The Game: Pirates have kidnapped your girlfriend, Cheri, and it’s your job to rescue her, from landing your hot air balloon on the deck of the pirate ship and trying to free her, to flying and climbing your way through the jungle to rescue her from jungle animals who have abducted her from the pirates. (Texas Instruments, 1983 [unreleased])
Memories: Several years ago, when I wrote up my all-time favorite coin-op, SNK‘s adventurous gem Fantasy (licensed for the US by Rock-Ola), I lamented the lack of a home version. I’ve always thought Fantasy was underappreciated as an arcade game, and a good home translation might have helped. I remember, around the time that NAP finally licensed an arcade game (Turtles) for the Odyssey2, I wrote a letter to them to make the case for an Odyssey2 version of Fantasy, since it now seemed like they were prepared to license arcade titles. When my Fantasy review appeared many years later, TI 99/4a uber-fan Bryan Roppolo wrote in to bring my attention to an unreleased version of the game that had been in the works for that computer system, and I’ve always wondered if it was as much fun as the arcade game.
The important thing to remember about the TI Fantasy prototype is that it was a work in progress; half of the arcade game’s stages are absent. The fact that the opening menu allows you to jump to any of the first four levels would seem to indicate that playtesting was ongoing – at least, I can’t think of any reason such a menu would’ve been included. The graphics are excellent – they’re actually very close to the look of the arcade game, and the sound and music are good too.
It’s the game play where Fantasy really shows its work-in-progress nature, though. Each of the four playable levels are clearly not balanced. The game was either about to begin playtesting, or wasn’t done with the playtesting stage, when work was abandoned (likely due to the collapse of the home video game industry). Keeping in mind that I’ve probably played what most people would consider to be a disproportionate amount of Fantasy, both in emulation and on a real machine, I’m fairly good at it, but the TI prototype’s levels are so unforgivingly difficult that one can’t imagine the game being released like this. It’s a miracle to survive the second level (“pirate ship deck”) at all, because the first enemy to appear is likely to rob you of all of your lives in quick succession by attacking from the top (a direction from which your on-screen character is defenseless). The jungle balloon stage is nearly impossible to survive, with the jungle birds springing unsurvivable “scissor” maneuvers on the hapless balloon. The sad reality is: thank goodness the jump-to-any-level menu is available, because otherwise I never would’ve gotten to see as much of the game as I did.
It pains me to give the only known home version of one of my all-time favorite games a low grade, especially knowing that more work was almost certainly waiting to be done on it, but for the sake of posterity, at this point in the game’s development, it was a two-star game – and that’s still being very generous. If released in this state, not only would most of the game have been missing, but it would’ve been so difficult that players who hadn’t gotten to know Fantasy in the arcade would’ve found it frustratingly difficult to play, if not impossible. Fantasy on the TI, as exciting as the possibilities were, clearly had a long way to go before being ready to play.