Come On, Do the Loco-Motion With Me
If you have read any amount of this blog in the past (or checked out my You Tube page) you might be aware of my deep love for all things from the company Centuri Inc. (Also, thanks for reading). Centuri was for a time one of the most successful arcade game companies in the USA, despite developing very few of their own game titles. Centuri licensed many of their games from other companies and resold them in the USA. Arcade classics such as Phoenix, Track and Field, and Gyruss were all released by Centuri. Often this was a great idea but in 1982 they made a series of licensing decisions that were.... well, not the greatest. 1982 was a tough year for Centuri salesmen.
Centuri's 1982 line up is a who's who of obscure arcade game flops, starting with the Centuri developed shooter Challenger (Around 750 made, although some say under 100). Licensed titles from all over the globe included the games Round-Up (Japan), D-Day (Italy), The Pit (The UK), Swimmer (Japan), and Tunnel Hunt licensed from Atari (who had so little confidence in it, they sold the rights to Centuri). Only The Pit sold over 1,500 copies, making 1982 a rough year for Centuri's bottom line. One game was however important not so much for its sales numbers, but the relationship it would forge with a small Japanese company named Konami. Konami would provide Centuri with some of its biggest hits, but that would come a year or so later.
Loco-Motion is an odd game concept for the arcade. The game field is divided into moving squares the player can slide up and over, much like one of those classic puzzle number sliding title games. Instead of getting the numbers in the right order, your mission is to align the train track on the titles to safely guide the train to each station to pick up passengers. A dead end or running into an enemy will cause the train to crash, which of course is a bad thing.
The graphics and sounds are cute and effective in the game, but no one would accuse them as innovative or pushing any technical envelope even in 1982. Some of the color choices are odd and rather jarring to look at. As a player clears each level, never levels emerge that are of course more difficult. More unique enemies appear including a "Crazy Train" which I am sad to say has no relation to the Ozzy Osbourne song. Clearing two levels treats the player to a very basic 3-D animation of a train going through a tunnel. If you are good enough to get a high score, you are "treated" to a 8-bit version of the song Dixie.
Centuri is rather cryptic about the production numbers of arcade games in official documents. Centuri's end of the year reports use a letter coding system for production of game titles, but doesn't provide a key for which of these letters represents which game released. Despite this we know Centuri made somewhere between 288 and 728 of these upright machines originally. That would make Loco-Motion just as rare as other hard to find games by collectors such as Atari's Quantum or I, Robot. Loco-Motion doesn't quite share the same enthusiasm from collectors, but it is an important game in arcade game history.
Loco-Motion was the first Konami licensed game by Centuri, forging a relationship with the two companies that would prove much more fruitful in the coming years starting with the 1983 release of Gyruss. Very few of the dedicated upright cabinets still exist, I would be willing to bit the number is well under 50. The PCB board runs on typical (for the time) Konami hardware, and uses the typical Konami era edge connector as with many other Konami games of the time (Frogger, Time Pilot, etc.). The game was also released in other parts of the world. In Japan the game was known by its original title of Guttang Gottong, and was released by Sega.
Loco-Motion would get a few official home releases on both home video game systems and home computers, notably on the Intellivision and Tony Tutor computer. Mattel developed a version for the Atari 2600 to release under the "M Network" label, but shelved the project for unknown reasons. During this same time Activision released the game Happy Trails for the Intellivision which is almost a carbon copy of Loco-Motion with cowboy theming. Over the years many similar games have shown up on home computers (and today, on phones and tablets) including the well known 90's Lucasfilm Games computer release Pipe Dream.
Locomotion would also be the name of a pinball machine manufactured by the Italian arcade equipment corporation Zaccaria. Many computer train themed games would be released after Konami's Loco-Motion though the 80's, 90's, and 00's. Even though these games have train theming and sometimes contain similar elements to the arcade game, none of them seem directly related to the original arcade game here. In 1990 the Sega Genesis game known as Junction was released as a licensed retooling of the Konami arcade game but using isometric graphics. Loco-Motion has shown up on several Konami classics collections over the years for various platforms, but mostly outside of the USA.
An intestesting side note to the Loco-Motion story is the Atari arcade prototype Qwak. Qwak is a puzzle slider game with a very similar concept to Loco-Motion, but with a touchscreen. Instead of trains arriving at platforms, you help baby ducks across a river. The game was finished but never put into production, a prototype does exist and is in the hands of a collector. The failure of Loco-Motion or the expensive of the touch screen technology in the 80's might have a large part it Atari getting cold feet about Qwak.
Loco-Motion is fun but simple game which could use have used a bit more development in the control department. It is one of the many somewhat forgotten but innovative arcade games that only hard core collectors probably can recall. I personally find the game to be a fun diversion and definitely carries the Centuri spirit of weird and out there concepts of its arcade game releases. I am very excited to have this game (even though I only have the PCB, and not a deciated cabinet) in my collection. The biggest miss for this game in my humble opinion is the lack of including a jamming 8-bit version of the classic Little Eva dance song in which the name of the game is taken.