Go Gorby, go!

I conducted a poll on Twitter to determine what Famicom game I’d write about today. Crisis Force – the one I knew nearly everyone would pick – easily took first place. But because I’m me, I’ve decided to write about the first runner-up instead.

Gorby no Pipeline Daisakusen (Gorby’s Pipeline) – Tokuma Shoten/Compile – 1991

Gorby’s Pipeline is one of the many great puzzle games never released outside Japan in any format (it was also released for the MSX and FM Towns). Essentially, it’s like a cross between Tetris and Pipe Dream, and is one of the pre-Puyo Puyo Compile puzzlers.

The story behind the game is interesting, to say the least. You’re in charge of building a water pipeline between Japan and Russia, to strengthen relations between the two countries. Making sure things were all nice and legal, as far as using Gorbachev’s image and name was concerned, Compile apparently had full permission from the Soviet embassy to use them on the game and in promotional materials (although I do wonder what he thought of the nickname “Gorby”).

Much like Tetris, the game takes place in a pit that you must construct the pipeline in. Drop your first connecting piece against the right wall of the pit, and the water begins to flow. From there, you have to build the pipeline so that it connects to one of the outlets on the left wall. This, of course, is no easy task. The different pieces that drop down are rarely straight pipes. There are elbow joints, U-shaped pipes and S-shaped pipes. It’s up to you to get everything running smoothly and not accidentally misdirect the water into a dead end.

Every so often different power-ups drop down: the water drop, which will clear out most of the pipe pieces on the screen; the water bottle, which will create blue blocks in the pit (these two pieces will only work if placed next to an open end of the pipe); and the drill, which can devastate the hard work you’ve put into the pipeline unless you find a good way to use it, such as correcting an error you made placing pipes.

The whole thing is wrapped up in a rather charming package. A little blonde girl in traditional Russian garb kicks the pipe pieces into the pit, while under the score, another traditionally dressed blonde girl stands on a patch of snow, “directing” the pipeline construction with her two flags. All the while, various pieces of classical Russian music play, some of which you’re bound to recognize.

Underneath that charm is a very tricky game, though, one that involves a great deal of strategy – more than I’m willing to go into here. Still, it’s a great game for puzzle fans that have grown tired of the usual standards like Tetris and Columns.

Next time: okay, fine. I’ll write about Crisis Force. But after that will be something you won’t be expecting.

In the meantime, check out this longplay of Gorby’s Pipeline.