This arcade classic from Konami released in 1982 combined the thrills of treasure hunting and survival into a horizontal, side scrolling action game. It was apparently supposed to be called “Tutankhamon” after the famous Egyptian pharoah whose fabulously rich tomb inspired countless other tales of fantastic wealth buried in the sand — and cursed by vengeful spirits.
So why was it called Tutankham? After years of wondering why, from what I read over at Arcade History, the screen was initially set to be horizontal but when it was changed to a vertical orientation, the “on” at the end had to be chopped off.
The game and the cabinet were filled with Egyptian motifs to tug at the Indiana Jones in everyone tempted by the golden mask of King Tut pensively looking at them cross-eyed in the arcade attract mode. Gameplay was simple — get through a maze of corridors to find a key to unlock the big door at the end. One the way there, try to find and score with as many treasures and creature kills as possible.
A radar map above gave players a head’s up on how the corridors were set up while showing where the monsters were. Monster spawns continued to vomit critters for as long as the player was still in the maze. Portals could take you from one side of the maze to another section, all the while trying to find that key. At the end of the fourth level awaited the golden mask of Tutankham as your final reward right before restarting a harder challenge from the first stage.
Sounds straightforward until you realize that your bearded explorer guy in the game can only shoot impressive sounding and looking laser beams left and right. No up, down, or diagonal shots allowed. That made things considerably tougher. There was also a time limit to clear each level. When that ran out, so did your weapon.
The game was a huge challenge, but it had great sounds, special effects, and was no pushover. It was also the subject of a famous photo that LIFE magazine used as a part of a spread they did in 1982 featuring Twin Galaxies, the top arcade players at the time, and a row of machines that included Tutankham alongside Tempest, Defender, Ms. Pac-Man, Centipede, and Donkey Kong. You can catch the picture and a story on the article over at Classic Arcade Gaming along with a shot of a teenage champion by the name of Billy Mitchell along with many others.
Tutankham was eventually ported over to a number of platforms and published by Parker Brothers who included the most popular consoles in 1983 such as the Atari VCS/2600, ColecoVision, Intellivision, Odyssey 2, and computers such Commodore’s VIC-20, each taking advantage of the graphical power their respective platforms.
There were also other differences between each one. For example, the Atari version turned the level progression on its head by going vertical instead of horizontal as it was in the arcade while the others stuck closer to the original. It was a bit strange playing that version compared to the experience of the arcade original. The Intellivision version, like the Atari version, wasn’t quite as fast moving as the arcade version, either.
Today, you can snag the arcade version as a part of Microsoft’s Game Room initiative for the Xbox 360. It was also included as part of the Konami Classics Series for the Nintendo DS where it underwent another name change. This time, to “Horror Maze”. You can also try out the Atari VCS/2600 version over at Virtual Atari in all of its rough ported retroness.
The arcade stand up is the one that I remember the most, though. That intro theme, the weird shooting, relentlessly spawning enemies, and glittering pixels of treasure boiled things down into a challenging piece of what would become a long tradition of Konami’s prowess in the arcades — and eventually, at home.