The Game: Players control a segmented, centipede-like creature as it wanders through an open maze inhabited by similar creatures. The player’s creature can shoot segments off of the opponent creatures, but the opponents can also turn around and eat their own segments to get out of a corner, which won’t score any points for the player. To clear a level, the player must eliminate the other creatures from the maze. (Emerson [under license from Konami], 1982)
Memories: 1982 had the dubious distinction of being both the peak year for video gaming, and – arguably – the beginning of the end. That end didn’t play out until the industry crash of 1983 and ’84, but the seeds were planted at least as early as 1982, when the arcade license ruled the home video game roost. Even modest or completely unknown games could command top dollar for home console ports, often in advance of their arcade release, just on the off chance that the licensee was hitching its wagon to the next Pac-Man. Hence… Nibbler.
The politics of being in the consumer end of the video game business in 1982 dictated that even new, untried hardware didn’t show up for the party without a few licensed arcade ports. Konami was happy to license Nibbler to Emerson for its brand new Arcadia 2001 console, but clearly Konami got more out of this arrangement than anyone else. Even in the arcades, Nibbler was obscure stuff – the world had already seen a few too many rehashes of “eat everything in the maze” by this point – which meant that the Arcadia was an obscure, johnny-come-lately machine with an obscure, johnny-come-lately arcade port.
Making matters worse, this version of Nibbler wasn’t enough to inspire repeat play on its own. The arcade game wasn’t an audiovisual feast by any stretch, but this cartridge version didn’t even do that justice; the game’s sound seemed to emerge from the same circle of audio hell as Atari‘s Pac-Man. Game play is a bit clumsy, just frustrating enough to make it a chore, and the mazes just aren’t structured the same way as the arcades – there ends up being too much wide open space, changing the dynamic of the game.
Emerson’s version of Nibbler wasn’t the best introduction to the arcade capabilities of the Arcadia console, and that console’s library wouldn’t get many other chances to prove itself before its time ran out.