Title: Binary Land
   Developer: Momo
   Released by: Hudson Soft
   Release Date: December 19, 1985
   Japanese level: 1
   MSRP: 4900 yen
   Current Price: 300 yen
When discussing old games, it's far too easy to be sucked deep into the realm of nostalgia. The older they are, the worse the feeling gets. And when we get to the oldest of the old - the 24k and 32k games that drove the first wave of Famicom popularity in 1985 - we get caught so helplessly in the nostalgia tornado that it's only a matter of time before we start buying A-Team lunchboxes on Ebay.

Although there's really no reason for this (we are all still pretty young, aren't we?) it still happens. And there might just be a reason for it. Truly simple games just aren't made anymore. Even the simplest Tetris clone needs to be full of extra graphic bits and samples so it can be sold as Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. Yet, just like how some people prefer Beetles over Testarossas, me and others of my ilk like things more simple and to the point.

And while on the subject of games that aren't made anymore - where did all the penguins go? Except for the great King Dedede, nemesis of Kirby of Dream Land and possibly the greatest penguin of all time, aquatic birds are no longer a driving force in video games. This couldn't be more different from the scene fifteen years ago, with Pengo and Antarctic Adventure on the bleeding edge of video exitement.

And so, with the last few paragraphs, I will inexpertly wind up my topic and review an esthetically beautiful game - Binary Land.

Our heroic couple awaits your instructions

You are in control of two penguins - Gurin (blue) and Malon (pink, with the little bow so you can be 100% sure she's a lady). Start playing and the reason why it's called Binary Land becomes obvious. Each level is divided more or less in half, with Gurin on the right and Malon on the left. The thing is, both pengies move in a mirror image from each other - if you press right, Gurin moves right but Malon moves left. They move the same way vertically, however.

Fig. 1
These two pengies are in love (see Fig. 1) and so your object is to break open the cage with the heart on the top of the screen. This cage can be broken only if the penguins are on both sides of it; if they aren't lined up properly then nothing will happen. Only when the heart is free can the pengies find true love, until the next level. Such is the cruelty, however, of this Binary Land that they must go through this infinitely, over 20 or so levels.

Gurin and Malon's main enemies are the gigantic spiders that bounce around the level and the webs they have lain about. Both of our heroes have cans of bug spray that kills spiders and blows out webs. In later levels there are birds that switch the penguins' positions if you touch them, as well as invincible Donkey Kong-style flames that you have to avoid.

You lose a life by either having one pengy touch a spider or flame, have both pengies get entangled in spider webs, or running out of time. If one of your characters gets caught in a web you can still use his/her surrogate to rescue your fallen ally. Every now and then there's a bonus stage where Malon starts out caught and you have to use Gurin to save her and get all the fruit for exhilirating scores.


And that about sums up the game. You know? You walk around, killing spiders and trying to align penguins all day. Or so the casual observer would try to dismiss this game. But behind the simple exterior lies a metaphysical miracle!

Let us rest here and contemplate
the true meaning of the 1up
When not causing killing sprees, video games have also been shown to help people relax and let off their tensions to another world. Binary Land is the epitome of this phenomenon - there is just something very, very relaxing about playing this game. Games like Rampage and, you know, Quake chill you out by letting you live out your psychotic fantasies... Binary Land chills you out the same way goofball LED brain wave controllers do - they calm you down.

First there's the music. It's a nice little classical-inspired ditty and it doesn't grab you at all at first. But, as your pengies smoothly amble through each level, swishing away cobwebs and trying to come together, the music makes your spirit soar and your mind become one with the game - you are those little penguins, striving to make the world a more love-filled and happier place.

This is also one of the few games where you actually feel like getting a high score. After a certain point ten or so years ago games shifted from a high-score mentality to a beat-the-game one, so it's hard for some people to get into old games like Pac-Man as a result... no matter how many times they're told they're classics. This game, however, just has something or other that makes me want to go for the Perfect 50,000 point reward in the bonus stages instead of the usual 5000 or so, even though time usually runs out and I get 0 points instead. It's the hallmark of a game with true staying power. There's also the challenge of finding the hidden bonuses uncovered by spraying certain wall segments, as shown in the photos here. Although you have no idea where the bonuses are hidden, you might be able to exercise your ESP powers in searching - another example of the practical powers of this game.

Of all the "classic" FC games that did not make it in the slate of initial 1986 US releases, I think Binary Land is vying for the number-one position in my mind with Devil World. It's simple, cute and (imo) endlessly entertaining.