Keystone Kapers

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Keystone Kapers
Designer(s)Garry Kitchen
Platform(s)Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 8-bit, ColecoVision, MSX
May 1983
  • Atari 2600
  • May 1983
  • Colecovision
  • June 1984

Keystone Kapers is a platform game developed by Garry Kitchen for Activision and published for the Atari 2600 in April 1983. It was ported to the Atari 5200, Atari 8-bit family, ColecoVision, and in 1984, MSX. Inspired by Mack Sennett's slapstick Keystone Cops series of silent films, the object of the game is for Officer Keystone Kelly to catch Harry Hooligan before he can escape from a department store.


Officer Kelly on the lowest floor, with Harry Hooligan one floor above (Atari 2600)

The game takes place in side-view of a three-story department store and its roof. The store is eight times wider than the screen; reaching the edge of the screen flips to the next section of the store. A mini-map at the bottom of the screen provides an overall view of the store and characters.

Officer Kelly begins the game in the lower right on the first floor. The joystick moves Kelly left and right. Vertical movement between floors is accomplished by escalators at the ends of the map and a central elevator.

Harry Hooligan starts the game in the center of the second floor. He immediately begins running to the right to reach the elevator to the third floor. Hooligan continues moving up the floor. If he succeeds, then he escapes. This trip takes 50 seconds, and a timer at the top of the screen counts down the remaining time. Kelly runs significantly faster than Hooligan and can normally catch him in that time in a straight run with no penalties.

Kelly can use the elevator to get ahead of Hooligan, causing Hooligan to reverse direction and start back down through the store. He can jump down between levels at either end of the map, something Kelly cannot do because the escalators only go up for Kelly. Kelly has to use the elevator carefully, or risk being stuck on a higher floor while the timer runs out.

Slowing Kelly's progress are obstacles like radios, beach balls, and shopping carts, which can be jumped over or ducked under by pushing up or down on the joystick. Hitting any of these objects causes a nine-second penalty. In later levels, flying toy biplanes cause the player to lose a life upon contact.

The player begins with three lives. One is lost if Hooligan remains uncaught when the timer runs out. Extra lives are awarded at every 10,000 points, up to the maximum of three. If Kelly catches Harry, he scores 100 points for every second left on the timer. Kelly can pick up suitcases and bags of money for 50 points each. Each level gets progressively harder, adding more and/or faster hazards, until Kelly loses all of his lives.

Activision patch[edit]

Players who achieved a score of 35,000 or better could send a photo of the screen to Activision to receive a Billy Club patch.


Keystone Kapers was the third Atari 2600 game developed by Garry Kitchen following his games Space Jockey and a port of Donkey Kong. Following completing work on Donkey Kong in May 1982, Kitchen joined Activision in June. Kitchen worked at Activision from a satellite design office in Glen Rock, New Jersey and immediately began designing a game which would become Keystone Kapers.[1]

Kitchen described that after working on Donkey Kong, he was in "little man mode", a term he used to describe games where the player controls a small person on the screen. Kitchen believed that due to the limitations of the Atari 2600 hardware, he wanted to create a theme could be effectively rendered on the machine while still being lighthearted and whimsical.[2] Kitchen developed a game around the imagery of the Keystone Cops as he could properly render their bowler caps, blue uniforms, and billy clubs as well as creating an effective crook graphic.[3]

At the time of development, Activision made games via a PDP-11 minicomputer for editing and writing code and assembling it for 6502-based machines.[4] The initial gameplay design to Keystone Kops was similar to Donkey Kong, with the cop going through the stage vertically to catch up with the crook who was going through the building floor by floor. When Kitchen showed the game to David Crane, Crane suggested to make the game extend horizontally like his game Pitfall! that he was working on. Kitchen kept some elements of Donkey Kong in the game, such as objects being thrown at the crook to delay him in this pursuit.[4]

Keystone Kapers had a four kilobyte limitation for its ROM size.[5] Kitchen stated the limit was necessary from a financial decision. Kitchen noted some items he wish he could have included, such as making it more obvious for the player when was the right to ime to use the elevator or escalator in the game.[6] Some elements of the game were removed during the development, such as a scene outside the department store with a vehicle resembling a Ford Model T parked at the curb. Kitchen recalled that the "car was beautiful, but I eventually had to remove it because it cost too many bytes."[7]

Keystone Kapers was later adapted for the ColecoVision by Mike Livesay.[8] A version for the Atari 5200 adds musical backing and the ability to choose what level of the game to start at.[9]

Release and reception[edit]

Keystone Kapers was released for the Atari 2600 in May 1983.[10] It was released for the ColecoVision in June 1984.[11]

The Atari 2600 version of Keystone Kapers received a Certificate of Merit in the category of "1984 Videogame of the Year (Less than 16K ROM)" at the 5th annual Arkie Awards.[12]: 40  The Video Game Update found that early levels were easy, that later levels adding more obstacles adding strategic possiblities and depth, declaring the game "a throughly charming and whimsical game with great animation".[13]

In December 1984, Antic reviewer Ellen Keyt called out the quality of the animation in the Atari 8-bit version, writing "The Keystone Cop's legs stretch when he jumps over a shopping cart, his uniform creases when he squats to duck a toy airplane, and he even pumps his hands up and down, waving his stick when he runs." She called it the "perfect game for anyone".[14] Reviewing the Atari 5200 version, Computer Entertainer gave negative reviews to both the Colecovision and Atari 5200 versions of the game.[9] The reviewer said that "what was a good game for the Atari 2600 just isn't varied or exciting enough when compared to other games for the more advanced 5200."[9] Deseret News gave the ColecoVision port 3 stars, praising the graphical improvement over the original.[15]


Dan Kitchen, Garry's brother, worked on an unfinished sequel for the Atari 2600 under the title Keystone Cannonball. He described it as "the Keystone cop on a train".[16][17]

Reflecting on the game, Kitchen said that felt the game had aged well and "from a graphics standpoint, I certainly spent a lot of time on the look of the game, and I hope it paid off. Obviously, I also put in a great deal of effort tweaking the playability [...] I'm sure that, without that time and effort, the game would not have the staying power that it does."[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hickey, Jr. 2020, p. 25.
  2. ^ Hickey, Jr. 2020, p. 26.
  3. ^ Hickey, Jr. 2020, pp. 26–27.
  4. ^ a b Hickey, Jr. 2020, p. 27.
  5. ^ Hickey, Jr. 2020, p. 29.
  6. ^ Hickey, Jr. 2020, pp. 29–30.
  7. ^ Hickey, Jr. 2020, p. 28.
  8. ^ Computer Entertainer includes The Video Game Update 1984, p. 28.
  9. ^ a b c Computer Entertainer includes The Video Game Update 1984, p. 31.
  10. ^ The Video Game Update includes Computer Entertainer 1983, p. 48.
  11. ^ Computer Entertainer includes The Video Game Update 1984, p. 48.
  12. ^ Kunkel, Bill; Katz, Arnie (January 1984). "Arcade Alley: The Arcade Awards, Part 1". Video. Reese Communications. 7 (10): 40–42. ISSN 0147-8907.
  13. ^ The Video Game Update 1984.
  14. ^ Keyt, Ellen (December 1984). "Product Reviews: Keystone Kapers". Antic. 3 (8).
  15. ^ Holyoak, Craig (1984-05-30). "Here are ColecoVision's jewels". Deseret News. pp. 4 WV. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  16. ^ "Keystone Cannonball". Atari Compendium.
  17. ^ National Videogame Museum. "Keystone Cannonball". YouTube.
  18. ^ Hickey, Jr. 2020, p. 31.


External links[edit]