Move the Road Runner through a cartoon world eating bird seed. Lead Wile E. Coyote to his demise for extra points.

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Move the Road Runner through a cartoon world eating bird seed. Lead Wile E. Coyote to his demise for extra points.

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One of the world's most popular cartoons comes to life in a new video game designed specifically for Atari's System I. See more »


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Referenced in Ashens: London Tat Extravaganza (AD) (2015) See more »

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Flight of the Bumblebee
(uncredited)
Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
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This is what a video game should be, regardless of its antiquity
3 June 2005 | by (Southern Hemisphere) – See all my reviews

As technology has marched on over the years, it has drastically changed everything about leisure time. On screen visions of characters look real enough to disturb, sound effects can make one wonder if there is not something lurking outside the room, and one can even link their system to others in order to promote some semblance of interactivity. However, as these elements all come into further prominence, one seems to either be neglected or forgotten in the craze. That element is called playability, and its seemingly reduced priority to programmers is a tragedy given how vital it is to the continued enjoyment of a game. However, in 1985, all a video game had to stand out from the rest of the pack was playability, and Road Runner has that in spades. Indeed, Road Runner is one of those games that, were they translating to modern systems, would only require a touch up of the graphics and sound to match modern capabilities. Any tampering of the gameplay would be utterly blasphemous.

Like all video games of the early to mid 1980s, Road Runner is driven by an exceedingly simple concept. The player controls Road Runner as he runs along a highway in the middle of a desert. The computer, in the form of Wile E. Coyote, gives pursuit. The player must avoid being caught by the Coyote while making sure to eat as many of the dollops of bird seed placed on the road as he can. Complicating this is the fact that if one misses five bird seeds in a row, or something like that, the Road Runner will faint. A bar at the top of the screen shows a larger Road Runner munching away on bird seeds of its own, sort of indicating how much energy to run the titular character has left. While the game seriously overestimates how much eating needs to be done in order to fuel a run across a stretch of road, it helps the pacing of the game no end.

The music, while crude and tinny, even by 1985 standards, also did much to give the game a wild, frenetic pace. Sounding much like the Looney Tunes theme recorded on a combination of speed, acid, and crack, the beat in particular was really excellent at setting the player on edge. Decisions were spontaneous, and one needed quick reflexes to adapt to what was being thrown at them. All of the Acme tools of destruction are accounted for here, with kit helicopters, cannons, bombs, rockets, and dozens of other implements being brought to bear. Truth be told, the ratio of victories for Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote was often dramatically reversed in this game, simply because the player, especially the new player, lacked the speed of thought or movement to cope with the accelerated physics of the game. At four in the morning, on a major coffee bender, one could imagine the game becoming a lot easier.

Sometimes the level designs were not quite up to snuff. There were some maps where paths involved not moving too far on one side, lest one fall off a cliff. This was not too bad in the arcade version, but the home computer version's graphics did not make it easy to judge where the edge was, and the detection of where this edge lay was somewhat twitchy. Even worse was when the gaps in the path had to be jumped, as telling where the edge lay, and accurately landing upon it, were guesswork elements at best. As hinted, the graphics were crude, but they were also charming in their own way. Wile E. Coyote's trademark turning completely black with just a couple of blinking eyes for variation after blowing himself up was very well recreated in all versions of this game. Matter of fact, it proved that one did not need a processor capable of billions of calculations per second to make the visual aspect work. Sometimes, a little creativity will do.

Even after all of the so-called improvements of the modern era, Road Runner gets a ten out of ten by virtue of comparison to what the current crop have to offer. It is proof positive that one does not require photographic rendering or multimillion dollar licenses to make something entertaining. Sadly, getting hold of and playing it is a challenge in and of itself.


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