The premise of Keystone Kapers is simple: You are Keystone Kelly, the night watchman at Southwick's Emporium, chasing after Harry Hooligan, an escaped convict. An early platform game released towards the end of the 2600's heyday in 1983, Kelly must catch Harry before he escapes by jumping off the roof of Southwick's, or before the timer runs out.
But a simple task this will not be. Thwarting Kelly's efforts are everything from shopping buggies and beach balls to biplanes and cathedral radios. Keystone Kapers starts out with merely a few beach balls as obstacles between you and Harry Hooligan. These beach balls bounce towards Keystone Kelly, and touching them takes valuable seconds off the clock. Levels two and three respectively add cathedral radios and shopping buggies, which again will melt time each time they are crashed into. On level four, the only fatal obstacles, toy biplanes, are tossed into the fray. Of course, there are good things to be found in the store, too. Keystone Kelly can pick up stolen briefcases and money bags for 50 points each.
Starting on the basement level of Southwick's, Keystone Kelly must run up escalators and elevators to reach the fleeing Harry Hooligan. A "Defender"-type video surveillance of the store lets you know where Harry is, and what level the elevator is on. As the game progresses, the difficulty increases. Before you know it, there's not just one shopping buggy zooming by, but multiple buggies, while the biplanes zip by faster and the beach balls bounce higher.
Graphics are among the best of Activision's 2600 games. Not only are the sprites colorful and well-drawn, but they are also well animated. Keystone Kelly's bat appears to pop up and down as he runs, little "zaps" come off the cathedral radios, and Harry Hooligan even appears to run like a smarmy criminal. Although not truly animated like the other obstacles, the shopping buggies also have a particular appeal. As well, the escalators smoothly zip upwards. All these sprites lack the blinking that seems so prevalent in non-Activison 2600 games. The Activision trademark "horizon of colors" as seen in other releases such as Seaquest and Crackpots is set against a cityscape, adding a nice touch to the overall appearance. There is probably twelve to sixteen colors on-screen at once. Sounds, while fairly limited, are a pleasure to hear. Unlike many 2600 games, they do not grate on your nerves after prolonged play.
Once again, Activision proved with Keystone Kapers that they could make Atari games better than anybody else. Solid gameplay (I've had this game for over 15 years and have yet to grow tired of it) and pleasing graphics add up to a winning package. Interestingly, the graphics and gameplay of 5200 Keystone Kapers is nearly identical to 2600 Keystone Kapers - testimony to just how well Activision, and the game's programmer, Garry Kitchen, knew the workings of the 2600. A common find on e-bay and in the wild, this is one of those titles that you should not pass up.