Thursday, 16 May 2013

Coin-Op Classics - Cameltry (Taito - 1989)

The oddly monikered Cameltry is an arcade puzzler from Taito. Released at the tail end of the 1980's, the game tasks you with simply guiding a ball to the end of each of its scrolling, maze-like stages. This is achieved, not by controlling the ball itself, but by rotating the world around the ball and letting gravity do the work. It is an incredibly simple concept that is executed very well, resulting in an addictive and enjoyable title. It can also be viewed as an early example of the casual game genre that is incredibly popular on today’s mobile platforms.

The backgrounds are well animated and often quite relaxing

As with most coin-op games, the gameplay is fast paced and against the clock. You start off by choosing one of the four worlds, which are designated by difficuly and range from Training to Expert. The harder worlds contain more stages, which is important as the time remaining when you complete a stage is added on to the next, meaning you have to perform well from the offset in order to have enough time to finish the later stages. Hitting any of the squares containing red crosses will penalise you by taking valuable seconds off the clock, but, thankfully, to counteract this, you can smash breakable blocks containing bonuses such as score and, more importantly, extra time.

The maze-like layouts require constant 
rotating of the world to progress

Rotating the world around your ball is intuitive and very easy to master and is achieved by simply pressing left or right. The original coin-op came with a paddle controller that was moved clockwise and counter-clockwise in a manner similar to tuning in an old fashioned radio, or cracking a safe. Of course, modern ports or emulators cannot replicate this, so the D-pad on your controller or handheld console is used instead.

This, rather random, screen awaits you should you perish

Expert players will mostly keep the ball in the air at all times, tilting the world with enough speed and accuracy so that the ball never touches any surfaces at all. The levels are all very well designed and have arrows everywhere, so you always know where you are supposed to be going – essential for a game of this nature – and new obstacles, such as pinball bumpers, Pachinko style pegs and traffic light barriers – green allows free passage, while red blocks your path - are added as you progress. If you run out of time, the game is even kind enough to allow you an attempt to win some more time via a roulette style button press – match the number shown and you carry on from where you left off.

Later stages introduce far more hazards to avoid. 
Watch out for the red crosses!

Visually, the game is extremely colourful and clear, with some lovely animated backgrounds that feature moving water or clouds, as well as birds, fish and bats (to name but a few). These never distract you from the gameplay, and give the game game a pleasant, almost serene, look that belies its frantic time trial action. The music is fairly forgettable, but is still perfectly acceptable and is well suited to the pace and style of the game.

Cameltry is a very playable title that will keep you coming back due to its addictive nature and challenging stages. Taito released it on their Legends compilations on last generation consoles and handhelds, and also included a 2005 deluxe version (on the PSP at least). This remake sticks closely to the formula of the original but loses a lot of the charm due to more visually confusing graphics and inferior level design. There are also too many new gimmicks added that take away from the purity of the 1989 original. It is certainly worth playing, but the original is the better game. Whatever you decide to play Cameltry on (I highly recommend the PSP version), you will have a great time spinning the world around and guiding your ball home. It holds up just as well today and proves that the simplest ideas are often the best.

Stages are well signposted, so you always know where to go.

Cameltry was only ported to three home systems, the FM Towns and Sharp X68000 – two obscure Japanese PC variants – and the more commonly known Super Nintendo console. Of these, I have only played the SNES version (known as 'On The Ball' in the West). It lacks the vibrant colours and lovely animated backgrounds of the coin-op, but otherwise it is a faithful port and is well worth seeking out.