Even a panther can save the world in the arcade – Black Panther

Konami’s flyer (courtesy of the Arcade Flyer Archive) for Black Panther’s release in Japan featured fantastic art. The reverse side had a description of the main game and a few screenshots but this front page literally exuded “you are the greatest cybernetic panther ever” to the eyes.

This unusual title came out in 1987 courtesy of Konami, one of the big names in the arcade scene known for games like Time Pilot, Track ‘n Field, and Gyruss. This time, instead of turning players into athletes or time hopping pilots, Konami turned players into a cybernetic panther out to save a post-apocalyptic world. It wasn’t much for story, only that players had to make it to the end while wrecking enemies in their path and trying not to die too often.

In a way, Black Panther (not to be confused with Black Tiger) is something of an early example of a freerunning game — only as a panther — since you essentially need to run from left to right over obstacles, enemies, and over bottomless drops later on. To defend yourself, your panther has a melee claw attack that they can also use while jumping in the air. There are also certain ponts where you can collect”energy spheres” at certain points in the stage to get temporary random power whether that’s in having stronger attacks or being able to fire a beam from your head.

Black Panther ran on the same hardware that formed the guts of Gradius and which System 16 calls the Konami Nemesis Hardware after it. The brains were the popular Motorola 68000 CPU with a Zilog Z80 handling the sound created by two of General Instrument’s AY-3-8910 chips. While it did run other games such as Black Panther and essentially fell into Konami’s spaghetti approach to building hardware, it’s best known for Gradius.

Your panther started out with fifty units of health which decreased when you were hit by enemies or collided into certain obstacles like electric gates or a weird, bubbly, orange cloud thing that looked like a mini platform and split in half to make jumping over it more difficult among other tricky objects. There were four main stages with mini-bosses in each and one main boss at the end that you had to beat down. This often meant using a leap and claw attack to his a weak spot on the enemy while they moved about and did their best to destroy our feline hero with blasts of energy or something as simple as jumping on them.

I'm not sure why Earth is getting all explodey, but it's bad, and as a heroic panther, your job to save it!

I’m not sure why Earth is getting all explodey, but it’s bad, and as a heroic panther, your job to save it!

Enemies started out with these red robot guys and later graduated to flying robots, laser firing heads, and evil looking bubble clouds.

Enemies started out with these red robot guys and later graduated to flying robots, laser firing heads, and evil looking bubble clouds. On the bottom right of the screen, AR is short for “area” and there are four of those in the game.

After destroying a batch of enemies, these glowing balls appear that give our panther hero a bit of energy. Once he hits 100, a rotating ring of death bullets appears around our mighty cat which the player can shoot at enemies and watch it miraculously reform as long as they can keep their energy maxed.

After destroying a batch of enemies, these glowing balls appear that give our panther hero a bit of energy. Once he hits 100, a rotating ring of death bullets appears around our mighty cat which the player can shoot at enemies and watch it miraculously reform as long as they can keep their energy maxed.

Visually, the game was a little rough around the edges especially when it came to the enemies who looked pretty flat though the panther animation work was quite sharp. It also did a decent job with some of the backdrops portraying the wrecked cities and ruined highways of a battered Earth. The soundtrack was actually not too bad, though the sound effects weren’t quite as good.

The game doesn’t use invincibility frames and is pretty brutal when it comes to collision detection making it way too easy to get juggled by enemies in close proximity to each other. Part of the problem is that there’s a knockback to getting hit which can also result in getting smacked into other enemies, and the damage can be pretty brutal depending on what difficulty level the operator set the game at. If you’re looking for a frustrating game, this is where a lot of that frustration will come from.

When you ultimately died, these beams of light came down to take our panther friend into the sky. If you still had extra lives, the light rays resurrected you instead. Was it the heavens? Or some high tech super satellite with repair beams?

When you ultimately died, these beams of light came down to take our panther friend into the sky. If you still had extra lives, the light rays resurrected you instead. Was it the heavens? Or some high tech super satellite with repair beams?

There’s actually an ending, too! After beating the last boss, the screen goes to a shot of Earth and displays a congratulatory message to the player along with an opportunity to enter their initials on the leaderboard. Dying doesn’t reset your score and continuing places you roughly back to where you died, so it gives the player a little mercy in that regard, though arcade operators can also tweak the continuation scheme to curtail which stages you can actually do that with if it’s not hard enough.

The ending showed a battered orange and red Earth slowly morph back into a green and blue marble.

The ending showed a battered orange and red Earth slowly morph back into a green and blue marble. “See you again” probably didn’t mean a sequel, just if Konami will you playing another of their games which for many players was a sure bet.

The running stuff is interesting, though that’s interrupted in later stages by some platforming that can be a chore to get through when you’re trying not to get bounced around like panther ping pong. One nice thing is that you can backtrack a bit to jump onto platforms and avoid enemies. Or get a better jumping angle over some of the more ruthlessly placed traps ready to eat your quarters alive.

This Konami title never quite made it out of the arcade or into a Konami classics collection as far as I know. This is one of those titles that was probably too strange, or ended up being too niche, to bother doing anything more with leaving it relatively obscure.

Black Panther’s definitely one of those odd gems that you almost would never expect to see in the arcade. Players going in as a heroic panther saving the world? Just another day in the arcade for someone like Konami.

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