Many winters ago and many less aches and creaks, my siblings and I woke up one Christmas morning to a grand surprise. Our stockings had been taken off the faux fireplace due to the bulk of goods stuffed inside. As we unloaded the mixed joys of candies, oranges and trinkets we found the surprise. In each stocking, shoved in the bottom was a sealed box. The front showcased a stand-up arcade machine and the back pictured the at-the-time cutting edge graphics. This was the Christmas of Coleco-Vision, and Santa graced us each with our own game. Under the tree was the huge box labelled, "To all the kids...Love: Mom & Dad". This box contained the Coleco system itself, Donkey Kong, Q*bert and Venture. The stockings had the Santa picked games that the Fat-red one thought best exemplified our forming personalities. My older bro got Gorf. The game featured a 1-eyed alien commander that taunted you in between rounds of the player attempting to destroy his invading fleet. I got Pepper II, a great maze type game that challenged the player to seal spaces with a zipper-like trail to fill the stage with solid patterns. A game smacking of Pac-Man sensibilities but original enough to stand apart. My sister got the feminine sounding Lady Bug. "Santa" in his infinite wisdom had assumed a game with that title would have to be geared at little girls. Santa was wrong this time, and that game became the focus of hours of intense gaming, arguing and excitement.
1980 was the banner year in which the yellow round guy busted up the space-shooter arcade monopoly. Like fruit flies on a bowl of grapes, the clones multiplied. Games like Exidy's MouseTrap and Data East's Lock 'n' Chase borrowed the Pac formula in an attempt to cash in on the maze craze. Not to be left out, Universal pumped out the similarly inspired title Ladybug. Released originally as an arcade cabinet in 1981, Ladybug was quickly ported over to the equally new market of home video games via ColecoVision. Ladybug involved collecting (or eating...) the little x's throughout the maze all the while avoiding the electronic baddies that were created to destroy you. Looking similar to the Pac, a gamer would be pleasantly surprised by this mazie while playing and looking deeper. This game had its own unique take on maze madness and the differences placed this game shoulder to shoulder to the mighty Pac, not under it. Refreshingly new were the revolving panels that acted as barriers and doorways. Pivoted in the middle, a player could "push" either side to open or close passage ways. This take made the playfield more interactive than other mazies and took a certain strategic sensibility on the gamers part. Littered within the maze were letters and score multipliers. The rewards changed color from red, blue and yellow. Depending on when you grabbed these treats determined where they would be applied on the chart right of screen. This chart had 3 sections. The word SPECIAL, EXTRA and the x2, x3 or x 5 multiplier. Special was Red, Extra was Yellow, and the multipliers were Blue. The treats flashed the colors that would correspond with which letter or number would be checked off on your chart as your ladybug snagged them. Timing was essential in getting the right color that you needed. Completing the words would reward you with either an extra ladybug or the blessed VEGETABLE HARVEST. I cannot express the joy of the vegetable harvest....pure satisfaction and accomplishment. Preventing the cute, yet large Ladybug from attaining a relaxed life of munching and mazing were the Baddies and the stationary skulls that meant death upon contact. The Baddies phased in from the center when the ticker that revolved around the outer edge of the maze made a full rotation. These electronic freaks were far more spastic and erratic than any ghosts you may have encountered in other titles. They hunted the red ladybug with a zeal that disturbed and caused players to become incredibly focused on how to avoid them. Hectic does not explain the madness of the cat and mouse chase between the lovable ladybug and the freaks that were hell-bent on causing your demise. Avoidance is key as this game had no power pellets that allowed you to take on the role of baddie eater. All a player could do was use the revolving doors in a pinch to get the freak off your tail. When all the freakazoids were released from the center spawn point, the real treat was revealed. Maybe a pickle...maybe an eggplant...maybe some weird saw-like thing. These valuable rewards were worth thousands of points for a reason. Getting them involved exposing yourself to the insane madness of the baddies that killed you on touch. Getting the treat froze the freaks in their tracks, giving the player much needed time to escape and get the last of the x pellets to clear the level. This race against the spawning baddies and the attainment of the color coded bonuses filled a player with tension and thrills that made this game a true legend of pure game play and simple objectives. A cherry in the vegetable patch.
My sister would use her Santa entitled ownership of Lady Bug to get things done. If she wanted her room cleaned, she would make the deal that I could play "her" game for 1 hour in exchange for the labour involved in organizing her mess. Her night to do dishes...no problem. She would prey on the passion my brother and I had for this game to get her chores done. The Coleco port was solid and retained all the elements of the arcade stand-up. The constant ticking of the visual timer, the disturbing sound as the freaks spawned and the bright colorful palette. This game won us all over and kept the control steaming hot. I have recently been playing a version on my PC and I must say, Ladybug is as frantic and rewarding as it ever was and just plain fun. It is honest and exists comfortably in its own strange world of mazes, freaks, veggies and coccinellidae. There is no attempt made by the developers to create reality in any way...this is a mazie. One lesson to be learned from this legendary game....never judge a game by its title. Game-On brothers and sisters and work hard to get your own vegetable harvest!
Mame it up!
Joystick 'n' Hand