Everybody seems to think that Grand Theft Auto is the first game to reward terrible behaviour, but there are quite a few games from the early years of video gaming that prove otherwise. It’s just that back then, even the most violent, sociopathic behaviour appeared somewhat cute and harmless when reduced to 8-bit graphics. Bagman is one of those adorably felonious games.
According to the brilliant comic strip graphics on the cabinet, you play the role of an escaped convict out to collect his hidden stash of gold by any means necessary. This includes whacking security guards with a pick ax, or dropping money bags on them as they pursue you up ladders and inclines inside the gold mine. Pretty brutal if you ask me. I wonder if there were any Congressional hearings on what Bagman was teaching the kids.
Released in 1982, Bagman was licensed by Stern in the US, but was developed by a French company called Valadon Automation. This is important to know because it explains why the little 8-bit criminal is speaking French. Bagman has a good variety of digitized speech clips for all the various actions you can perform, and if you don’t speak French (as I do not), they sound pretty funny. Ultimately, you get used to Bagman saying “Oooui!” and “Eee Hutta!”, and it just becomes part of the charm of the game. Apologies to the French people for my phonetic spelling of “eee hutta”. Please drop us a line or leave a comment if you know what he’s actually saying.
Knowing the entire mine layout is essential.
On to the good stuff. Gameplay involves moving all of your gold bags up to the surface of the mine to deposit them in a wheelbarrow. The mine consists of three separate “rooms” moving from left to right. You can walk freely between the three screens, but there is only one wheelbarrow on the surface, and you’ll need to bring it with you to the other screens. A timer, labeled “BONUS”, counts down from 4,000, and if you haven’t deposited a bag in the wheelbarrow by the time it hits zero, you’ll lose a life. The way that the timer, the layout of the mine, and the guards conspire against you makes Bagman a serious challenge. It’s not easy to capture even one screen’s worth of gold in a game.
In the face of that challenge, you must master Bagman’s many subtle tricks. Everything in the environment is interactive, and usually in a number of useful ways. As mentioned, the sacks of gold that you’re trying to recover double as weapons which can be dropped on guards to stun them. Not only can you drop them down ladders, but you can also slide them down inclines in the tunnels. The downside is that carrying gold slows you down, as it would in real life.
Bagman is a busy little bandit with a lot of tricks up his striped sleeve.
The pick ax can be used as a weapon and also to dig through a wall to obtain a bonus sack of gold. Furthermore, the pick ax is sometimes best used as a non-violent deterrent. Here’s how that works: when you grab the pick, the guards will begin to run away from you. If you hit one of them with it, you will knock them out, but the pick disappears. So if you’re in a tunnel with both guards, the best thing to do is let them run away from you until you can exit the tunnel. Otherwise, if you hit one of them, the ax will disappear, and the other guard will turn around and nab you. Crafty.
You can also ride in the mine carts that run back and forth across the boards. This involves hanging from handles in the ceiling, and then dropping into the cart. You can bring items such as gold with you in the cart, or you can grab them up as the cart rides past them. Guards can’t touch you when you’re in the cart, but you can be killed by the cart if you stand in front of it. It’s a lot to remember, but it quickly becomes second nature.
Bagman is a tough game, but it gives you all the tools you need to win. The feeling you get when you grab a bag of gold, drop into a mine cart, zip by a guard, and take the elevator on the next screen up to the wheelbarrow is a good one. Almost like pulling off a bank heist in GTA 5… with a pick axe.