The Game: As Topper the top-hat-wearing turtle, your job is to jump from platform to platform until every platform on the screen is the same color, all without jumping into the empty space beyond the platforms. But as easy as this task may sound, it’s not that easy: rambunctious rabbits are ready to pounce on you, or at the very least keep you from reaching all of the platforms. Random explosives appear on some platforms and you have to avoid that platform until the danger has passed – and not even all of the platforms stay in one place. (Navarone Software, 1986)
Memories: The TI 99/4a version of Q*Bert is a decent port of Q*Bert, but on this computer, I much prefer Topper. With tense seconds ticking by as Topper stares down the slow approach of the evil rabbits (who actually look more like evil guys in evil rabbit suits, to be honest), there’s an element of patience and strategy that brings an almost chess-like dimension to what could easily have been just another Q*Bert clone.
Topper is actually a very late entry in the TI library – by this point, having lost its own stare-down with Commodore over who could price a home computer the lowest, Texas Instruments itself was no longer supporting the 99/4a. Third party software houses and user-made software were all that was left, and by 1986, even those venues for new games and applications were beginning to thin out. With computers like the Macintosh, the Amiga, the Atari ST series and the gradually expanding uprated PCs appearing, the TI 99/4a was firmly categorized as an old machine. Navarone was one of only a few publishers still supporting the TI.
Topper‘s control scheme is a bit more intuitive than the version of Q*Bert made for the TI, and while it’s clearly meant to capitalize on the sub-genre that Q*Bert created, the new elements here make Topper a different game altogether. Waiting for the rabbits to approach gets to be a little bit nerve-wracking, especially as – in a perverse twist on the game’s tortoise-vs.-hare theme – they move much more slowly than Topper himself, and the dynamite can literally appear right on top of Topper with no warning. It all adds up to an interesting variation on a familiar theme – one in which fast action isn’t always in the player’s best interest. Topper is a neat take on an old favorite.