Overall, 1982 was not a good year for video games. In fact, it makes a strong case for being the worst year for video games ever. In the years prior, home gaming consoles and arcade games had carved out a growing market. But the industry rapidly overextended itself as it became seen as a license to print money. Truly terrible games flooded the market, and with home computers starting to become more and more powerful, the public abandoned home consoles in a major way.
“In 1982, few games broke new ground in either design or format,” wrote Pamela Clark in an editorial in a year-end issue of BYTE. It was rough going for the industry, but if you wanted something simply different, a good place to look was BurgerTime. Released amidst the glut of 1982, it was a bright spot for video games due to just how odd it is. It’s one of those little ‘80s in-jokes, and you can start to see why right now if you’ve subscribed to Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack, where BurgerTime Deluxe has been added for the Game Boy.
On the face of it, BurgerTime is very similar to other games of its era. There’s only one screen, across which a character moves around and tries to dodge enemies. Bright, snappy music plays as items appear, fall through the screen, and so on.
What made BurgerTime stand out amidst an overcrowded market was how unapologetically goofy it was. The player takes on the role of Peter Pepper, a chef trying to make a hamburger. Inexplicably, he makes his hamburger by walking across each ingredient. Even more inexplicably, other potential ingredients, like Mr. Hot Dog, Mr. Pickle, and Mr. Egg, are on the prowl to stop him. Chef Pepper’s one weapon is his trusty pepper shaker, which can stun his enemies for a few crucial seconds.
It’s one of those premises that work because they are so ridiculous. To quote an issue of Video Game Magazine, it was the “stupidest, silliest game ever, and that’s why you couldn’t get people off the Burger Time games with a crowbar!” Video Game named it the fourth-best game of 1982’s Amusement & Music Operators Association conference, the early-‘80s version of E3 (a few pages later, Video Games would be previewing the biggest video game flop of all-time, E.T., to give you a sense of what was about to happen to the industry).
Peter Pepper’s journey to create burgers is a little hindered by Mr. Hot Dog and Mr. Egg work together to corner you. One shame of the Game Boy’s port is that none of the original bright colors are here, all masked by the Game Boy’s dull neon green. Perhaps in the future, Nintendo will add the 2000 Game Boy Color sequel, Flintstones: BurgerTime in Bedrock.
But until then, BurgerTime Deluxe will have to suffice. The game is a fun diversion that highlights a good side to the industry’s dark years, weird enough to have warranted a shout-out in Bob’s Burgers thirty years after it came out. That’s a pretty good legacy for a game that’s all about eating burgers.