The Fair Shake

Keystone Kapers

Greetings readers! Carl’s picked up a billy club and he’s on patrol in the local Southwick’s department store, but Harry Hooligan is up to his usual thieving triks. Go catch him before he gets away in the Atari 2600 game Keystone Kapers!

Thank God those blue cabinets are not obstacles..

Keystone Kapers was originally released for the Atari 2600 in 1983, right at the beginning of ‘the crash‘. If it were released a year or two earlier, it may well have surpassed the popularity of Pitfall!. But alas, it was not. As a result,  we have t-shirts featuring Pitfall Harry, as opposed to Officer Kelly.



Keystone Kapers puts you in control of Officer Keystone Kelly, a police officer who is tasked with catching jailbird stripes-wearing criminal Harry Hooligan who is constantly robbing a store with lousy security. Hooligan has a chronic klepto problem, and he must be caught before he escapes off the roof. Sounds simple enough, until you see that Hooligan has let loose some objects to slow you down like large beach balls, giant-sized radios (this IS the 30’s), and shopping carts. Oh. He also let loose some flying biplanes that will kill you. Flying…. Biplanes…. That will kill you. Luckily, you’ve got a leg up on this thief in the form of escalators and elevators to help nab him, the latter of which Hooligan won’t use. Get him before the timer runs out, or he escapes.

Another day on the beat

Keystone Kapers has what I would consider, the tightest play control of any Atari 2600 game. That’s saying quite a bit. The cop moves left and right with the joystick, and ducks when the stick is pulled down. The button causes him to jump. Simple and effective. This aforementioned tightness is by necessity, as in later levels, you’ll be working a rhythm of ‘step-step-duck… step-step-duck-jump’. Duck Duck Goose?

Going down, Mr. Tyler?

Being an Activision game, it’s easy to bump Keystone Kapers to the front half of the ‘2600 games with visually appealing graphics’ list, but it’s one of the better, if not arguably, the best Activision release. The bright colors, that nice ‘sunset’ background with a cityscape, the store itself, the two characters are all very nicely displayed crisply in that classic Activision style. The small map at the bottom of the screen is effective and easy to follow.

All the enemies you’ll face, on one game screen.


The sounds are above average for a 2600 game, but that’s not saying much. The footsteps and jump noise are all well done, but honestly, the pitter-patter of a police officer’s footsteps does get a little irritating, if only because it’s really the only constant sound throughout the game. There’s no theme, no musical fanfare, just footsteps, a jumping sound slightly reminiscent of the Six Million Dollar Man, and a death “THWANG!”. The footsteps do help you set a pattern on later levels, so unfortunately, tuning them off is not in your best interest.

5200 graphics yay, controller… nay.

When the 2600 is dusted off (who am I kidding, my 2600 doesn’t have dust on it.) Keystone Kapers isn’t too far from the cartridge slot. Even though it’s one of those ‘never-ending games’ typical of the early 80’s, it has that ‘je ne sais quoi” that keeps pulling me back for more. If you find yourself in the unenviable position of not owning an Atari 2600, there are several other ports of the game for the Atari 8 bit computers and Colecovision. I found an Android version in the Google store. There’s a 5200 version, which I find awkward due to the 5200 controller, but that’s a story for another time. This game begs for a reboot, with 2 players simultaneously I actually only received this game via my cousin during the NES era, and it got considerable play even when I had games like SMB3 to play. I effing love this game. You will too.