|Exidy's 1982 Pepper II|
During the so-called "Golden Age" of arcades (which I define as roughly 1978-83), Exidy was noted for its quirky, fun little games. Sadly, Exidy's contributions to the arcade landscape have been all but forgotten today... which means that some truly classic games have fallen into obscurity. They deserved a better fate, and few more so than Pepper II.
Although basically an Amidar clone, Pepper II adds just enough new features to the formula to keep it from seeming like a retread. In this game, you play an angel who "zips" around a maze, closing in boxes and avoiding the patrolling Evil Eyes. Fortunately for you, some boxes in the maze contain pitchforks; closing these off will temporarily turn your angel into a devil, and you can chase down the Evil Eyes. But there's more going on than just this simple Pac-Manish premise. The maze you're filling in is actually one quarter of a larger, overall board; you can move freely between the four sections, leaving one maze to come back and finish it later. You also have to be careful about retracing your steps, because backtracking over lines you've already laid down will erase them (unless they form the boundary of a closed-in box). Furthermore, there is another enemy, the Whippersnapper (think Evil Otto with legs) that will gobble up the lines you draw, leading it directly to you. The Whippersnapper is not affected by a pitchfork, and can only be chased off when a special symbol (which replaces the central pitchfork in any maze at regular intervals) is boxed in. Each complated maze is worth bonus points, and completely filling in the entire four-maze board nets you a super bonus.
As you advance in levels, the speed increases, and there are periods when the maze will become invisible. You'll be unable to see where you're going, except for the intersections between lines (and, of course, any lines and boxes you've already drawn). As you get better and reach higher levels, the mazes start - and stay - invisible.
In terms of actual gameplay, Pepper II doesn't really have a whole lot of missing ingredients. There's no reason why this game, taken exactly as is, couldn't have been a mainstream hit; better marketing on Exidy's part would have been a big plus. (As it was, Exidy's big pushes were behind Mouse Trap and Venture, leaving poor Pepper II left somewhat out in the cold.) It also would have been nice if the four sections of the board changed, or at least rotated, as you advanced in levels, although the invisible mazes help increase the challenge.
Also - and I honestly cannot remember if this was present in the actual arcade cabinet or if it's just a MAME inaccuracy - the colors are very garish. I remember the arcade version as having blue tracks that changed to green when you went into "devil mode," but on MAME the colors seem to be all over the spectrum... and none of them look particularly good. Of course, memory is a tricky thing, and since I cannot find a real Pepper II cabinet anywhere these days... (To back me up, however, the Colecovision version of this game has precisely the color scheme I remember from the arcade.)
Thanks to Jeffrey Carl at ServInt for providing the space for CinemArcade
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