The Game Boy may have had a meagre amount of processing power that was outstripped by mobile phones a few years later – but in the right hands it was a powerful little beast. There is a reason why it sold like gangbusters: there were some addictive titles for it. To the untrained eye, Revenge of the Gator is an aged, near-prehistoric mess – but after a few minutes with HAL Laboratory’s vintage video pinball title you realise just why you sank so many hours into it back in the day. Pinball video games have moved on a hell of a lot since 1989 to the point that they now outnumber actual newly developed physical tables. Who would have thunk it? And this is never going to nudge Zen Pinball off of your 3DS. As a fun slice of nostalgia though and testament to HAL’s nous with the hardware, it is worth a gander.
Being a tiny 0.5mb cart, HAL were unable to have a free-scrolling table the likes of which we take for granted today, ‘Gator proper takes place across four interlinked screens, all of which act as a miniature table in their own right. The monochrome action is surprisingly deep with a ton of things to accomplish around the main table, with three additional bonus stages accessible by meeting certain conditions. There is a fair amount of variety; one of the bonus challenges comes off like a brick breaking, Arkanoid affair, as you destroy perishable material to make the alligator fall down, another involves timing your flipper shots to hit a gator head that pops up, Whac-A-Mole style.
The gameplay is reminiscent of those other late 80s/early 90s pinball classics – the Crush series, and is surprisingly tight in the physics department. There is a decent amount of weight to the ball, and you don’t ever feel cheated when you do end up dropping down into the maws of the alligator that lurks beneath the flippers. The alligator motif is understandably strong throughout the game but there aren’t the bosses and fantasy malarkey you may see in other titles (or indeed HAL’s own Kirby-themed pinball jaunt, which came later). Playing this is more akin to actually playing a proper old-school pinball table, even down to the fact you can play alternating, take turns two player mode.
Visuals are as you would expect for the Game Boy – monochrome and quite basic – but there is plenty of charm at play with the snapping reptiles theme. Speaking of themes, the music is one of those chiptune classics that burrows its way into your skull and refuses to let go.
VERDICT: HAL took a simple approach with Revenge of the Gator that paid dividends – it was very popular at the time, and stands up well today, even if upon first investigation it looks like something off of a late 90’s Nokia handset. It is the perfect game to idle away a bit of spare time; waiting for a doctors appointment, maybe. A fun little slice of pinball history, and one you will secretly be trying to beat your high score on.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.