The Bear Game
While the real name of this demo is not known, the EPROM label on the prototype identifies it as Bear Game. This name is as good as any, so that’s how we’ll refer to it in this article. As you may have already guessed, the Bear Game features a bear. What you may not know is that the game also features guns, large bags of money, and umm… bee hives. You know, the usual Atari 2600 stuff.
The concept of the game is simple. Using the gun at the bottom of the screen the player must guide the bear to pick up all the money bags and possibly the bee hives as well. The player has no direct control over the bear, instead he must shoot him to get it to move in the direction he wants. Every time the player shoots the bear it turns right, so if the bear is moving to the left shooting it will make it face and move upwards. Likewise if the bear is currently moving upwards shooting it will make it turn right and move in that direction. The bear continues to move in a direction until it hits a wall where it will bounce off and turn the opposite direction. The control scheme is tricky to get the hang of, but after a while it becomes second nature. The gun can also shoot multiple shots at once so if you’re fast on the trigger you can get the bear to turn multiple times at once.
The game screen scrolls vertically and is actually quite large and eventually wraps around. There are many different maze patterns with some rather tricky wall placements which can make collecting some of the money bags rather difficult. One of the biggest problems is that the bear tends to become stuck on (and occasionally in) the walls. Thankfully the bear can generally be freed with some rapid shooting, but this makes the whole game a bit more frustrating than it should be. While the actual goal of the game is unknown, once all the money bags are collected the remaining bee hives disappear from the map. This may mean that the bee hives were obstacles to avoid rather than be collected, but this is purely speculation as this behavior could also be caused a programming bug. Once all the money is collected there is nothing left to do other than watch the bear bounce back and forth on the walls.
Unlike most games of the time, the Bear Game is played with paddles. However the paddles must be plugged into the second controller port instead of the first. Although this initially might seem like a simple programming mistake, it was probably done intentionally. The idea being that if the paddles were plugged into the second port, you could leave your joystick plugged into the first port for other games. The Sega game Tac-Scan did this as well, which backs up the idea that the Bear Game is indeed a Sega game. Unfortunately since this demo isn’t far along it is really hard to speculate what else might have been planned. There are no sounds or music in the prototype which also points to it being an early proof of concept rather than a nearly finished game.
According to the programmer, The Bear Game was just a “experimental game concept” based on one of the screens from the unreleased Sega arcade game Razzmatazz (a sequel to Carnival). In Razzmatazz there was a screen where the player had to shoot a polar bear to make it change directions so that the polar bear would collect fish without falling off the ice. The programmer thought this was an interesting concept so he attempted to do something similar on the 2600. Unfortunately the current prototype is about as far as he got, a second screen was planned that would have involved the bear avoiding a large boss of some sort (similar to the treasure room in Dragonfire) but this never got started.
So what does a bear need with money anyway? Sadly the answer to that question is lost to the ages.