Thief was an old arcade game released by Pacific Novelty way back in 1981.

The story

Thief was not a new idea, it was a simple automotive maze game, but is memorable for having some truly horrible graphics. The kind of graphics that are so bad that you can tell a lot of effort was put into them. This was actually a common problem with a lot of lesser known early 80s arcade titles. The programmers would try and push the limits of their hardware, and end up with a true monstrousity.

The game is still fun, despite the "crashed Nintendo" look of the background scenes and explosions.

The game

This title plays a lot like Pac-Man, except the maze is more detailed. You drive you car around the maze (which of course has nothing but right angles), picking up the money that is laying around everywhere (just like the dots in Pac-Man). Now to avoid being any more like Pac-Man, the designer decided to give you four enemies, who each move around the maze with a distinct personality (but they are cars,not ghosts). In a final attempt to make this game different from Pac-man, th designer then added dollar signs in each corner of the screen, running over these allows you to chase after your foes, and run over them (not at all like Pac-Man). In later levels these dollar signs may be in places other than the corners (finally, something that actually is different than Pac-Man).

Each level is finished by clearing all the dollars bills from the board (the game will also rate you with a new "Crime Level" everytime you complete a screen).

The Machine

Thief machines are of an interesting design. They are bright red, and have a very "top heavy" look to them, this is due to the laid back monitor, and oversized marquee. These machines have a simple "Thief" logo as sideart (it is a sticker), and use chrome t-molding. The oversized marquee is yellow, and has an image of a 1920s paddy wagon, and a prisoner wearing a classic black and white striped prison suit (were those ever actually worn anywhere?). The control panel overlay and monitor bezel are yellow as well, and are covered in similar images to the one on the marquee. The control panel itself has only a 4-Way joystick with a red ball on top (nothing at all like Pac-Man, which uses a 4-Way joystick with a red ball on top), and start buttons for each player located on the right side of the panel (just like Pac-Man).

The game itself runs on a Z80 processor, and uses a unique wiring harness that is not compatible with any other games (not even Pac-Man). The machine also has a cassette player mounted inside that plays a four minute loop tape of actual police radio announcements from many years ago. These tapes are usually worn out today, but luckily you can simply download a .wav file of the audio, and record a new one.

Where to play

Knock off versions of this game were made for most of the early console systems (under various titles), but there were not any official ports that I am aware of. You can also play this title under MAME, it is perfect, except for the background talking, which resets every time you die (that is a problem with MAME itself, not the driver for this game).

You may want to add this game to your arcade game collection. It is certainly a nice example of a fun (if unoriginal), early game. Be sure and inspect the cassette playe carefully, as they are prone to breaking.