The release of the Gameboy was a huge step forward in handheld gaming. Looking back on the games that came out, quite a few of them have much higher praise due to our memories and nostalgia rather than their actual content or presentation. Penguin Wars was one of those titles for me. I remember playing this game and taking turns with my neighbors when I was younger, and we had a blast doing that for hours.
Having found the game recently, I really wanted to relive those times. By now, I’ve learned about the dangers of exercising memories in the current day, but my recollection of this game was that it was a simple and fun game that my seven or eight year old mind probably found social satisfaction with. I still wanted to see if Penguin Wars was something worth checking back on or if it was something better kept to the past.
The game’s premise is really simple. A bunch of animals at a zoo get together and play a game where you roll balls across a table onto your opponents side.
Let’s use our 8-bit sense of disbelief here.
Playing as one of five animals, you are given the task of defeating your fellow combatants and becoming the king of the zoo (ironically the title of the game in the UK is King of the Zoo). To do this, you roll what look to be large medicine balls across a platform to keep more of them on your opponent’s side. Of course, it gets more difficult as you go, but there’s really no other premise here. You can hit your opponent to stun them for a short time while you throw balls onto their side, so there’s another factor involved, as taking advantage of your stunned adversary’s inability to compete becomes vital. Each animal- rat, penguin, rabbit, cow, and bat- has a different walking speed, throwing speed, and stun recovery, bringing variety to the table for gameplay styles.
Personally, I chose the rabbit as my combatant of choice. After choosing him, I was placed on one end of a table while my first opponent, Cow, stood at the other end, waiting for the first round to begin. As the tone chimed, the court was suddenly littered with balls, bouncing off of each other, hitting each of us; essentially, this game feels like high school dodgeball. I easily felled my opponent and moved onto the next. The first round of animals was easy, as many Game Boy games tended to be, but after becoming king
of the zoo, I was tasked with defeating my opponents again, and they had a second wind like they had been bred with Olympians. This was also when I learned that you can charge a shot to throw it super fast, and if it connects with your opponent, it stuns them for longer.
It was at this point that I went from ‘Rabbit’ to ‘Tortoise’, as once I was on my back, I just couldn’t get back on my feet fast enough. With the sudden difficulty spike, I went from royalty to pauper to just another faceless bunny and the game over screen flashed in my face. I had my share of bonus levels, in which you have thirty seconds to throw as many ball as you can across the table for points, but other than that, the experience made me wish I was young again. Consider me disenchanted, I guess.
The game is not only basic on premise, but it is also basic in presentation. The music is cute, but certainly not memorable. Nothing stands out as particularly good or bad, though I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed the sound that happened every time I slammed my opponent in the face. It may sound sadistic, but it made me smile.
The 3D-esque graphics were handled pretty well for a system that didn’t really do well with graphics, too, so a slight nod is deserved to that. The animals look like animals, and the balls looked like the dodgeballs from gym class, which might send shivers down some peoples’ spines in memories of wayward tosses during gym class. I suppose ‘average’ is the best word for the entire presentation, re
Now, I enjoy explaining if games stand up to the test of time, especially if I played them in the past. This game does exemplify one big reason that this blog exists. Not only is it to root out some gems lost to the wayside of the electronic highway, but it is also to remind people that while retro gaming is fun, some games just aren’t as great as they were twenty years ago. I used to be psyched to run to my friend’s house to play this game, and if I have a few minutes to spare and just feel like toying around, I
may open this again. There is a distinct lack of content, though, and honestly, I couldn’t imagine paying whatever this game cost when it originally appeared on store shelves for such a short experience. Having people to play this game around was what made it such a great game, but as a single player now (and only child growing up), my tastes have changed and my memory of this game is a bittersweet one. Certainly check it out, as mechanics from this game have found their way into some other obscure handheld games, but don’t expect to be running to your friends and telling them how they just have to jump right into Penguin Wars, no matter how adorable it is.
Ah well. At least I have my memories of being the Bunny King.