I'm going to guess you had one of two reactions to the title of today's article: you either read it and had no idea what it was about, or you read it and heard a strange, almost indescribable honking noise that you might transliterate as "noot noot" echo in your head. It's Tom Create's 1993 Game Boy penguin-mischief-em-up Pingu: Sekai de Ichiban Genki na Penguin!

The title translates as something like Pingu: The Most Cheerful Penguin in the World, which must refer to just this game because Pingu isn't always all that cheerful in the show. Oh, right, I should mention that this game is based on Pingu, a British-Swiss claymation show about the eponymous penguin and all the scrapes he gets into with his family and friends.

That's what Pingu looks like when he's not trapped in the blocky monochrome world of the Game Boy, although as he's a penguin being rendered in black and white doesn't affect his looks overmuch. I'm sure Pingu is familiar to almost every British person reading this, but I have no idea about how widely know he is. I'd imagine "quite widely" - he's certainly famous in Japan, or at least famous enough to have this Japan-only videogame made and released over there. The show probably travels well, too, because it's all played out in a nonsensical yet perfectly understandable gibberish penguin language and therefore there's no need for translations.

Another factor that sets Pingu up for international success is that Pingu himself is a character easily recognisable to children (and especially boys) the world over - he's selfish, naughty but not particularly tough or clever, and most of the mishaps he finds himself involved in are of his own making. Like a kid, in fact.

An example: the game begins with Pingu eating the fish that was meant for the family's dinner, the greedy little bastard. In the world of Pingu fish is also used as currency, so you could argue that it's more like he found that week's shopping money and scoffed it.

After a telling-off from his mum, Pingu is kicked out of the house and I'm presented with this screen. I'm sure it's very helpful if you can read Japanese, but I'm sure I'll be able to figure out how a Pingu Game Boy game works. I'm fairly certain I need a fish to replace the one I just ate. I imagine I have to find one, because if fish works as money in this advanced penguin society there seems little point going to the fishmonger just to exchange a fish for, erm, a fish.

Immediate impressions are that the developers did an excellent job recreating Pingu's sliding, slap-footed walk, and there's even a button dedicated to performing his trademark honk. The honk is equivalent to "press X to open" in another game, and in this Antarctic area that I suppose you could call a "hub" your task is to walk around noot noot-ing at igloos and other objects until they grant you access to the gameplay.

The first minigame I found - and really, Pingu: Sekai de Ichiban Genki na Penguin is nothing but a collection of minigames - was this fish-catching affair. Hey, I need a fish, and here there are fish literally leaping out of the water and into my waiting flippers. That's a stroke of luck. It's an easy enough game to figure out: the fish jump between the holes in the ice, so you just have to move Pingu near the fish and press A to grab them. Collect the required amount of fish within the time limit, move on to the next stage, repeat.

Speaking of reps, here's Pingu doing some weightlifting to celebrate his fish-grabbing triumph. Just don't question how he's holding that barbell with his flippers.

The fish totals and time limits get stricter and the positions of the holes change, but the only thing that really complicates this game is the appearance of the seal you can see popping up in the middle of the screen. If you collide with the seal, you spin around and lose some time. It makes sense for a seal to be poking up through the ice and trying to stop a penguin stealing all his fish... or at least it would if that seal wasn't Robby, Pingu's best friend. Robby's only purpose is to hamper his best friend's attempt to gather fish and avoid a beating at the hands of his angry parents. Cheers, Robby. You dick.
I thought this game was going to go on forever, but eventually I managed to clear stage ten and receive a congratulatory message. I collected well over a hundred fish, but these fish must be absolutely loaded with mercury or something and so don't count toward the main goal of feeding your family. Still, I'm glad I spend fifteen minutes playing this minigame, a minigame I'm sure you can tell is really novel and exciting. Of course I'm glad. It's not like I have better things to be doing.

Here's the actual method you need to use in order to catch dinner. It's a fishing minigame. I probably should have seen that coming.
There's not much to it. Dangle your hook in front of a fish, mash the buttons to haul the fish up when it bites, try to avoid Robby as he swims back and forth, trying to eat your bait. Did I mention that Robby is Pingu's closest friend? No wonder the little penguin acts out so much.
The most bizarre thing about this game is that you have limited bait, but the count doesn't go down when you catch a fish. Thus, the assumption has to be that Pingu re-uses the bait by plucking it out of the fish's mouth and re-hooking it. That's kind of gross, Pingu.

Robby is redeemed! Pingu drops the fish he caught into the water, but Robby fetches it back for him. What a game, you get a couple of fish-catching minigames plus one seal's gripping story of personal atonement.

That's the first stage complete - or the first episode, I should say, because Pingu frames each stage as an episode of the show - but there's no rest for the wicked as Pingu is once more turfed out of his house, this time for listening to his music too loud. His parents tell him to go and play outside, and in a move that will be familiar to any of you with younger siblings they force him to take his little sister Pinga with him. Pingu's looking after an infant. This is very unlikely to go wrong.

"I only looked away for a moment!" cries Pingu as his sister is swept away on an ice floe. For once, he's telling the truth. He really did only look away for the moment, and his shocked reaction elicited a genuine laugh from me. I'd say it was probably Pingu: Sekai de Ichiban Genki na Penguin's high point.

The mission to rescue Pinga takes the form of a simplistic platformer, with Pingu jumping between the sliding sheets of ice. It's surprisingly difficult - Pingu has a very fixed jumping distance and unless you launch yourself from the back of the platform you'll more than likely overshoot your target and end up in the icy water. Landing in the water costs you a life. Wait, what? Going into the water costs you a life? But I'm a penguin, spending time in icy water is my entire deal. It's such a bizarrely inappropriate reason for failure that I have to believe it's less about physical suffering and more about having to endure the opprobrium of the other residents of Penguinland. They've evolved, become advanced, grown into a proud race that uses tools and lives in buildings and has set up a banking system around fish. Such primitive penguin behaviour is below them, and it brings their entire civilisation into disrepute to see a penguin swimming, like some common beast. Imagine the flak you'd get if you stripped off all your clothes, killed a cow with a sharpened flint and paraded its head around town. That's the kind of judgement Pingu faces after an unauthorised swim.

"It's okay Pinga, I've got you. But if you tell anyone about this you'll be back on that ice floe faster than you can say "noot noot," capisce?"

Before I move on to episode three, let's take a look at the other minigames you can play. This one is a falling-block puzzle game that's called Pingtris despite being much more similar to Puyo Puyo. Faces drop down from above - the faces of Pingu, a snowman, Pinga and what I first thought was a grey alien that's having its own rectal probe used against it before I realised it was Robby - and if you line up four faces horizontally or vertically they disappear. The goal is to make a line disappear when it's touching the ice blocks that litter the stage. That makes the ice block disappear too, and when you've cleared all the ice blocks you've cleared the stage.
It's not bad, if a bit too easy... but then this is clearly a game for very young children, so I can't hold that against it. Instead I will once more register my disappointment that it's called Pingtris and not Puyo Pingyo.

Nope. No, I'm not doing it. I hate sliding block puzzles with a passion that you might consider excessive, but if I wanted to play a crappy and infuriating picture puzzle I'd work through a box of Christmas crackers until I found one. At least that way I'd get a paper hat to wear.

You're damn right "bad play".

This is hide-and-seek, Pingu-style, and in the clustered tenements of the igloo slum three of Pingu's friends hide in a random house. You pick three houses, and the game tells you which of the three friends (if any) are hiding within. What it doesn't tell you is which houses they're in, so you have to work through a process of elimination until you know which of the three buildings are occupied. It's okay, although I'd enjoy it a lot more if Pingu didn't waddle between the houses at such a leaden pace. Alright, maybe "enjoy" is a strong word, it's hardly Doom. Pingu Doom would be called Pingoom, naturally.

Okay, back to the game proper and Pingu has broken his mum's vase by playing football in the house, an event that has shocked him so deeply he's pulling the same face I'd imagine he'd pull if you punched him square in the solar plexus. I'm not suggesting you punch a penguin in order to discern the truth of that statement, but, you know, if the pictures are out there then we could clear this mystery up.

An adult penguin is selling an identical vase not twenty feet from Pingu's front door, a set of circumstances so convenient that if it turns out this penguin engineered the whole broken-vase fiasco for his own financial gain I won't be surprised. The penguin shopkeeper wants a fish in exchange for the vase, but Pingu can't replay the fishing game and instead has to win the fish by beating three local ice hockey players.

It's Pong, and if it wasn't for the inclusion of the sliding block puzzles this would be Pingu's lowest ebb. Like Pong you have to get the puck into your opponent's goal, with the added wrinkle that you have to press a button to launch the puck when it comes close because if you let the puck hit you without swinging at it you fall over and are paralysed for a few moments. The problem is that this game is almost entirely dependant on luck. You have very little control over your shots, and unless there's some gameplay mechanic I'm missing - which is entirely possibly, because I'm both currently too ill to concentrate much and as thick as the proverbial two short planks - all you can really do is smash the puck towards your opponent and hope it goes in. Then do it another eight times, because there are three opponents and you have to score three goals to win. My advice? Play Arkanoid instead, or get outside and smack a tennis ball against a wall for a while, you lazy sod. That last bit might have been directed at myself.

I didn't even need to win, because Pingu's dad bought the vase while I was off playing winter sports. Hopefully the fish I won will buy his silence.

Finally, there's a snowball fight. I don't think this one is predicated on anything bad that Pingu did, he's just out having a snowball fight because what else is he going to do in the Antarctic? He's already been ice-fishing and played ice hockey, there's only so much you can get up to without electricity or opposable thumbs.
I rather enjoyed the snowballing, a simple game of holding the button to charge up your throw and trying to aim in roughly the direction of the other penguins. You have to stand still while powering up, however, so just remember that discretion is the better part of valour and if you see a penguin taking aim, release your shot early and get to cover. If you're really accurate, you can even hit the penguins behind the walls at the back with a perfectly-lobbed snowball, something I was very pleased to discover because waiting for your enemy to stick their heads over the parapet could have become very tedious otherwise. This is probably the best of the games, and while that's hardly saying much it provides at least a few moments of distraction.

After a long day of faffing about, night falls on Penguinland and Pingu retreats to the arms of his mother. Aww, that's sweet. I guess she didn't find out about Pingu breaking her vase or nearly getting his little sister killed.

By most metrics, Pingu: Sekai de Ichiban Genki na Penguin isn't a very good game. A collection of basic tasks, many of them culled from pre-existing games and none of them all that engaging. You could bring up the "oh, it's it just for very young kids" argument but that doesn't hold water thanks to the strange difficulty balance - most of the games themselves are pretty hard, even if there's almost no punishment for failing them.

I can't fault Tom Create on the design front, however. This is a very Pingu-y game, from the cheery, bleepy recreation of the show's theme tune, to the immediately recognisable characters (no mean feat given that this is a Game Boy game) to the fact there's a button to make Pingu honk whenever you like. Granted his honk sounds more like a car horn than anything else, but it's such a weird noise in the first place I'm impressed they even attempted to get it right. All the mischief you get up to fits so snugly into - and I can't believe I'm typing this - the Pingu canon that I wouldn't be surprised if it was taken from actual episodes. So, I can only recommend this one to hardcore Pingu fans, and if you're not a hardcore Pingu fan then I suggest you watch the episode where he drinks too much and pisses all over his bathroom. That might change your mind.



As shared human experiences go, shouting out the answers to game show questions is a fairly common one, so long as you're "fortunate" enough to have access to daytime television. I'm sure we've all snorted in contempt as Terry from Sussex boldly proclaims that dogs have six legs or laughed when a contestant chosen from our studio audience announces that Shakespeare wrote The Da Vinci Code. I'm not content to merely sit back and judge these contestants, though - I'm going to put my money where my smart mouth is by playing three NES titles based on game shows. One round of each, played on the highest difficulty setting available and with no do-overs and no cheating allowed, which actually means something when Wikipedia's right there. This one could get embarrassing. Okay, what's the first game?

Family Feud, 1991, Beam Software

It's Family Feud, which my fellow Britons will know as Family Fortunes and any French-Canadians reading this will be familiar with under the title La guerre des clans. Yes, it means "War of the Clans". And I thought "Family Feud" seemed like an unnecessarily belligerent title. I've written about the SNES version of Family Feud before, so I know how this is going to work: one hundred people are asked a question. The two teams then have to guess what answers those hundred people gave, with the higher-scoring answers being worth more cash. Get all the answers on a board correct and you win the money, give three wrong answers and the opposing team can steal the money with a correct answer of their own. There's no difficulty setting on this one, so all that's left before we start is to meet the contestants.

Cripes. I'm just relieved we're meeting the VGJunk family in a brightly-lit studio with security guards and not on a desolate mountain back-road. I don't understand how any of these people's facial features are supposed to work. "Dad" on the left looks like a stretch-necked Gomez Addams with his hair in bunches. Grandpa on the far right looks like someone who's banned from his local swimming pool. As for the blonde next to him, she's got the expression of a plate of breakfast food that's been arranged into a smiley face. Terrifying, all of them, but my opponents are even worse.

It's the Jackson family, which is short for "the accidentally grown in a lab from the discarded post-plastic surgery flesh of Michael Jackson family." From left to right we've got Happy Hank the Hillbilly Surfer, Skin-Skull the Unholy, Dr. Jacoby from Twin Peaks, a vengeful hamster spirit that has inexpertly assumed the form of a young girl and Jesus Christ what the hell is that thing.

"Feed me you sooooul!"

On to the actual quiz, and creepy grandpa steps up to answer first question: name a city often seen in movies. So, New York, then.

New York was, of course, the top answer. At this point in Family Feud you're given the choice to either try to fill in the rest of the answers yourself and win the cash, or let your opposition have a crack at it and hope they lack the required mental fortitude to complete the list, letting you steal in with a single winning answer. Filled with a misguided and inflated sense of my own game show talents, I elected to take the board on.

It went almost perfectly, but Family Feud is a harsh mistress and almost isn't good enough. The name of the final city eluded me. It wasn't Rome, or Tokyo, or Moscow. I'll admit that final answer was due to my inability to shake Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow from my mind, but overall these answers reflect poorly on America's lack of interest in world cinema. Unfortunately the Jacksons knew the answer, which was Las Vegas, and I lost the first round.

Next up: name a ticklish spot on people. I went for "feet," which was the top answer, but this time I let the Jacksons play. I thought I'd made a mistake, because they look like a group of people with detailed knowledge on the weakest, most vulnerable parts of human anatomy, but it all worked out for the best when they couldn't find the rest of the answers and I swooped in with "armpits" to take the round.

Can you guess what the third question was by examining the already-revealed answers above? No, it's not "name an object that the Jackson family's hate-spawned devil child has used to silence those who oppose him." It's "name a tool everyone uses." After letting the Jacksons take the board, I failed to correctly guess the final answer when I had the chance to win the game. I felt particularly foolish to discover the answer was "knife" when "fork" was already up there, but in my defence I was thrown by the inclusion of pencil as a correct answer. I mean, sure, it's technically a tool but it's not like you'd expect someone to say "sure, just grab one out of my toolbox" when you ask if you can borrow a pencil.

So the results are in and after only winning one round out of three I have lost my chance to take a shot at Family Feud's final question. It's nice that the game doesn't make you sit through the opposing family's attempt at the grand prize, although I am worried that the "family obligation" that has called the Jacksons away is a human sacrifice or something.

Just in case you really wanted to see what Family Feud's final round looks like, here it is. You get five questions, and you have to give two answers for each. Score enough points with those ten answers and you win. I did not win, not this time anyway, but I think I was dealt a harsh hand when "burger" scored zero points as an answer to "name a junk food" and no members of the public said they wanted to be reincarnated as dolphins. I suppose it's not really something you'd want to admit to, is it? Dolphins are dicks, everyone knows that.

Jeopardy!, 1988, Rare

Classic US quiz show Jeopardy is my next challenge, and the first challenge within this challenge is finding an in-game avatar that represents me accurately.

This was the best I could manage. I should point out I don't look like this in real life - I don't own a turtleneck sweater and I haven't had my eyes replaced by binoculars, no matter how useful that might be for spotting distant predators. Still, anything is preferable to the contestants from Family Feud.

Jeopardy is extremely famous in America, but if you're from elsewhere then here's a quick overview. It's a general knowledge quiz show where players answer questions from one of six categories. You pick a category and then a cash value - higher values naturally corresponding to harder questions - and if you buzz in with the correct answer you win that amount of money. Get the answer wrong and you lose that money from your total, which explains why I had minus four hundred bucks after three questions. Whoever answered the last question correctly gets to choose the next, and this goes on until all the questions have been answered. Two rounds of this and a special final round make up a game of Jeopardy. I've set the difficulty to high for this one, so may the trivia gods look down favourably on my chutzpah.

Thanks to the bizarre decision to make pressing the d-pad sound your buzzer, rather than one of the two perfectly good buttons that a NES pad possesses, I struggled at the start, but things soon picked up once I had figured out how to actually answer questions. It also helped that eventually realised that some of the categories are more literal than others - for instance, the answers in the "Triple Threat" category all had to do with the number three, and the "Wet or Dry" questions were even more straightforward as they all either had the word wet or dry in them. I'm just glad that didn't take me long to figure out.

One of Jeopardy's more well-known quirks is that you have to give your answer in the form of a question, so if the question was, say, "A comic book character who gets big and green when he's angry" you have to reply with "Who is the Incredible Hulk" or you don't get the cash. Why? Pointless complexity, it seems. Okay, so there's some suggestion that it's a response to the game show scandals of the 1950s where contestants were secretly fed the correct answers. I only bring it up because mercifully the videogame version does not make you answer in the form of a question. That's done automatically for you, which a blessed relief because the less time spent entering text using a d-pad and a cursor the better.
Also of note in the screenshot above, when one of the other contestants answers incorrectly their efforts are displayed as a random series of characters. I know it's so the game doesn't have to store a list of feasible wrong answers as well as the right ones, but it has the happy side-effect of making it seem like your opponent was so flummoxed by the question that they broke down and started gabbling in a nonsensical alien language.

The first round was going well, and after my shaky start the "tools" and "explorers" categories provided some good opportunities to raise my cash total. The biggest stumbling block was my Britishness, as I lost points for calling a wrench a spanner. I nearly messed up here by spelling Pearl Harbour with a U, but I caught it just in time and changed it to a spelling that the game would accept. I felt kind of bad about it, betraying my heritage like that, but my homeland was soon redeemed.

I picked the secret Daily Double question. This means I can gamble some of my winnings on a single question, with a correct answer doubling whatever I bet. Naturally, I went all-in and gambled $2300 of my non-existent, not-real money. In videogames, we can truly be the thrill-seekers we all wish we were in life.

British history comes to the rescue, I get the answer right and with that bonus money and a few more correct answers what I thought was going to be a struggle has become a cakewalk.

So, is my VGJunk avatar up there celebrating his success in the first round with a cheery thumbs-up, or is he crudely flipping the bird to the contestants on his left? Because honestly I could go either way based on his sprite. It must be the thumbs up, right? Just look at the way Hazel is dreamily staring at my contestant, she wouldn't have that expression if he was sticking his middle finger up at her, even if he does have over six thousand dollars in the virtual bank and the fashion sense of Andy Warhol.

Double Jeopardy is more of the same, only with the cash values doubled. My opponents seemed intimidated by this extra earning potential, and their answers became less frequent and when they did come they were often incorrect. I don't know if it was just how this game happened to pan out or if they were stunned by the combination of bravery and raw knowledge I showed in the previous round, but it was as though their hearts were no long in it. In contrast, I was on a roll, buoyed by the appearance of "Elvis Presley" as a category. You see, my mother is an Elvis fan. She really loves Elvis. Last year she travelled over four thousand miles to see Elvis' house. You don't spend time around someone with that level of obsession without a fair amount of their knowledge creeping into your mind, and thus I correctly answered every question in the Elvis category. There was a Daily Double question in the Elvis category. Once again I wagered all my accumulated pseudo-wealth and once again I answered correctly, this time on the subject of where Elvis met his wife (Germany, if you're wondering). Thanks, mum.

Knowing the lyrics to "Istanbul (not Constantinople)," first recorded by a group called The Four Lads but probably best known through They Might Be Giants' version, came in handy for this question.

And also the question immediately after it.
This round was something of a rout, as I supplied correct answers on everything from Superman to West Side Story to Little Bo Peep, and by the time Final Jeopardy rolled around I was far enough in front that victory was a mere formality.

In Final Jeopardy, everyone wagers some of their money on one last question. I intended to gamble everything to see if I could max out the cash counter, but thanks to the ponderous cursor-and-click input method I ended up only committing ten percent of my total. The final question was to name Cleopatra's third husband. Perhaps as a hint of the challenge that can be provided by playing the game on the hardest setting, all three contestants gave the correct answer of Mark Antony, but my competitors had no way of matching my total and so the glory of a Jeopardy victory was mine.

You're damn right I'm the winner. I'm busy working on my application to appear on Jeopardy itself as you read this. I'm gonna make a fortune.

Wheel of Fortune, 1988, Rare

My final challenge is an attempt to defeat the whirling and fickle hand of fate itself in Wheel of Fortune. It's Hangman, but with a big shiny wheel that clatters around, hypnotising the viewer into thinking they're watching something more interesting than televised Hangman.

All hail the Wheel, the endless and infinite, granter of boons but also crusher of dreams. This game also has a difficulty setting, and I can only hope that playing it on Hard doesn't affect the way the wheel works, making you land on Bankrupt every time you spin or something.

Wheel of Fortune works like this - you spin the wheel, and hopefully you land on a cash amount. You're then shown a board of blanked out letters. You choose a letter, and if that letter appears in the mystery phrase then you're given the cash value you landed on multiplied by how many times it appears in the phrase. I went for S. The letter S did not appear. I received nothing, besides the cold, mocking stares I assume were directed at me by the other, unseen contestants.

Contestant number 3, Jane, went for R, of which there were three in the name. You can tell it's a name, because you're shown the category on the board - in this case it says "Person".

Oh, so it's literally just a person, then? Some guy? A nobody? Because I've never heard of Aaron Burr before, maybe he's the phrase-setter's kid or something. Jane had heard of Aaron Burr, because she managed to solve the phrase with only the Rs and one N revealed. Maybe he's her kid.
Alright, so I looked it up. Aaron Burr was the third Vice-President of the USA. I don't feel too bad about not having a clue who he was now, but I did learn that he killed someone in a duel and was charged with treason so maybe everyone should be learning about him in History class instead of boring no-marks like Florence Nightingale and Julius Caesar.

The first round showed just how brutal Wheel of Fortune can be - I made one poor choice of letters and didn't get to play again for the rest of the round - but I redeemed myself slightly by solving the second phrase, which was "Greenwich Village". Wheel of Fortune seems to be even more American-centric that the other two games featured here, but the biggest problem I had was with the text entry. I knew the answer was Greenwich Village, so I typed that in... but like an idiot I didn't pay attention to what was actually being input, and because the letters you have already revealed are automatically placed I almost ended up submitting "GGEENRIEE NIVILLGE" as my answer. I just about managed to delete this gibberish in time, and won the second round.

Then the third round began. I span the wheel and landed on the Bankrupt panel. Contestant number two seized his chance solved the puzzle on his first attempt and the game ended with me having zero dollars. Wheel of Fortune doesn't mess around.

It even shows you the fabulous prize that the eventual winner gets to take home. Thanks for that, Wheel of Fortune. I felt inadequate as it was, and now I have to go home and look at my distinctly non-deluxe kitchen, crying myself to sleep over what might have been by the flickering light of my ancient refrigerator.

I'm pretty pleased my my performance in this NES game show challenge, you know. I lost in two out of the three game, true, but I take comfort from the fact that Wheel of Fortune is far too random to be a fair reflection of talent and that the game show I did win was the only one where you had to actually know things. I found Jeopardy to be the most enjoyable of the bunch, too, although I honestly think you'd get some fun out of all these games if you played them with a friend or two. Inputting text with a cursor is a painful experience no matter the game, but it's especially noticeable in Jeopardy where the rounds go on so long that it almost - but not quite - becomes unbearably tedious, and if that's the worst thing I can say about a game it can't be too terrible. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to show this article to a few pub quiz teams who might be looking for new members.

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