Although many first-generation NES games were deemed too cryptic and unintuitive for a release outside Japan, the decision to pass over Binary Land was perhaps the most unfair. I was lucky enough to acquire it as part of an unofficial 115-in-1 cartridge, and it is now one of the many reasons why my PS2 is an expensive rack housing my dust collection.

The object of the game is to simultaneously navigate a pair of lovestruck penguins through a series of mazes, within a specified time limit; a maze is completed when both penguins are touching the goal from opposite sides, which adds an interesting puzzle element, because juggling their motion is hard. After the third level, the maze layouts become random, vastly increasing replay value. And although a veritable army of pixelated bad guys bars their path, the penguins are equipped with handy laser beams. You begin with three lives, and can acquire more along the way.

The boy penguin, Gurin, is light green; his partner Malon is pink, with a red bow in her hair. (Someone's been taking fashion tips from Ms. Pac-Man.) Their mutual love is demonstrated in that every time they reach the heart-shaped maze goal together, they kiss. It's oddly endearing.

The basic enemies are the ubiquitous spiders and their scattered, stationary webs. Thankfully, your penguin laser beam melts spiders and webs handily. Although spiders are slow-moving and predictable one at a time, it's easy to lose track of them in the later levels, when ten or more are wiggling around to menace you. If the penguin you're directly controlling makes contact with a spider or a web, you lose a life; if it's the mirror-image penguin who missteps, they're merely wrapped up in webbing until their partner can free them with a magic ray. Sometimes it's advantageous to get your partner captured, because one penguin is much easier to pay attention to than two.

Joining the spiders at level 9 and beyond are ungainly, cartoony birds. They cannot be destroyed without the power of invincibility (see below), but are fairly sluggish and unable to harm your forces directly. Rather, touching a bird causes the two penguins to float across the screen, exchanging places with each other.

Past Level 14, you have to deal with anthropomorphic balls of flame, which look identical to the fireballs in Donkey Kong. They move faster than spiders, and don't bother to paralyze you before they kill you. Like the birds, they're invulnerable to laser beams, but an invincibility powerup smashes them to bits.

Bonus rounds come up Level 3 and every fifth level thereafter (8, 13, etc.). Thus, every new enemy is preceded by a bonus round. In these levels, your partner starts out webbed, on the other side of the screen. You have to pick up all the hearts scattered around the simple symmetrical maze, free your better half, and reach the exit before the timer (much shorter than in a regular round) counts down to nothing.

Occasionally, you can discover bonus blocks by shooting random walls. Some of them disappear and get replaced by small pictures such as a penguin, a cello, and what might be the planet Uranus. When this happens, you get a lot of points, or else 1-ups.

The game was developed by Momo and released by Hudson Soft on Dec 19, 1985 with a serial identification code of HFC - BI. Its cartridge was colored hot pink and featured a picture of Gurin and Malon holding hands in a grassy meadow, unaware of the scary spiders and lightning bolts behind them. It retailed for 4900 yen.

Binary Land is currently enjoying a renaissance, ported to Java-enabled celphones. This version contains 34 non-random levels, and penguins named Pia and Paul. I've never played it, but the screenshots seem fairly true to the original spirit.


POINT VALUES
Web: 100 points
Spider: 200 points
Ice Cream Sundae: 500 points
Bonus Round Heart: 800 points
Whale: 800 points, plus invincibility for the rest of the level
Umbrella: 1000 points
Harp: 2000 points
Ace of Hearts: 5000 points
Incomplete Bonus Round: 10,000 points
Perfect Bonus Round: 50,000 points
Finishing a normal round: 100's digit of the timer, multiplied by 100. (431 remaining means 400 points.)


CONTROLS
SELECT: Picks a penguin at the title screen.
START: Begins the game at the title screen. During gameplay, pauses.
D-PAD: Moves the penguins. The penguin you selected moves up, down, left and right with the D-PAD. Their partner moves up and down normally, but their left/right movement is reversed.
A/B: Both penguins at once fire a tactical anti-arachnoid beam in the direction they are facing.


Sources:
http://www.atarihq.com/tsr/fc/spot/binaryland.html for secret treasures and release info.
http://www.wirelessgamingreview.com/gamedir/game-1003 for the Java-enabled celphone port.

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