Game 16: Anteater (TAGO ELECRONICS, 1982)


Playing rules: Difficulty: Factory Default. Start: 3 lives. Bonus: 1 life at 20,000 points.
Continues: not allowed.

Current Record holders
1st: 219,320 - Freddie Morrish - 1983
...
5th: 134,220 - Dave Hensgen - 1983

Oh. For fucks sake

What are the chances of that? I’ve just spent hours being humiliated by Amidar and now the very next game is another poxy maze style game? That’s not very nice Mr Alphabet, not very nice at all – who pissed on your chips?

Game developers in the early 80’s really had the horn for maze games didn’t they? Hey ho, no sense in being sad about it, let’s get it over with. Anteater is another of the games that I have never played, although I do faintly remember seeing it somewhere – maybe on some crappy home computer port perhaps. At least it looks a little bit different, I’ll give it that.

You control not the anteater, but his tongue (which I guess is still *part* of the anteater, so in some ways, yes you *do* control the anteater. Shut up.) as it wiggles its way through the ground looking for tasty treats. Obviously the name “Anteater” is misleading in this case, because although he does eat the occasional ant, there is nothing he likes better than a good old “dot” – can’t get enough of the little buggers, which is handy because they are all over the bloody place. To be honest I would have thought the ants and worms would be glad to be rid of the things, which makes it somewhat surprising that they are all so pissed off. Pissed off to the extent of calling in the night spider no less to sort your stupid probing tongue out.

Hold on, I’m ahead of myself a little. The game has you controlling the tongue with the aim of collecting all of the dots in order to progress to the next level. As well as the dots you have some ants and worms wandering about which you can eat also by simply running over them with the end of your tongue. After about a minute or so, day turns into night and the aforementioned night spider turns up to ruin the party and the whole game gets a lot trickier as it tries to rush you along a bit. Sounds simple? Well it sort of is, but there are loads of extra (mostly nonsensical) details that make the whole thing a lot harder than it looks.

While you can eat the ants by running over them with the end of your tongue, if any ant manages to touch any other part of your floppy tongue you die. Not sure how the game justifies that one to be honest but it’s true. This makes the game rather tricky indeed because your anteater has plenty of tongue laying about, especially if you head lower down the screen. As the ants tend to appear from the sides of the screen randomly, you really have to be on the lookout for the cheeky ones that appear right at the top level, intent on some serious tongue killing.

In another moment of madness, you can only eat the worms from behind – if you attempt to eat them head on, you die. Why? Do they have a massive set of teeth that need to be avoided? Do they have a rather sharp haircut? As far as the game is concerned – they have deadly heads ok? get over it. Yet, for some reason the worms *don’t* kill you if they touch any other part of the tongue they just wander on by – obviously preferring to kill you with honour the traditional worm way, the classic conflict between worm head and tip of tongue. Of course. Silly me.

…and then the bastard spider. The spider clearly follows the worm honour code and doesn’t kill you by touching any part of the tongue apart from the tip. (Is anyone else getting horned up with all this talk of tongues and tips? No? Just me then – forget I mentioned it) The spider is a busy man however, and has no time for wandering about. This lad has done his homework. What’s the quickest way to get to the tip of an anteater’s tongue? Come on, surely you were taught this in school all them years ago. Well don’t worry as the spider has the answer. The quickest way to the tip of the tongue is to follow the length of the tongue until you reach the end – and that’s exactly what he does the little bugger. This isn’t good as you can’t kill him at all, so his appearance usually signals that a life is soon to be lost.

Of course the game doesn’t tell you any of this. The title screen has a brief instruction screen to tell you what’s going on, with a vague attempt to convince you that the dots are “ant larvae” (yeah right) and that worms are to be eaten from behind, but that’s it. It took me literally dozens of goes to work this all out before I could be confident enough to have a proper go.

Frankly I don’t know why the anteater bothers. He’s obviously the runt of the anteater family – hunting alone, a wretched outcast. You can’t see them, but off screen all of the other anteaters are laughing and pointing at the anteater who gets beaten up by ants touching his tongue – it’s all so very sad. Even the makers of the arcade machine knew this and tried to persuade you away from playing a game featuring such a rubbish anteater. Just look how guilty and sad he looks on the arcade marquee (the artwork on the top of the machine)

Pathetic. Also, I’m pretty sure those creatures are at the wrong end there. They keep following that “tongue” they’re in for a surprise and this becomes a different game altogether.

Look at the way the worm is looking at the anteater, disgust overwhelming him as he steals his lunch money again. If you’ve ever wondered what a worm saying “fuck you buddy” looks like, that right there is textbook.

Everyone loves an underdog (or indeed an underanteater) right? Well I do – and I’m not going to stand there while the insect world takes the piss out of this once proud animal. I will take the task of controlling your tongue sir, and I will help you regain your pride if nothing else. Actually, did I forget to mention that I’m absolute pump at this sort of game? Nevertheless I’ll give it my best shot.

Even though I’m now playing for anteater pride, it’s worth remembering that there are records here – and a quick glance at them at least indicates that the pattern method may not be applicable here. I’ll have to wait and see how the game scores, but they don’t look impossible that’s for sure (although the fact that they are all from the 80’s is rather ominous perhaps).

So, lets get in and get tonguing. (You *sure* you’re not horned up? Just a little bit?)

Jesus. Just like a Friday night out in Hull – as soon as I stick the tongue in, I’m dead. Unlike Hull, it was a worm that killed me. No sooner had I started, a worm appeared right next to me and headbutted the tongue. Nasty stuff. Although I must say, in true style I completely panicked and sort of ran into him a bit as well, completely forgetting that, unlike an ant, he can’t hurt me unless it’s the tip.

Man I’m struggling already. What with all of the mentions of tonguing and tips, this is rapidly becoming a bad Carry On film. Come on, we’re all adults here, I’m talking about a video game from 1982 – behave everyone.

Ahem.

It’s very clear that this game is a LOT more than just a maze game. You barely get a second to yourself and you not only have to consider where the tip of the tongue is, but also protect the rest of the tongue at the same time. Absolutely rock hard, but I have to say – not in a bad way. Could it be that this is a maze style game that I don’t hate?

Regardless of my feelings on the game, I’m clearly shit at it and I barely make it to the night time.

Score: 4,900

There is clearly tactics to this game that I’m not grasping. The main killer so far has been the ants appearing near the top of the screen while I’m flapping about a few rows below. It’s really tricky to withdraw the tongue back in time to avoid being killed. But, what’s this? This game has a button that I didn’t know about. A button that withdraws the tongue at a quicker speed! Just what the doctor ordered, it’s almost as if the game was designed that way. I wish they’d tell you these things – although in fairness if I were stood in front of the arcade machine rather than hunched naked over my PC, a button would be rather more obvious.

Armed with this new skill I do a lot better. The worms are quite tricky to get though and tend to steam straight towards you, meaning quite a lot of running away before doubling back and chasing the beggar before he reaches the end of the screen and disappears – which is made all the more awkward by the fact that your tongue can’t double back on itself – makes sense, go on, try. (Incidentally, if you do try and succeed and you’re a cracking bird with a wazzo pair of jugs, my email is on the site – let’s do lunch).

Sooner than I would like the sun reaches the left hand side of the screen and it’s night spider time, and what a bastard. He really adds a sense of panic to things as he unavoidably slowly traces down your tongue. As well as keeping out of the way of him, you can no longer withdraw the tongue and save yourself from any ants at the top. So you’re rogered basically.

Or are you? See, the clever chaps at klov.com come to the rescue again. There are two “Queen” ants at the bottom of the screen that just sit there looking shiny and queeny and stuff – that when collected not only give you 1000 points, but clear the screen completely of beasties. Rather handy that – and at the first sign of the spider I’m off to reap the queeny revenge. And it works! The spider is dead, long live the spider. Well, long live the spider indeed as sadly a new one appears almost immediately. It does get you out of any tight squeezes though I guess.

Score: 9,070

Believe it or not, I am REALLY enjoying this game. Not only does the game have a decent amount of depth to it, but it has an unusual scoring system that seems to encourage risk taking. At the end of each life, you are awarded a bonus – but rather than simply being a true reflection of what you collected before you died, it multiplies the amount of ants you collected with the amount of worms and then multiplies that by 10.

Ok, maths boy – what does that mean in old money? Well essentially you need to take the risk and collect worms as well as the easier ants otherwise your bonus is useless, i.e multiplied by 0. Therefore, even if you collect a million ants (good luck with that) but fail to get any worms your bonus will be 1,000,000 x 0 x 10 = 0. It’s not the cleverest thing in the world, but it’s a very nice touch.

I really am enjoying it – in fact I will be as bold as to say that it is one of my favorite games so far. You really have to be on your toes while trying desperately to clear trickier placed dots and I’m convinced there is a lot more to it tactics wise that I am yet to discover. Well there definitely is, as although I get to the 2nd level this time (more of the same but with a few “angry” ants that seem to be exactly the same as normal ants) the score is still woefully short of the record standard.

Score: 15,870

So the record is miles away, who cares? I reckon that there will be a few fundamental techniques that allow you to get up to the bigger scores. Even with the queen ant smart bomb things I pretty much die straight away when the spider gets involved for example and I’m sure there is a much better way of handling that. Whatever it is, I’m going to keep playing as the game really is good fun.

Don’t worry pathetic anteater, we will fight another day and you never know, you may get the respect back from the other anteaters as well as knocking that look of disgust clean off of the stupid worm’s face. That’s right worm, we’re coming for YOU.

3 thoughts on “Game 16: Anteater (TAGO ELECRONICS, 1982)

  1. Cracking stuff that. I’m pretty sure we played a shit version of this on the C64. But then I’ve been sure in the past that Nick Berry was a registered priest.

    He isn’t.

  2. Hey, check out the German and UK versions. The US version has a higher default score, but the UK one spells out “You can get to the top if you try.” I think the German one has a telephone number in the high score list.

    Weird stuff.

    Also, nifty game. One of my favorites so far.

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