Review: Keystone Kapers (Atari 5200)

In this review, we give chase in the Atari 5200 game Keystone Kapers. We find out how well this adventure game plays.

This game was released in 1984. It is a port from the Atari 2600.

You play a police officer chasing a criminal. If you catch the criminal, you beat the level.

The criminal starts in the middle of what I presume to be a mall. Meanwhile, you start on the far right side of the bottom floor of the mall. While you do move substantially quicker than the criminal, the criminal obviously has a head start.

Along the way, you can encounter various bits of loot. There are regular bags and gold bags, each worth a different amount of points if you recover it.

In addition to this, there is an ever increasing stream of obstacles for you to overcome. The first obstacle is a bouncing red ball. It is surprisingly difficult to avoid it altogether. It requires precise timing with your jumping. If you get hit, it’ll cost you a few seconds of time.

In later levels, the difficulty increases with an increase in the different obstacles. There is the moving cart, the electrified still objects, and the instant kill planes. After this, the difficulty increases by increasing the number of still objects and increasing the speed (and, eventually, number) of other moving objects.

You’ll notice the escalators on the far sides of the level. The first one on the bottom floor is on the extreme left hand side. The next one is on the extreme right side. The final one is located on the extreme left hand side. Each escalator will move you up a floor, but you can’t move back down a floor with them.

You’ll also notice an elevator in the middle of the level. This elevator is generally a question of luck whether or not you can make use of it. When the elevator is empty, it is very slow to move. If you happen to catch the lift, the speed of the elevator will increase. This can save you a lot of time in catching up with the criminal.

One idea that might pop into your head is to simply cut the criminal’s path off with the elevator. This is a good strategy, but it’s hard to get the payoff. The problem is that if you appear on the top floor ahead of the criminal, then the criminal begins running in the opposite direction. You need to time things so that you have plenty of space to catch him with a mere half a floor. Otherwise, the criminal disappears from the top floor and reappears on the second floor. The only way to catch him at that point is to race back to the elevator and go back down the floor. By then, you are likely so low on health that you won’t have time to catch him.

A big factor in this game is the time limit. You get 50 seconds to catch the criminal. Besides the instant killing planes, if you get hit by an obstacle, you lose several precious seconds to catch him. So, the time doubles as your health here. As a general rule, for earlier levels, you can get hit twice and still have a chance at catching the criminal. In later levels, unless you get lucky with the elevator, you are left with a one hit margin for error.

In total, there are four floors. The roof is the last step. Often, you find yourself using the roof to catch the criminal.

You also have 3 lives to work with when you start. For every 10,000 points, you get a free life. Some points are scored from picking up loot, but a lot is earned by catching the criminal as quickly as possible. The more time you have left, the more bonus points you earn before the next level.

One problem I have with this game is the fact that it starts you off with one of the most difficult to avoid obstacles in the game. While the red bouncing ball has its place, I’m sure the introduction of the non-moving obstacles would have been a better choice for the first level or so. The moving cart probably should have been the second obstacle introduced. The bouncing ball would be the third if I had a say in this game before the killer plane.

Another thing that I find odd is why the toy plane instantly kills you in the first place. A large heavy cart merely hurts you, but a small plastic toy is what finishes you off? I find that rather strange myself.

The level design in and of itself isn’t bad even if it is a little unrealistic. The problem is that it gets a little repetitive after a while even with the constantly shifting obstacles. Even occasionally going in the opposite direction would have added to the variety nicely in my opinion.

What would have been nice is an ability to add health to your character as well. As it stands now, the margin for error is very narrow and the evolving difficulty would accommodate such a mechanism.

The constantly shifting difficult, meanwhile, does work well for the game. The chasing of the criminal also adds a nice layer of novelty to the game as well.

Generally speaking, this game does lean towards the realm of simple and basic gaming. So much more could have been added to the game to give it a nice degree of dynamic play. As it stands now, the only thing that gives it any dynamic play is the elevator and evolving difficulty. The layout of the level is fine, but it would have been nice to see a few other levels and settings in the process. So, I would say it’s a pretty good game thanks in part to the novelty of catching a criminal, but nothing to jump up and down in excitement over.

The good news is that this game features full color graphics. The bad news, everything is stretched out along the bottom of the screen. The graphics of the characters are a little on the basic side, but the addition of furniture throughout the game does improve things somewhat. Decent, but not amazing.

The music was nice to hear. It is also nicely faded to the background to add something to the game, but nothing too loud so that you can pick up on any repetitive nature of it. Sound effects are also pretty decent. So, a good effort here if you ask me.

Overall, this is a pretty decent game. While I wouldn’t jump up and down in excitement over it, it is a pretty decent one to play. The level design is good, but you only get the one level. The increasing difficulty of obstacles adds a nice dynamic to the game. The elevator also makes things interesting as well. The graphics are decent. The quality of some of the sprites aren’t the greatest, but the scenery that was added is a nice touch. The music is decent to listen to and the sound effects are OK. A decent game all around.

Furthest point in game:
Died on level 9
High score: 34,200

General gameplay: 20/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 74%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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