Spike Hoppin'
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8  |  Hoppin' Glad
Darryl B. , 3/12/2013 9:55:52 PM

Lets see, as far as hopping goes, you've got the Bunny Hop dance, there was Hopalong Cassidy, you can be "hopping mad" (just like that O'Riley gentleman [cough choke *major sarcasm*] on Fox politely informing his guests to "SHUT UP!"), there was some sex act called "hop on pop" that Jefferson D'Arcy of Married...With Children liked to do with his wife Marcy (as mentioned during an episode)...and then there's Spike Hoppin' for the Vectrex, along with all kinds of other "hopping" acts and celebrities ("hoppenings", maybe?) that I won't bother mentioning.


Vectrex homebrewer extradinnaire John Dondzila came up with a bunch of "firsts" with the Vectrex, starting with the first new Vectrex game ever in over 10 years after Vectrex production shut down with Vector Vaders. Not long after that, he also created the first ever 16K Vectrex cartridge of All Good Things, complete with five games (four regular, plus one hidden bonus game), and then he topped all that by creating the first ever 16K Vectex GAME of Spike Hoppin'.

Spike is a character (and Vectrex game of the same name) that debuted in a last batch of Vectrex games in 1983. It was also the only talking Vectrex game at the time as well (remember the days when consoles and computers didn't have built-in voice synthesis?). However, in the game, Spike talked in a rough, deeper voice, whereas here, his voice is much higher...my guess as to why this is is because Spike did too many high kicks (as required in the original Spike game) which, being a guy, he somehow, uh, injured himself (which, if you don't get that one, I'm not going to explain it).

Here as far as the voice goes, the name of the game is spoken during the main screen, you're told to "go for it!" like in Crazy Climber at the beginning of every level and new life (naw, I was just going to sit around and wait to die; thanks for telling me!), and Spike also says "darn it!" when he dies...or actually, about half a second afterwards, since the screen has to briefly go blank in order to talk, due to how much memory speech takes up on a console like the Vectrex (followed by an onscreen speech bubble afterwards, for game players that are a bit slow, I guess).

Then as far as the gameplay itself, it's based on the Q*Bert arcade game, where you have to change all the blocks on the screen into the same color...well, being the black and white Vectrex, you must change them to the same brightness shade. All of this is accomplished by hopping on all the triangles that make up the game screen.

Players will immediately notice several differences between Spike Hoppin' and Q*Bert, though, since it's not a straight port, for one thing. So automatically, there's going to be differences, as the graphics aren't very good. There's also pretty much no animation at all with any of the characters, as Spike's got that damn smile painted on his face FOREVER, even when he loses a life. There also aren't a lot of sounds; it's mostly the balls dropping down that you'll hear the majority of the time (but there's a delightful tune when you start and complete a new level, though). SH (what I'm calling this from now on) also doesn't move as fast as the original, and there are never more than two magic discs onscreen (which I'll get to, and as to why this sucks, too), among other things I'll cover. Finally, control is a bit difficult to get used to as well, but Dondzila programmed in two different ways for the controller to respond, though.

Anyway, yes, you must hop on all the onscreen triangles to make it to the next level. Once Spud (Spike's enemy from the original game) appears onscreen (taking Coily's place from Q*Bert), one of the good differences between the two games is that any time at all you want to hop on a magic disc, it will knock Spud offscreen; none of Coily having to be right on your tail in order to coax him off the screen like the original, anywhere will do. Unfortunately, another Spud could immediately re-appear. Jumping on a disc is also different from the original, as you can't be lined up with the disc to jump on it, you have to be on a pyramid below it; it cost me about three lives before I realized this.

However, within a few screens, an hourglass will appear, which, if you can catch it, it will freeze anything on the screen for several seconds. Unfortunately, not only do you not receive an audio signal as to when the time will end, but you also cannot jump onto a pyramid that's got a bad guy occupying it's space, or you'll die. So you'll have to go back to those pyramids later once the freeze time has expired.

Worse yet, the hourglass is pretty hard to catch; after only a few screens of it appearing (it starts surfacing in the third round), if you're near the top of the screen and it appears, you'll have a chance of catching it, but you're two or more spaces away from it, chances are you're never going to catch it before it bounces off the screen. So that bites.

Also after several levels, just like with Q*Bert, a little puke called Log (who looks like one of the original Space Invaders, but with legs) that changes the brightness of the pyramids will appear and do his dirty deed.

Making things a bit lighter (heh, pardon the game object pun), though, are messages that appear onscreen as you make it through the levels: most are tips, like on how to kill Spud, at other times, though, it will read that your girlfriend Molly (from the original Spike) doesn't appear in the game, and really far into SH, the age-old gaming question of "have you played Atari today?" appears, which I never would have guessed I would see that on the Vectrex, which got a big laugh out of myself when I saw it.

However -- and getting back to problems with Log -- out of the 11 Dondzila-created games I've played so far, eight out of those 11 have bugs. Some of them are just simple graphical glitches that don't affect gameplay in the least, like an explosion at the top of the screen in the Patriots Remix on Vecmania can wrap around to the bottom (speaking of which, a similar one appears here: if you die at the highest point of the screen -- i. e. when you're jumping off the top pyramid and get hit by a ball -- your speech bubble will be empty, but "darnit!" will appear at the bottom of the screen), but here there's collision problems with Log, as sometimes you have to hop on him THREE TIMES before you can erase that miserable little puke. So for one of the later messages that appears that says "this game took 3 months to write", it seems to me it wouldn't have killed Dondzila to have spent an extra couple of weeks correcting some of the problems, as a lot of the time you'll just have to lose a life getting hit by a hazard to be rid of Log.

Along with SH, though, there's also the hidden bonus game of Vectrepede, although it's "Centipede lite", since it appears that Dondzila realized too late after starting the game that a complete version of Centipede couldn't be done (probably due to onscreen flicker with mushrooms, a Vectrepede, you, and the spider), which becomes evident after you shoot all the mushrooms. That's right, a flea won't appear to add more mushrooms to the screen, so that leaves out the scorpion too. So you're left with a fast-moving centi--errr, vectrepede, and the spider, and that's it. The game also has different gameplay mechanics than the original, so, even though you'll never get an extra life (at least none that I know of, since I never got any extras all the way up to 30,000 points, my high score), this is still a fun, simple shooter for a while.

Even with the bugs, though -- and I don't mean the ones in Vectrepede, ha ha -- this is still a pretty good cartridge. Dondzila makes most of his games tougher in general than the ones that we played in the arcades -- as "Backwards Monsters" appear after several levels, along with Spike having to hop on each pyramid TWICE in order to change its brightness, etc. -- so don't expect screens with any more than two magic discs on them (which sucks, since the original had screens that had several more than that, and why the hell isn't there a pause feature on this thing? None of the buttons are used during a game!!), but you'll still get your $22 worth for these two games.

The only thing, though, is why did Dondzila make Spike out to being a star with a pair of tennis shoes on the box cover?  I always thought of him as to being a hedgehog.  8/10

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