That green light flashing in the distance? No, it’s not the elusive American dream or the love of your life fading from the horizon. It’s just your productivity for the next couple of days vanishing into a sea of flappers, tommy-gun-toting gangsters, and floating glasses.
Last week a pair of San Francisco developers, Charlie Hoey and Pete Smith, released an 8-bit tribute to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby, and it’s spent the past few days rocketing into online popularity. The title’s origins were initially shrouded in mystery, as the website claimed the game originally debuted in Japan on the Nintendo Entertainment System around 1990. Instead, it turns out the pair spent a year coding the game themselves before its release. Hey, it’s only fitting that a Gatsby release features a case of adopted identity.
The game itself features a fast-paced four levels that see players control narrator Nick Carraway as he takes on the inhabitants of the novel’s version of New York City. Mario’s Goombas give way to upper-crust East Egg society, and the judging eyes of T.J. Eckleburg stand in for Bowser.
The retro, side-scrolling platformer moves at a quick, addictive pace—I spent the better part of an hour maneuvering around the lo-fi rendition of Fitzgerald’s world. It’s difficult enough through the first couple of levels to keep gamers engaged, and throws in a number of references to the source material (including an impressive cutscene with Gatsby and a cameo from Meyer Wolfsheim) to rope in bookworms.
That’s not to say the game is a blow-by-blow retelling of Fitzgerald’s work—Eckleburg shoots lasers out of his eyes, after all—but compared to some recent book-to-game adaptations (like this ironic Waiting for Godot game) it’s a cut above.
So it’s no surprise the game has become an Internet sensation. Hoey is now soliciting donations after the game’s popularity shut down the servers the day after it launched. According to the Washington Post, he’s still a little overwhelmed.“‘There’s not a single just-OK sentence in that book,’ Hoey said by phone, sounding more than a little shell shocked by the game’s popularity.”
Hoey’s success could lead to more literature-inspired games. He originally considered developing an entire library of games, starting with a Jane Eyre rehash, but instead opted to simply release the source code and open it up to the community.
Here’s hoping for a Slaughterhouse-Five platformer soon. Bring on the Tralfamadorians!
(Check out the game for yourself here.)