The 1980s were the golden age of arcade games. It was also the golden age of clones of those arcade games. These clones usually appeared on home micro computers when developers and publishers weren’t able/couldn’t be bothered to obtain the rights to do an official version. Snapper was the first cloned game that I ever played. A “conversion” of Pac-Man for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron, Snapper was as spot on as you get. As I was the lucky owner of an Acorn Electron, it was the version for that that I played. Over and over and over again. I’ve still got it somewhere. I also think it was the first game I played on that computer, after ploughing through what seemed liked thousands of programs on the Introductory Cassette. I was blown away by the little introduction on that, by how the letters spelling out Acorn Electron flew onto the screen and then an acorn appeared. Still impresses me now.
Before I played Snapper, I don’t think I’d ever played Pac-Man. Of course I knew of Pac-Man. I received my Electron for Christmas 1985, so Pac-Man was already out of nappies and just starting school. He was the first big video game personality, so kids like me would have had an awareness of him. So in a roundabout way, Snapper served as my introduction to Pac-Man.
While waiting for Snapper to load, you aren’t treated to anything extra special. Just the typical Acornsoft loading screen. The game was rereleased by Superior Software at some point, so that version might have a different loading screen. It’s also won’t be anything special though. Sometimes this is a good thing. I owned a number of games where it seemed like the first half an hour of waiting for it to load was for it to display a loading screen. Yes, Commando, you were one. And Superior Soccer. Wow, that was a shit football game. Loved it at the time though.
Once Snapper has loaded, you are presented with a basic but functional intro screen, giving you a guide to the keys to press to make your little Pac-Man clone explore the clone of the famous Pac-Man maze. Also displayed are the keys to pause and reset the game, as well as turning the sound on and off. And the key to start the game. Unless you like staring and static screens, I’d advise you to press the key to start the game. This is either the space bar or, if you’re lucky enough to own a joystick, the fire button on it. I had an Acorn Electron joystick. It was probably the worst joystick ever invented.
After the screen has loaded and has been populated with dots, power pills, ghosts and Snapper himself, a short intro melody plays. Not the Pac-Man melody, but you can figure out where they got the inspiration from for it. And then it’s on with the game. According to fokelore, in a very early release of this game, Snapper looked identical to Pac-Man, and the ghosts looked identical to the Pinky, Perky, Inky, Blinky, Bonnie, Clyde and Bluey, or whatever their names were in Pac-Man. It appears that this infringement of their IP wasn’t appreciated by Namco, so the characters’ likenesses had to be changed. Wonder why they didn’t seem to mind that the rest of the game was so obviously ripped off from their arcade original? Hmmm, anyway, so the Snapper that everyone with an Acorn computer came to know and love featured a Pac-Man lookalikey with legs and a hat. The ghosts grew legs and arms. If folklore is true, an original copyright infringing Snapper is probably worth a fortune now. Probably.
As a copy of Pac-Man, the idea of Snapper is simple and is known by millions around the planet. Just in case you’re not one of those millions, in this game you have to guide your character around a maze, collect dots and avoid ghost people. If you come into contact with one, you lose a life. But you can collect power pills (bigger dots) and chase after the ghost people who will now have all turned dark blue, highlighting their vulnerability. Catch one, and their eyes float black to the base in the centre of the game to be stripped of whatever voodoo it is that makes them blue and vulnerable. They return to their original colour and become fatal to the touch again. Collecting one ghost gives you 200 points, a second gives you 400, a third gives you 800 and a fourth gives you a whopping 1600 points. Of course, while the ghosts are running scared, you can use this time to collect as many dots as you can instead of chasing ghosts. The choice, as they say, is yours. That’s about it. Every now and again, a fruit appears towards the centre of the screen. Collect it for bonus points, or ignore if you don’t feel hungry.
The beauty of Pac-Man, and this very faithful clone, is that everybody has their favourite way of playing it. Do you clear each quarter one at a time, collecting the power pill as you reach the end of the quarter and go to the next one? Or do you clear as much of the screen as you can and leave the power pills for last? Or do you just go gung-ho and go for whatever dots you can see? Or keep away from the ghosts as much as you can and take your time around the level? Or lure the ghosts towards you, grab a power pill and then scarper? It may be that you tactics change each time you play, or the further you get into the game.
Yes, it’s a simple game, basically a virtual version of tig, or tag, or kiss chase – although without the kissing. It gets tougher as you go on. The ghosts, who leave you alone for much of the earlier levels, become more aggressive and home in on you, and the length of time they are vulnerable after collecting a power pill gets shorter and shorter.
Of all the home conversions and clones of Pac-Man that I’ve played, Snapper is perhaps the closest to the original. It gets the feel of the arcade game just right, even with the change in character design. Snapper moves responsively around the levels, which are splendidly reproduced with their blue walls and not-so-secret tunnel all present and correct. The ghosts may have different pre-defined routes in Snapper than their Pac-Man equivalents, but the way they all have individual characteristics remains the same.
There isn’t a lot to say about the sound. Apart from the short pre-game melody, the only noises you get are from collecting dots, fruit and power pills, and a siren when you’ve collected the latter while the ghosts are vulnerable. The siren rises in pitch as the power pill gets closer to losing its magical and mythical powers.
Whether you will like Snapper will be down to whether you like Pac-Man. It’s a fantastic clone of the game, adding nothing new to it. Some changes had to be made just to keep Namco off Acornsoft’s backs, limited just to character design and sound. The only things missing from the Pac-Man arcade game are the intermissions between levels. But other than that, this is just Pac-Man in a different outfit. And mighty fine it is too.ACORN ELECTRON GAMES GAMES RELEASED IN 1983