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Food has had a presence in games from the start in many different forms.
The earliest instance that comes to my mind is from the 8 bit era with ‘Tapper’, in which you take the role of a mustachioed old-timey barkeep trying to keep his thirsty punters quenched while simultaneously collecting up the empties.
The player moves up and down the rows of bars slinging suds down to the inebriates while they, in return, slide the dead pots back.
These must be intercepted before they smash on the floor. I had this on the Spectrum 48k and it was highly addictive and grew very difficult as the pace increased. I remember it had that ‘just one more go’ quality. There were different versions of the arcade cab which would capitalise on the captive audience of a real life bar and featured large ads for drinks like Budweiser and Pepsi.
After all that beer, you’re bound to be feeling a bit peckish. Why not try Burger Time as the perfect accompaniment? If you liked Chuckie Egg but wished you could be chased around by junk food instead of ostriches then this is for you. Imagine pitching that idea for a game nowadays. That’s what I miss most about the bedroom coding era, the fruit-loop creativity of a disturbed individual rather than a bland same-old-same-old which has been focus grouped to mediocrity. But I digress.
Food has always been a reliable source of health in games and sometimes found in unlikely places. The side-scrolling beat-em-ups of the 16 bit era often featured non-too heavily disguised coke cans as energy boosts. Not so strange you might think, until you stop to consider that it’s just been smashed out of a street thug’s skill with a length of pipe. Perhaps a little more oddly, full rotisserie chickens could be literally beaten out of enemies too and when consumed actually improved health. I personally wouldn’t consider eating anything that I’d just kicked out of a bloke – and I’m not even a particularly fussy eater. I certainly wouldn’t expect it to improve my sense of wellbeing.
Apples also make regular appearance as heath rejuvenators in this and other genres. Long held as a symbol of all that’s healthy in a diet, this may be a more obvious choice. We all know that an apple a day keeps the doctor away more effectively than a flying roundhouse: Presumably it doesn’t matter if you find it in an ammonia filled phone box, hidden in a junkies belongings or just in a bin, it’s equally as effective as one from the greengrocer.
While food in games is usually linked to health, this is taken to the extreme by the infamous Captain Novolin, super hero and diabetes sufferer extraordinaire. He struts down the street in his tight outfit ridding the place of sugary snacks, collecting precisely the right amount of healthy morsels and offering advice on how to manage the condition. To juxtapose the stirling efforts of Capt. Novolin , Zool arrived on the scene shortly afterwards, and took quite the opposite stance. I don’t remember it being a great game (although I know it has it’s fans), but I do remember the shameless plugging of Chupa Chups lollipops and confectionary themed level design. I recall the game tried to adopt the attitude of Sonic the Hedgehog but rather than speed, he had the power of grip! Perhaps not as exciting as speed then.
It’s also used as collectables to boost scores. Cutesey platformers seem to have healthier offerings than other game types, Taito in particular seem particularly conscientious about sources of natural energy. Their games of the 80s and 90s are so lousy with fresh produce that getting your five-a-day is a certainty. Name a fruit and I bet its in either Rainbow Islands, Parasol Stars, The New Zealand Story or Bubble Bobble, but it’ll most likely be in all for them, littering the ground just waiting to be collected.
In the wake of the hugely successful, addictive and original Lemmings there were several attempts to come up with conceits in a similar vein. Two of which come to mind involved food: Pushover and Bill’s Tomato Game were two of the better attempts, the former being another corperate sponsored game advertising snacks, although a little more subtly than Zool once you got into the game.
Pushover featured Colin, the yellow Zoot Suit wearing bulldog and his ant chum from the Quavers ad campaign of the time (‘Watch out, they taste curly!’). The game actually stood up quite well and, if you don’t know it, involved solving puzzles by toppling dominoes, with the different colours behaving differently. It didn’t quite have the charm of Lemmings but it was an original idea and probably the best game to be inspired by a pack of crisps.
Oozing with charm and character, the object of Bill’s Tomato Game was to safely guide the Tomato from A to B by placing an assortment of everyday items Heath Robinson fashion to propel the fruit through the environment. This too was involving and made a convincing early attempt at placing some physics into a game.
I know there are others like Pepsiman and McDonalads Global Gladiators, butI all this talk of grub has made me hungry so I’m going to stuff my face while I think of some more. In the meantime, don’t forget to post your food related in-game memories, I’d love a memory jogger.
Blog by Andy Pryer for GYL
Follow Andy on Twitter here: ClammyLizard