In 1985 Atari Games released their new System I arcade cabinet. The System I cabinet was designed to make for
easy game changes. Every game company was doing things like that back then, so this was nothing unique. The very
next year the entire industry (except for Atari) would move to a wiring standard called JAMMA. Atari had too
much at stake with its System I program, so they put off adopting JAMMA until several years later. There were two
games available when the System I cabinet launched, Peter Packrat and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
I turned eight years old in 1985. I was really big into mice and rats back then. I didn't actually have any of
them. Actually come to think of it, I may not have ever actually seen a real one back then. But I do know I
thought about them alot, and I watched The Secret of Nimh and read those Stuart Little books a whole lot.
Peter Packrat was an absolutely beautiful platform game. The Atari System I hardware had a whole lot of power,
and Peter Packrat seemed a generation past a whole lot of other games that were coming out at the time. Of course
that power came at a price, the PCB inside a System I cabinet is about four times the size of the PCB inside
most other machines of the era.
Every year for my birthday I would get to go to Showbiz Pizza. It was pretty much my favorite thing to do, and it had nothing to do with the dancing robots, and little to do with the pizza. Although now that I think back I am starting to realize that maybe I wasn't actually going for my birthday. You see my family had no money, and I never remember getting any presents at these parties. I don't even remember my parents being there. So in all reality It was probably the kid next door's party. Isn't it funny how those childhood memories can slowly change into whatever you want them to be?
In this game you play a rat who must collect various shiny objects and bring them back to his nest. Standing in your way are various animals ranging from dogs to bugs, to evil mobster like rats. Almost all the animals seem to be around the same size though, rats, dogs, owls, all of them. You can pick up assorted items and throw them at your enemies to temporarily stun them. If you stun a flying enemy then you can grab its legs and fly around as a passenger.
Before 1985 my favorite game was Moon Patrol. I can't say I really had much of a reason, I guess it is just that arcade games were pretty tough for seven year olds, so once you learn one game you will tend to stick with it. But Moon Patrol became an old memory after I saw Peter Packrat. The game drew me immediately. The idea of getting to control a sweet rat (who walks around on his hind legs and everything) just like the one in Secret of Nimh sold me instantly.
There were 3 levels to the game. The first level was a fairly simple junkyard level, the second level was a more complex underground level, and the final level was an impossible forest level. On each level you had to wander around and collect objects and bring them back to your nest. If you died then the objects you were carrying would be dropped wherever you were. They would fall to the ground if you happened to be airborne or climbing. Because of that it was in your best interest to bring them to the nest in several trips, rather than trying to get them all at once.
From that point on I would split my tokens fairly evenly between Peter Packrat and Skee Ball. I didn't care too much about the tickets from Skee Ball, but Peter Packrat was really hard and the tokens lasted longer if I went back and forth. I never made it to the third screen as a child, I would often run out of lives on the very first screen. I am not even sure if I knew what I was doing at first. Mostly I just tended to throw things at the dog. I may not have known what I was doing, but I sure loved it.
There were only ever 500 Peter Packrat kits made. It is currently the most expensive Atari System I conversion kit, selling for over $500 for just the kit. Marble Madness machines are actually worth more, but the Peter Packrat kits sell for more than the Marble Madness ones do. Basically, if you put a $500 Peter Packrat kit into a System I cabinet you end up with a $510 game, while sticking a $400 Marble Madness kit into a System I cabinet nets you a $750 game. Anyway, what I am saying is that you will have to play it using the MAME emulator, as all the real machines are being hoarded.