I have been after Crackpots for a while now, but long has it eluded me, usually because I kept forgetting to buy it or because the prices made me vomit in my mouth a little. I was immediately suckered in by the amazing graphics and unusual game premise, but now that I have it, how does it hold up? Well before we get to that I have to address the cartridge my copy of Crackpots came in. Mine is not an official Activision cartridge, mine is a Brazilian release from Datasoft, and my goodness what a strange cartridge, as far as I can tell the cartridge shell is custom made for Datasoft, with its logo emblazoned on the back an everything. The label on the cart is where the weird factor goes up a notch, on the front are three game sprites that I’m very sure were stolen from somewhere, there is a ship that was stolen from Megamania, an AT-AT walker taken straight from ESB, and a running man taken from RS: Soccer, and under each is ação (Action), Estratégia (Strategy), and Esportes (Sports). As far as I can tell the label is a generic one used by all Datasoft games with the only differentiating factor being the name of the game being stamped onto the front label, not printed, stamped, it seems all of the budget went into making the cartridges and not the labels on them.
This is a fantastic looking game, though if you ask me this looks very much like Beat ‘em & Eat ‘em, except way better. There is a lot going on here so let’s start at the top, there is that classic Activision sunset behind a fairly good if not conspicuously brown skyline. Potsy the Rooftop Gardener looks suitably surprised considering the situation he’s in, he’s very detailed despite only being in two colors, and Potsy’s potted petunias look marvelous which is a pity since he’s about to throw them at some bugs. The windows are nicely detailed with sills and some Venetian blinds (subtle jab at Atari?), and even the wall of the building has some red bricks standing out among the grey to give that added bit of detail that we’ve come to expect from Activision releases. The bugs themselves look alright, even though it looks like they have four legs in the screenshot they actually have six when moving through a clever usage of quickly cycling between two frames of animation. The bugs come in several flavors, they’re all the same sprite but in a different color though, they are black, blue, red, and green, and as you can guess each is more difficult than the last, but that is for the gameplay section not the graphics, all that’s really left is the curb drain that the bugs appear from. I almost forgot, when you lose a stage a very nice animation plays where a bug eats a section of the building and it drops a small amount, it even bounces a bit on impact with the ground, I don’t know how this was done, but it is rather incredible.
Sounds are rather sparse in Crackpots, but there are enough that it doesn’t feel empty. There is a soft ticking or short whooshing noise that plays in the background, that just feels like it was put in there to keep things from getting too quiet, but it’s not annoying so that’s nice. There isn’t a sound when you drop a flower pot, but there is a rewarding semi-shrieking noise from the bugs when you hit them and there is a nice crashing sound when the pot hits the ground. There is a beep whenever a bug enters the building, and when you lose a round there is a very good digging/chewing noise when the bugs lower the building by eating it. There is also a beeping noise when you are getting your bonus as well, but that’s a given. Oddly enough there is no game over noise or 1-Up noise, though I’m pretty sure this game doesn’t have 1-Ups, when you lose the game the only indication of it happening is the Activision logo cycling at the bottom of the screen, so that’s a bit of a bummer.
This game has a simple premise, drop pots on bugs. If the bugs get into the building one of the bugs at the bottom of the screen will vanish, you have six in total, if six bugs get into the building you lose the round and a layer of the building is eaten, if the building gets too low it’s game over. There are four flavors of bug, the black bugs will just go straight up the building, the blue bugs will move side to side a little bit and are more difficult to hit, the red bugs will move diagonally across the building which will require you to put your predictive positioning skills to the test, and the green bugs move between two windows which is somehow even harder than the red bugs. My main complaint with this game is a small one but it really does affect the gameplay, you have to be very precise when dropping pots, you can’t drop them while moving since a little animation plays of Potsy pushing the pots, you have to stop then drop the pots but you have to be positioned almost directly on the pot which means you spend most of your time trying to drop the pots but not actually doing so because you are a pixel off. This doesn’t render the game unplayable; it just makes it a bit more difficult, perhaps unnecessarily, perhaps not, it just seems like the game got a but caught up in its own graphics by having the pushing animation play instead of keeping things fluid rather like Kaboom!
Overall Crackpots is a fun game, by no means is it Activision’s best game but it is far from being the worst, I’d say it falls somewhere in the middle, and while the graphics may be stellar it seems the gameplay may have suffered slightly for it. Sadly this is not one of Activision’s more common releases; expect to pay well for even a rough copy of the game. The cheapest copy on Ebay right now is sitting at $10 for a loose copy with the most expensive loose copy sitting at an eye watering $44, it is actually cheaper to buy it in a lot, since there is a 15 game lot for $24.99 with Crackpots in it. Let me also say that all of these Crackpots carts look awful, these are some of the most sun-faded label I’ve ever seen even for an Activision cart, boxed copies don’t come up very often but one that did sell sold for $30 so expect to pay double that in the future. Sadly this game must go in the Collector’s Zone for being too expensive for its own good.