Ah, the early ’80s — a time of exploration and experimentation in the world of video games. What subject matter would make for a good game — and particularly, what would make a good arcade game that would encourage people to part with all the small change in their pocket?
In 1982, Data East came up with BurgerTime, an unusual game that casts players in the role of chef Peter Pepper (no relation to his near-namesake who, it is said, once picked a peck of pickled peppers) and tasks them with making burgers by… uh… walking on them.
Does it make sense? Absolutely not. Is it fun? Yes. Is it monstrously difficult in both its original arcade and NES incarnations? Hell yes. And you can enjoy the latter version as part of the Data East Collection 1 cartridge for the Evercade retro gaming system, too. So let’s take a closer look!
BurgerTime may look like a single-screen platformer, but it’s actually more of a maze game. Our hero is unable to jump, which means in order to get around each of the game’s six stages and reach the various burger ingredients, he is entirely dependent on the network of platforms and ladders.
In order to clear each stage in BurgerTime, you need to cause all of the on-screen burgers to drop onto a waiting plate at the bottom of the screen. In order to do this, Peter Pepper needs to walk across each of the component ingredients for each burger, which are scattered vertically throughout the stage.
Normally, walking across an ingredient causes it to drop a single level, but there are a few ways in which you can accelerate the assembly of your burgers a little; dropping an ingredient into a space where there is already another ingredient will cause a chain reaction, for example, while dropping an ingredient while at least one enemy is walking over it will cause it to drop more levels the more “populated” it is, while also taking the enemies out of action temporarily.
That’s right, Peter Pepper isn’t alone while he’s attempting to put these burgers together; he’s under constant assault from Mr Hot Dog, Mr Egg and Mr Pickle, each of whom have seemingly no desire to see these burgers be successfully constructed.
Mr Hot Dog is the most commonly seen enemy, and appears in the greatest numbers. His behaviour is very predictable: any time he reaches a ladder, he will use it. Where a choice exists, he will climb in the direction that causes him to approach Peter’s current position, but it’s not exactly what you’d call active, intelligent pursuit.
Mr Egg and Mr Pickle are less commonly seen, but track Peter’s position a little more actively. Thankfully, they appear much less frequently — in the early stages, you’ll be facing several Mr Hot Dogs and one Mr Egg, for example — but you’ll still need to keep an eye on them and plan an effective escape route, because it’s all too easy to get trapped in a corner.
Peter Pepper isn’t completely defenceless. At the outset of the game, he has a very limited stock of pepper that can be thrown at his enemies, and this can be replenished by collecting the ice cream cones, cups of coffee or pouches of French fries that occasionally appear in the middle of the screen.
If a pepper cloud hits, it stuns the enemies caught within for a moment, allowing Peter to safely pass by, but the only way to actually put an enemy out of action temporarily is to either cause a burger ingredient to fall on their head from above, or cause a burger ingredient that they’re walking on to fall. In true “risk versus reward” arcade style, the more enemies you can dispatch in this way at once, the more points you’ll score — and the more you play BurgerTime, the more you’ll realise that these mechanics are not just ways to score points. They are, in fact, absolutely essential to long-term success.
BurgerTime is hard, and not always for the right reasons. While outwitting the enemies is satisfying, and their relatively simplistic behaviours provide a convincing sensation of being “chased”, there are times when a death can feel a little unfair. The most egregious issue in this regard is the fact that the game requires you to be absolutely precise when leaving a ladder to get onto a platform; if you’re just one step too high or too low, you won’t be able to leave, and the valuable milliseconds this wastes can, at times, mean the difference between life and death.
It would have felt much more fair to have Peter be able to walk off the side of a ladder and “fall” to the nearest platform below him, but as it stands, this is just something you need to get used to. The game has no real implementation of “gravity” aside from the falling burger pieces — as previously noted, Peter can’t jump — so the game is best approached as if it’s a maze game with particularly precise requirements as to when you can enter a horizontal passageway rather than a traditional platformer.
This issue aside, BurgerTime is an all-time classic from video gaming history, and a title that every retro gaming enthusiast should experience at least once. While it can, at times, be absolutely infuriating, there’s an undeniably addictive quality to it, which would account for the game’s success both in the arcades and on its many home conversions — the NES version which is seen on the Data East Collection 1 cartridge for Evercade being just one of them.
Plus if nothing else, it’s the perfect game to play while you’re waiting for your takeaway to arrive. Just don’t think too hard about how many feet might have crossed over the top of your burger bun before you bite into it…
Tips and Tricks
- Try and bait the enemies into following you in a line to avoid getting “pincered”.
- Walk over the majority of an ingredient, then finish it off the moment an enemy steps on or beneath it.
- Focus on burgers from the top down, as this is more efficient. But watch out for how the enemies are forming up while you make your way to the top!
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