Twice-removed from its inspiration, Aldo’s Adventure is a copy of a Donkey Kong clone. The game, assembled by programmer Dave Ibach and his son Ben, resembles a page from a series of increasing blurry photocopies, losing the fine details and solidity that hold the master document together.
Aldo doesn’t stray too far from its roots. You play as Aldo, a red-shirt-and-overalls-wearing adventurer who has to climb around a construction site and dodge barrels as he makes his way to a treasure chest at the end. (For flair, Aldo has a mullet.)
The run-and-jump gameplay is nearly indistinguishable from Donkey Kong, save for the addition of pickups like diamonds and vases. Later parts mix up the design with non-linear levels or platforming sections with lava pits. Sometimes there will be one treasure chest, other times multiple goals. Levels get progressively more precarious and decidedly un-skyscraper-like. It’s creative but quite inconsistent, as are the barely appropriate stage names like “Ghost Town” that hover randomly somewhere on the screen.
Many of Aldo‘s stages and design elements come straight from Ladder, a different Donkey Kong clone by Yahoo Software from 1982 for terminal computers. The level designs work well in Ladder; its reliable physics bring out the inventiveness of the layouts.
Aldo is no Donkey Kong or Ladder substitute. Movement glitches are rampant, phasing you through walls or turning ladders into impassible objects. Seemingly standard elements like the score display and timer appear as tiny, unlabeled numbers in the corner. All the graphics have slightly faded colors (even the white backdrop). Objects like the bright-pink lava pop, while Aldo himself blends into the background. Walking over some scenery causes it, bizarrely, to disappear. Barrels move in random directions. The list of issues could rattle on, but the impact is that they make the stages confusing to navigate rather than clever. Aldo doesn’t run consistently either: the game’s opening instructions give you a command that limits the number of falling barrels, not to make the game easier but to prevent it from slowing down.
In fairness, this is a family-made shareware game from the 80s. You can’t ask too much, and there’s a sweet story in here about a father-and-son development team making their own copy of a game. From a technical standpoint, at least, Aldo‘s colorful animation is an unusual achievement for 1987. The game’s readme even admits that the goal was “exploiting the capabilities of the IBM Enhanced Graphics Adapter,” which might explain the aforementioned slowdown. DOS games more commonly used text or limited, lower-resolution graphics at the time.
The difference is that decades on, many of those other games are still great, while Aldo’s Adventure plays about as dicily as it presents itself. The story behind the game is a great case for why homemade garage games can be special; it doesn’t add much to the game though.
The second version of Aldo’s Adventure (1.1) adds a few more levels while omitting some of the more frustrating ones, like the aptly named “Bug City.”
(This post was substantially revised on February 23, 2014.)