The Game: As a cute, fuzzy, harmless little penguin, you roam around an enclosed maze of ice blocks. If this sounds too good to be true – especially for a polar-dwelling avian life form – that’s because you’re not the only critter waddling around in the frozen tundra. Killer Sno-Bees chase little Pengo around the ice, and if they catch up to him and sting him, it’ll cost you a life. But your little flightless waterfowl isn’t completely defenseless. Pengo can push blocks of ice out of the maze, changing the configuration of the playing field and squashing Sno-Bees with a well-timed shove. Clearing the field of Sno-Bees allows you to advance to the next level. (Sega, 1982)
Memories: This is almost a painfully cute game. Cute, fuzzy characters (both good and bad) waddle around the screen, and even if Pengo gets caught by the Sno-Bees, his little dance of defeat is cute. If you win a few levels, a multicolored lineup of penguins do a little Rockettes-style dance for you. But despite the tooth-rotting overabundance of sweetness, Pengo was a very addictive little game.
There’s a musical oddity between versions of this game: before the final revision of Pengo hit the arcades, there was an earlier version whose background music was the Hot Butter song “Popcorn”; this quickly disappeared, with revised hardware sent out with much more generic (and public domain) music. It can be pieced together that there may have been a music copyright issue early in Pengo‘s arcade life span.
Atari licensed Pengo for the 2600 and 5200. The 2600 version was passable, though the 5200 version was very frustrating due to the non-self-centering joysticks of that console. Atarisoft, the game manufacturer’s computer software division, also ported Pengo over to a a few computer formats, but other than these licenses, Pengo went more or less unnoticed.