The Game: Pogo Joe has a pogo stick, a screen full of barrels whose colors need to be changed to the same target color, and a bunch of bouncy enemies too. Players guide Joe from barrel to barrel, sometimes requiring a big bounce if a barrel isn’t immediately adjacent to Joe’s current location, avoiding enemy creatures who are out to get him. Joe advances to the next level when the color of every barrel on the screen has been changed. A limited number of barrels per level act as a kind of “smart bomb” – landing on them wipes out all of Joe’s enemies temporarily (though they quitely repopulate the screen). (Screenplay, 1983)
Memories: An obvious riff on the basic game play of Q*Bert, Pogo Joe rewrites the DNA of the original game more significantly than most knock-offs: the shape of the playing field changes from level to level (a trick that Q*Bert borrowed back when it made the jump to Game Boy Color), the cubes have become cylindrical barrels (and nicely drawn ones too, whether on the Atari computers or the Commodore 64), and in a few spectacularly frustrating screens, the barrels disappear completely, leaving the player with an almost unplayable screen if they haven’t planned their moves very, very carefully. In some ways, Pogo Joe is a game that Q*Bert experts could graduate to once they’ve mastered a pyramid of cubes.
The game play basics aren’t all that Pogo Joe borrows from a certain large-nosed orange fellow: players have to turn their joysticks so that the action button is “north,” which was also a unique feature of Parker Brothers‘ home version of Q*Bert.
On the audiovisual side, Pogo Joe is nicely done, with smooth graphics and catchy tunes – the result of one of the earliest specimens of an actual development team instead of a singular programmer. While the shift away from the vision of a single game creator had begun much earlier in the arcade realm, home video games and computer games were, in 1983, still largely the result of one person’s design and programming. That era was drawing to a close – at least where mass-produced and published games were concerned – as tighter deadlines made it impossible for one person to complete a game in a reasonable amount of time.
One of the results of the team approach is that each level has its own name. Some of them are recognizable as pop culture references, but one gets the impression that they’re mostly in-jokes whose origins are known only to the people who put the game together – rather, one suspects, like the whole game itself. But that doesn’t stop Pogo Joe from being quirky, addictive fun.