In this game, you control Pengo, a red penguin stuck in an overhead maze made of ice blocks, where Pengo must fight the blob-like things called Sno-Bees. The objective is to have Pengo clear a series of rounds by eliminating all Sno-Bees, either with kicking ice blocks onto them or having them stunned to be vulnerable on contact. It's mainly about scoring highest points possible by pulling off dangerous tricks, and if you bring together the three diamonds dispersed in the maze, it will also grant you lots of bonuses. All while doing this, the game plays Gershon Kingsley's 1969 instrumental "Popcorn," rendered in (very catchy) 8-bit music.
Pengo was one of Sega's greatest hits at the time, and inspired tons of ports and clones for many systems. However, it's not well-known that Pengo had a few sequels, albeit none leaving Japan. The first sequel, Ninkuu Gaiden: Hiroyuki Daikatsugeki (November 1995) for Game Gear, was strangely released as a tie-in game to the manga/anime series Ninku, starring that manga's Hiroyuki instead of Pengo. It takes many elements of Pengo's gameplay with its own additions. The next one, Pepenga Pengo (December 1995), was released for the Genesis and completely re-structured to look like a Bomberman rip-off.
The third (and currently last) sequel was simply named Pengo! (2010), which returns to the arcades and focuses on the competitive multiplayer. Here, up to eight people must play against each other for scoring under time limit, with killing each other giving one the highest score. It was later ported and included on Xbox 360 compilation Ge-Sen Love: Plus Pengo! in 2012.
Pengo contains examples of:
- Blob Monster: Sno-Bees are a kind of this. Although Ninku Gaiden has actual animals, instead.
- Block Puzzle: Well, more emphasis on "block" than "puzzle," unless you count lining up the diamond blocks for extra points (no mean feat).
- Difficulty by Acceleration: If you take too long in the stage, the Sno-Bees will keep moving faster and coming at you more aggressively.
- Endless Game: As with most Golden Age arcade games, the game simply keeps going until the player loses all of their lives.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Ninku Gaiden introduces bumpers that redirect sliding blocks to other direction. If you've kicked your block toward it and didn't move out of its way... Yeah.
- Intermission: Every other round has a short, animated skit (a la Pac-Man) before going on to the next round.
- One-Hit Point Wonder: As with most Golden Age arcade games, A single touch from the Sno-Bees is enough to kill Pengo.
- Protagonist Title: Appropriately enough. The only game that doesn't have "Pengo" in its title is Ninku Gaiden, which stars Hiroyuki from the manga Ninku.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: The intermission theme in the original Pengo borrows the famous melody from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, Mvt. 4.
- Replaced the Theme Tune: A later version of the arcade game featured original music to replace the under-copyright "Popcorn".
- Re-Release Soundtrack: Some ports replaced the "Popcorn" music with original songs.
- Score Multiplier: The riskier your gameplay style is, the more points you rack up. Crushng one of the Sno-Bees with a block will give you 400 points, but the score quadraples if you crush them in succession. So if you take out three Sno-Bees at once, for example, you get 6400 points (400x4x4). By comparison, stunning the Sno-Bees by kicking the rope next to them only gives you 100 point each.
- Set Bonus: If you line out the indestructible diamond blocks, it'll give you a huge bonus and temporarily stun the Sno-Bees.
- Songs in the Key of Panic: The original arcade game has two "hurry" variations of its theme tune along with Difficulty by Acceleration. However, this only applies to the arcade boards with "Popcorn" music; the ones with original composition never speed up.