Review by Retro
Reviewed: 11/17/02 | Updated: 11/19/02
Whack-A-Mole meets a farmer and his carrots
Gopher was made in 1982 by U.S. Games, a subsidiary of The Quaker Oats Company. Why a company that's related to a company that makes oatmeal is making games, is beyond me. Keeping in mind that I like oatmeal, I jammed the cartridge into the Atari 2600 Jr. and decided to play it anyway. What did I find? I found an average game that just might be worth the dollar I paid for it at the Dixie Land flea market.
There's a shovel-carrying farmer standing outside with his tiny garden that's comprised of three healthy looking carrots. Much to the farmer's dismay, there just happens to be a pesky pest of a rodent running back and forth underground as it digs out a horizontal tunnel like a pro. More than often, this gopher gets tired of running back and forth at about 100 mile per hour speeds and decides to dig vertically. After digging up just a little bit, the darn varmint will reach the topsoil. It then looks the farmer in the eye, sticks out its tongue at him, and then does one of two things. The obese rat will either fall back into the ground like a bully who's all talk and no show, or it will let its growling stomach win him over and run like a speeding bullet to the closest carrot.
If it happens to reach the carrot, that carrot is just plain gone. Now, he might just be a farmer, but he is really pissed at the gophers that refuse to leave his food alone. He was planning on letting the carrots grow for just a few more days so his wife could make him a delicious carrot cake, but those toothy critters just couldn't wait to get their sharp teeth on some raw vegetables.
This is where you come in. You get to control the farmer and decide the fate of the hyperactive gophers and the lazy carrots. All you can do in this single screen game is move the farmer left and right, and swing the shovel down to the ground. To really do anything productive, you must wait for the gopher to dig all the way up to ground level (that only takes a few seconds at the start of the game). You can then fill in the hole with a few strokes of the shovel. And of course, if you catch an overly brave rodent in action, your shovel can also bonk him to death with just one whack. When you do that, you receive a nice bonus of a hundred points, and another gopher that looks identical to the one you just killed, appears in the underground cavern to become your next nightmare.
Having no time to run inside the house or to the barn to gather up some new seeds to plant, it looks as if the farmer just might have to wait till the next growing season to plant some more carrots. Wait, what is that smiling creature flying through the air? It's a bird, it's a plane, no, it's...wait, it is a bird! It's a friendly duck that's carrying a precious seed. When it drops a seed, you must catch it and then slide over to the right place and plant it. But there's a catch. You must do this while keeping an eye and a half on the menacing gopher. When you lose all of your carrots, the gophers will have enough carrots in store for at least a day, and your game will be over.
That's all there is to the game. For a wee bit of replay value, there are four variations (not enough!) in all. Two of the four are one-player, while the other two are two-player (turn taking style). Also, two of the variations feature ducks that give you a helping beak (not hand), and the other two variations are absent of any quackers.
Like the gameplay, Gopher's graphics, sounds, etc. are pretty much in the average range. The farmer looks a good bit like the stereotypical old farmer would. He always has a gopher-killing shovel in hand, he sports what looks to be a cowboy hat, and he appears to be missing quite a few teeth (he looks like a scarecrow when he smiles). Indeed, it seems like all that's missing from this pissed off redneck is a pair of overalls. There is no background whatsoever, just a black as midnight screen. The gopher looks decent enough for a pixilated pitch black animal, but when it moves up or down or sticks its head out of the ground to taunt you, it looks just like a pig in the face. What's up with that!? On the other hand, the carrots look pretty detailed and the game has some nice colors.
The controls are simple to master. Just move the farmer left and right with the joystick, and press the button anytime to plant a seed, to whack a persistent gopher (not a mole for once) upside the head, or to fill in a hole. You shouldn't have any problems doing any of those tasks.
Sound wise, a short, melodic tune plays at the start and end of a game of Gopher. The sound effects are about what you'd expect from an Atari 2600 game (the typical 'beeps and bleeps'), with nothing really standing out as classic or terrible.
So what do I think about Gopher? It's a cute game, that's what it is. The graphics, the way the gopher sticks its tongue out at you as a tease, and the way the game is played, are all what you'd call 'cute'. But even though the game proves to be fun and provides a good bit of enjoyment, it doesn't quite hold up after a few plays. It's a fun title to play when you're just taking a short break, but it's not one that you'd want to play for hours on end, or one that you'll be going back to every single day for several months.
In other words, Gopher is not a bad game, but it's not a great game either. It's just ok. That's the epitome of mediocrity, which is exactly what Gopher is. Is it worth going out of your way to purchase? No. Is it worth picking up for a dollar, or two, or three, at a flea market or other place? Definitely.
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