Sunday, November 12, 2017

Gee Bee Trilogy - The Epic Namco Game Spectacular

Toru Iwatani is most often credited for the creation of Pac-Man and Pole Position, two games that were both revolutionary to the game industry and made Namco an even larger developer like no other. However, Iwatani didn't start off with Pac-Man however though, as even earlier in 1978 he would make his debut to the game scene, and also make Namco's first video arcade game.
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I'm talking about Gee Bee, the game that started Namco's video game career. Released in October 1978, Gee Bee is Namco's first video arcade game, as mentioned above, and the debut work of Toru Iwatani. When first starting his work at Namco, Iwatani was wanting to design pinball machines, only to find out that Namco doesn't make pinball machines, thus resulting in this game.
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For Namco's first video's not the best in my opinion, or really all that great. It's essentially a hybrid of pinball and Breakout. The player uses a neat rotary dial to move the set of paddles, and must simply reflect a ball to hit the various bricks, pop bumpers and other things scattered on the screen. It certainly stands out from all the piles of generic Breakout clones in it's heyday, but wasn't very successful, both financially or critically. It was later licensed to Gremlin for release in North America, which is somewhat worth noting.
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As I stated above, Gee Bee wasn't really much of a success for Namco, however it was apparently enough to warrant itself a sequel just a year later in 1979, titled Bomb Bee. This one is a definite improvement over the original, but not by a long one. It's certainly more colorful and pretty, but other than that the general formula is the same. There are a few neat things here and there however, such as the 1000 point pop bumper that can explode (which is apparently how the game got its name), so it's got that going for it. Bomb Bee did in fact make itself into the comfort of people's living rooms nearly a decade after its release, as part of the Japanese version of Namco Museum Vol. 2 as a secret game, but we'll get to that in a moment.
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Believe it or not, this still isn't the end. That same year, a third and final entry in the series was released, titled Cutie Q, but was only sold as a conversion kit for old Gee Bees and Bomb Bees, not in a dedicated cabinet. Which is a shame, because I myself consider this the best in the trilogy. Cutie Q  wasn't actually made by Iwatani (although he did design many of the game's graphics), but rather Shigeru Yokoyama, who would later create Galaga and be a supervisor for many other games, including Dig Dug and Bosconian. What Cutie Q does differently compared to the other Bee games is the use of cute, colorful characters, as shown on the game's instruction card making them some of the earliest characters for Namco. Besides that, the formula from the previous entries remains the same. Cutie Q was later ported to the Sony PlayStation as part of the Japanese Namco Museum Vol. 2, and required either a second controller or Namco's Volume Controller to play, and this is considered the reason why Cutie Q and Bomb Bee were instead replaced with Super Pac-Man in all other versions of the game. In 2007, Cutie Q would make it's second Namco Museum appearance as part of the Wii title Namco Museum Remix, and this time the game was kept in all versions. This port can use the Wii Remote pointing at the screen to move the paddle, although one can simply use the D-Pad to control the paddles instead.

And thus concludes the Gee Bee trilogy, Namco's first video game franchise and their earliest work in their entire video game catalog. Even if these games aren't particulary amazing, they still hold a place in Namco, as starting off a chain reaction that would make them one of the biggest names in gaming history.

Tune in next time as we take a look at Namco's first big hit in arcades.

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