Ode to Jumpman

The Commodore 64 was my first computer. In fact, my first memory in life is sitting around in the living room with my dad and two brothers, playing a game called “Alphabet Race”, where a bunch of pixel bugs with assigned letters raced across the screen. Everyone picked the letter they wanted to win and we yelled and screamed for our pixel bugs to make it across the screen first. Great family fun, probably led to a fist fight or two.

The amazing thing about the C64 was that every now and then my uncle would come by with a stack of disks containing… pirated games. Yes Virginia, pirating games is as old as the computer itself. The great thing about these games is not only were they pirated, but all had awesome ASCII screens made by the pirate boasting his achievement in cracking the game. “Cracked by The Dummy” was a screen I often watched as the games loaded.

One day while looking through a new pile of disks fresh from Uncle Larry, I discovered one labeled “Jumpman” created by Epyx in 1983. I tossed it into the disk drive, did the requisite LOAD”$”,8, then LIST, to discover the proper file name then entered LOAD”JUMPMAN”,8,1, waited a few minutes then it was time to RUN.

The games title “Jumpman” could not be more appropriate. In control of the tiny pixel man, he can do one thing, and one thing only… JUMP! He had many reasons to jump, be it from platform to platform, from rope to rope, or from the most nefarious of the games inventions, a little while bullet that would meander about the screen.. until you got in its direct line of site, then it was shot toward him, one touch meant certain death. When you got shot or fell from a platform, Jumpman would tumble to his ultimate demise in the most hilarious of fashions. He bumped and scraped off anything in his path, BUT he could still collect coins while falling, so sometimes even if you got shot, you could get those last few by sheer dumb luck. There are a bunch of varied levels from beginner to so hard even to this day I haven’t made it through. You could also adjust your characters speed with a touch of a button from super crazy fast to molasses slow.

Jumpman’s goal was to collect all the coins on the screen in order to pass the level. After 8 levels or so you won the game and sent Jumpman back to his home planet. If memory serves all the coins were something like spaceship parts, but the story is not important. The gameplay, for all its simplicity, was perfect. Moving your jumpman from platform to platform, grabbing hard to reach coins or dodging bullets, was about as much fun as a kid could have in the early to mid 80s. To spice things up many of the platforms and ladders moved about the screen, and in some of the harder levels, each coin you collected resulted in certain portions of the ground disappearing, so if you took the coins in the wrong order that last one could be quite challenging to get to.

The best part of Jumpman was after getting the last coin of every level it was immediately over. That meant some great shots of your Jumpman grabbing that last coin, floating above the abyss below.

You can still play Jumpman to this day using a C64 emulator and the game ROM which is easily attainable with a quick search of the web.

So here’s to you Mr. Jumpman, for better or worse, I have to say that you sir are responsible for the hundreds upon thousands of hours of gaming that would follow.

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