Review by aschultz
May 22, 2009
Donkey Kong inspired a number of three-level looping spinoffs in the eighties, and one of the most successful ideas was Hard Hat Mack (HHM,) a cute little platformer about a construction worker with various tasks to perform. He starts off drilling cement blocks in place on the first level, gathers lunch boxes, and apparently in the afternoon he has crates to drop into some crazy machine. He's obstructed by Osha or the Vandal. Each looks different but move in exactly the same predetermined patterns. The main difference between games is where the crates and blocks are placed. It works better for me than Donkey Kong, at least until the starting bonus counter drops ridiculously low, but by that time there are other games to explore.
Level one is a stack of five girders connected by chain ladders alternating on the left and right. You can also jump off the right edge onto a springboard, or go up and down an elevator in the left. The bottom four girders have one brick and one hole each. A drill runs in a predetermined pattern, and once a brick's in a hole, you can drill it. You can even jump on the spring with the drill. The top girder has a bonus tool you can grab if you think you can fake out the enemy, and even a bell that toggles the elevator (useless, but fun to get without dying,) but there's also a machine in the upper right that fires screwball debris at various speeds and trajectories. You often have to be ready for the different bounces, especially when you need to fill in the top. This is the toughest level in later run-throughs, as two enemies appear, making a straightforward run impossible before your bonus and life run out.
Level two features a girder-elevator in the center, and Mack bounces on and off it to grab lunchboxes on the site beams, then more jumps: over pincers, a stick of dynamite, and a big poison box. In the corner he must duck a ceiling squasher, run behind Osha or the Vandal down a chain ladder, grab the lunchbox, and go back up. If Mack stay too close behind, he hits the enemy on the way down. With all the lunchboxes, Mack can head to the conveyor on the top, where he has to time the roving ceiling magnet just right or drop to the bottom as a fireball. Most of this level's fun revolves around finding the best order to visit the side beams, and just barely making it to the center lift. You need to be clever and quick.
Level three has a center circular conveyor with steps that Mack must jump on and off. It's like a Ferris wheel, only if Mack hits the bottom left, he jumps off the springboard below and into a pool, where he drowns. But otherwise he must cycle around, jumping off, grabbing a box, jumping back on and dropping a box in a corner hole. For the trickier bottom right, Mack needs to jump on the springboards from a girder, but the greatest risk here is that the crate may be in a place where an enemy can walk back and forth over it too often. There's always a way to nip in, but impatience can still get you. The gadgets at the bottom are cute, but the only real obstacle is a tickly electric wire at the end of a conveyor belt. I thought this was the easiest of the lot--a bit disappointing given how I'd looked forward to it from the demo.
While the construction theme is cheerily done, with angry red machines and their levers that throw stuff at you or burn you from afar, random bonus tools, two-toned girders, angry overalled Osha, and the cut-rate tree-spirit Vandal, Mack is the real star. He looks like a penguin but still carries items bigger than himself, even jumping with them on a springboard. He eats lunchboxes bigger than himself and deflates when you make a bad jump, prompting the cheeriest ending tune I've heard in an Apple game. And I'm not sure if he gets the bends or what after taking the elevator, but it makes me laugh. In the background you have some generic rhythmic whoomps, which sound like industry being performed, and each level end has a new tune. This makes up for some collision detection problems, unfair both ways, or even Mack's inability to make smooth running jumps. A lot of times, you know what to do, but the simplest way to do it doesn't work, and the learning process can be frustrating.
When HHM came out, having Osha disrupt a worker was vaguely controversial, OSHA being a government agency in charge of workplace safety. The title could be some dubious gangsta rap sexual double entendre today, but either way, it's a sweet little game with a fun name that's fun to figure out and even replay. I took too long as a youth, but maybe I was just having fun. I still pulled it out later when I got stuck on other games, and it worked. And it was still unique and funny when I discovered Apple emulation years later.