Shamus (video game)

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Developer(s) William Mataga
Publisher(s) Synapse Software
Designer(s) William Mataga
Platform(s) Atari 8-bit, VIC-20, Commodore 64, IBM PC, TI-99 4A, TRS-80 Color Computer, Game Boy Color
Release date(s) 1982
Genre(s) action
Mode(s) single player
Distribution cassette, cartridge, floppy disk

Shamus is a computer game written by William Mataga and published by Synapse Software. Originally released for the Atari 8-bit computers in 1982, it was later ported to a number of platforms including the VIC-20, Commodore 64, TRS-80 Color Computer, TI-99/4A, IBM PC and Nintendo Game Boy Color; several of these ports were made by Atarisoft. It was followed by a sequel Shamus: Case II, available on the Atari and C64.

William Mataga's original version was 16k in size and released on disk, tape, and cartridge for the Atari 8-bit family. The VIC-20 port was 8k and contained only 32 levels (unlike the 128 in every other version). Other releases were either on disk or tape.

In 1999, Mataga developed an improved remake for the Game Boy Color.

Official ports of both Shamus and Shamus: Case II are available for iOS devices.


Inspired by the arcade game Berzerk, the objective of the game is to navigate the eponymous robotic detective through a 4-skill level, 128-room maze of electrified walls. The ultimate goal at the end of this journey is "The Shadow's Lair".

Opposing the player are a number of robotic adversaries, including spiral drones, robo droids and snap jumpers. Shamus is armed with 'Ion SHIVs'...SHIV being an acronym for Short High Intensity Vaporizer...and is able to hurl up to two at a time at his enemies. Like many other games in this genre, touching an electrified wall results in instantaneous death. Upon the completion of each level, the gameplay speeds up, increasing the chances of running into a wall.

The main gameplay involves clearing the room of all enemies, picking up special items on the way and then leaving through an exit. Upon returning to the room, the enemies are regenerated and returned to their original positions. In exactly the same way as Berzerk, the player is attacked if he or she spends too much time in a room. In this case, the Shadow himself emerges from off-screen and hops directly at Shamus, unhindered by the walls.

The game differs from Berzerk in that the player may pick up items along the way - for example, bottles containing extra lives, mystery question marks, and keys which would open exits, thus expanding the game area.

The game was unique in that its combination of locks and keys required the player to complete each of its four levels in a particular order. To complete the game in its entirety would take several hours, which combined with the lack of a pause function (except on the IBM version), the necessity of remembering the location of dozens of rooms and keys, and the frenetic gameplay meant that this was extremely difficult to accomplish.

The game was also notable for using Funeral March of a Marionette, the well-known theme song from Alfred Hitchcock Presents.


The various maze layouts are all named after famous fictional detectives or agents, such as "Clouseau", "Marlowe", "Holmes" or "Bond".


Softline in 1983 stated that "Shamus is the best cross between arcade and adventure games currently on the Atari market ... To know it is to love it, play it constantly, and not get enough of it".[1] That year its readers named the game seventh on the magazine's Top Thirty list of Atari 8-bit programs by popularity,[2] and in 1984 they named Shamus in tenth place for 1983.[3] Ahoy! wrote in 1984 that Shamus for the Commodore 64 "is a thoroughly enjoyable game with all the action and suspense that both novices and sophisticated gamers will demand".[4]

Softline in 1983 called Shamus: Case II "another masterpiece of compressed programming", and advised readers to "run out and buy it so Mataga will be encouraged to create Case 3!"[5]


  1. ^ Bang, Derrick (1983-01). "Shamus". Softline. p. 42. Retrieved 27 July 2014.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ "The Most Popular Atari Program Ever". Softline. 1983-03. p. 44. Retrieved 28 July 2014.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ "The Best and the Rest". St.Game. Mar–Apr 1984. p. 49. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  4. ^ Sodaro, Robert J. (1984-02). "Shamus". Ahoy!. p. 51. Retrieved 27 June 2014.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ Bang, Derrick (Jul–Aug 1983). "Shamus: Case 2". Softline. pp. 25–26. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 

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