Saturday, February 27, 2021

Matter of Import 42: Steel Worker [Taito 1980]


As a construction platformer, Taito's 1980 Steel Worker is a vast departure from the fixed screen shooters we've been looking at so far. In the game you control a construction worker who... actually, scratch that. You don't control the construction worker.

As in the later NES game Gumshoe or the much later Lemmings, the worker strides confidently forward, heedless of danger, while you do your best to create a path of girders to keep them from falling.

You have a selection of ten pieces down at the bottom, chosen with the joystick, and precious little time to pick the right one to complete the path to the midpoint structure and the endpoint. You also have a button you can press to get your worker to temporary walk back from the edge instead of dropping off of it, but a limited number of uses for it.

Complicating this is that you can only select a new piece while your worker is crossing the current one, meaning you can't work ahead... you can only try to be ready in time.

Even worse are the two gantries raising and lowering in the middle of the screen. Their touch is death, and you cannot stop your worker once he begins to cross the central platform – if you think his path will intersect with them, your only recourse is to use up one of your limited reverses on a prior section and hope you timed it right.

The game is clearly innovative, of a type as yet unseen in the arcade field... maybe a little much for 1980, seeing as it was never an export from Japan. The sound and graphics are disappointing – audio lifted straight from Space Invaders, with the monochrome display and screen overlay style to boot.

Still, as a standout pioneer it astounds me, and after I picked up its controls and the general concept of what I was supposed to be doing, I found it a lot of fun. I give Steel Worker a B ranking.

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