From games like On-Line Systems’ Pac Man clone, Jawbreaker, Micromax’s Q*bert ripoff, Cubit, and AI Adventure’s take on Frogger with Preppie!, you might get the impression that making clones of popular arcade games was something of a hot business for developers looking to surf the wave of popularity they carried arcades with. But not all of them were simple tweaks to an existing formula. Some took it a few steps further by grabbing onto their formula of choice and twisting it up like a balloon animal into something completely different.
Screenplay’s Pogo Joe in 1983 was such a game. On the surface, it looks like a typical Q*Bert clone, but the designers and programmers seemed to enjoy having fun in mixing things up. Much like how Doom clones eventually distinguished themselves in a maturing FPS genre, Pogo Joe made itself different enough to stand out from what inspired it in the first place. It might not have been able to completely shake its clone badge, but in comparison to the examples above, it brought a bulldozer to try and bury those notions.
Pogo Joe mixed and matched the pieces it liked from Q*Bert with a few ideas of its own. Now, instead of cubes, they were cylinders which were arranged in loops, small islands of cylinders separated by black, empty space, or even as a pyramid in case you missed seeing one. As for the protagonist, you were a human with a giant, creepy smile on a pogo stick rather than an orange thing with two legs.
It also had monsters like Q*Bert did. These appeared as eggs which Pogo Joe can pick up for points, but leave them alone for too long, and they could hatch into animals that will either run away or chase Joe down and explode. But unlike Q*Bert, invisible walls kept Joe from leaping to his death when going after them – or in just trying to stay out of their way.
The tops of the cylinders could also be different colors and you had to hit each one. But certain colors also had different effects. Green topped cylinders acted as doomsday triggers, wiping the screen of any monsters. Black topped cylinders teleported you to another spot on the screen. Some levels even required you to jump on certain cylinders multiple times to get them to change to the needed color.
Some monsters can also change the cylinders back to their original color meaning you had to go back and pop them again, hopefully without getting killed in the process. In other levels, there were no cylinders, only the top of the cylinders which disappeared after hopping onto them, forcing you to think of how to get through.
The game also consisted of over sixty five levels, each one tagged with a unique name like “Cute Borborygmus” or “Fish Head” which was a clever reference to Monty Python. The curious thing about that is the ad which says that there are “64 screens” where some references (like the Pogo Joe entry on Wikipedia) go on to say that the game has 65 levels – and go on to list the level names. Not sure why. Still, that was a lot of game to throw at the player. Pack it with neat sound effects, background music, and a fun challenge, and Pogo Joe quickly became resembles something of an unsung classic.
Like a few other titles such as Automated Simulations’ Temple of Apshai in 1980, Pogo Joe was also the product of a team effort in a time when solo developers were still somewhat the norm. Of Pogo Joe’s team, Oliver Steele, now a successful consultant and entrepreneur, maintains a page of his own where you can download the C64 version of the game for free. Pogo Joe also came out for the Atari 8-bit computer which you can watch below. Not a bad take on an arcade classic!