so you can't be too hard on them. At least the objects looked like the objects they were supposed to look like. Something which can clearly be taken for granted these days. The arcade original is relatively colorful, but the NES version I cut my teeth on has a depressing brown tint that makes it look like a pretty shady restaurant if you ask me.
If you enjoy video games, this is a great one, albeit, a different era of great. It's not a genre defining or culturally significant game like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, or Defender, but it was the litany of solid, fun, accessible games like BurgerTime that helped solidify the Golden Age of Arcade Games in many peoples eyes.
This is part one of a multi part series where I examine games created and released before I was born (1986).
*It feels so strange to call these consoles “first generation.” Especially in an article before that generation of video games. Now it feels like the NES was a gritty reboot of the Atari 2600...
**Artwork at the beginning of the article by Emory Allen.
***BurgerTime 1982 Data East ad via Games Database.
****Arcade/NES comparison screenshot via Classic Plastic.