Let us examine our relationship with food.
Food is a difficult subject for many people. We all like food, but between corollaries like cholesterol, blood pressure, and general weight, there is a lot to consider before you stick something down your mouth hole. You can’t quit food, and, given how often you have to interact with the stuff, it would be a shame to spend the rest of your life eating something you hate. But some people are forced into this situation by genetic predispositions, poor eating habits, or just the fact that someone thought it was okay to eat nothing but cheese sandwiches for a solid 25 years (it’s on the food pyramid! It should have been fine!). Regardless of how it happens for someone, it can mean that a simple meal will no longer be simple for the rest of their days, and something as simple as “gimme a burger” can transform into a gauntlet of questions and substitutions that reinforces how you should have just gotten a salad in the first place. And you hate salads!
But you know who doesn’t hate salads? Alucard. Solid Snake. All the protagonists of all the videogames that can and will eat anything, because food is life. Going straight back to Pac-Man, eating whatever you can find and gobbling down as much of it as possible has always been the way of games. Give or take the odd Metal Slug or Fat Princess out, food is a universal good, and the challenge is often not that you are getting too much, but that you must ration that wall meat in preparation for dangers ahead. Rogue-likes often make food one of the most valuable resources you can ever measure, and even Mike Haggar has to search barrels across the land to stay fueled for those piledrivers. Even when food is not literally life in a videogame, it is still an unquestionable good for your hero.
So can food ever be a bad thing in a videogame? Well, here are a few examples from the early days of gaming that posit food is not always as pleasant as it appears…
Arcade, Atari 7800
Let’s get this out of the way first: Charley Chuck has a perilous relationship with food. Charley lives only to consume ice cream, and his singular goal is to eat as much ice cream as possible. This is not something that any child should aspire to, and, if any young’uns are reading this article, please, put the cone down. Like so many old school games, food is the goal of Food Fight, but do not try this at home.
But food is not only for consumption in the world of Food Fight. Everything that is not ice cream is fair game in this eating contest, and it has all been transformed into a bevy of projectiles. Charley Chuck lives up to his name, and chucking food at all comers is the only way he can get to his goal unmolested. And who is trying to stop Charley? Why, four chefs who are responsible for this feast, of course. Oscar, Angelo, Jacques, and Zorba are the four antagonists that want Charley to slow his eating roll, and if Charley doesn’t utilize the food stores to defeat these chefs, they’ll never die and become Pac-Man’s quartet of antagonists (possibly headcanon).
So, in this case, whether you are consuming or throwing it, food is good. Food is your goal, and food is going to keep you alive. But the people that make the food? They are the enemy. In the world of Food Fight, chefs are apparently greedy, violent monsters that want to protect their precious ice cream at all costs. If they are beaten by food, they will rise again, damned forever to protect their sweet bounties. In short, the lesson of Food Fight seems to be that food and gluttony is good, but those that make the food are bad. A strange moral to be sure, but by about the 80th time a chef comes out of nowhere and blasts you with a banana, you better believe you’re going to be hating these nutrition gatekeepers.
But if you want to see the other side of the coin, look no further than…
Arcade, Atari, NES
Chefs are not our enemies, they are our heroes. Intrepid Peter Pepper has to assemble a series of giant burgers to prepare for some manner of titan-based lunch rush, but there is a bit of a problem. Some of the ingredients are not going to just lie there and be walked all over, so they have gone on the offensive. Buns, beef, lettuce, and tomatoes are cool with being enormous and docile, but Mr. Pickle, Mr. Egg, and the sandwich-ambiguous Mr. Hot Dog all would rather commit murder than wind up as common components. Peter Pepper only has two options: toss some pepper in their (lack of) eyes for a stunning escape, or carefully manipulate his foes between buns for an added taste of flavor. And if neither of those opportunities are available, well, looks like lunch is going to be late.
In Burger Time, we are finally seeing a situation wherein food is not your friend. Peter Pepper is preparing delicious burgers, but every “undesirable” ingredient has it out for him. Is this meant to be a metaphor? Eggs and hot dogs can certainly smash a cautious cholesterol diet, but what is the problem with pickles? They don’t have the same nutrients as a slab of lettuce? Too much sodium? Too… ethnic? Maybe the designers just had a bad Big Mac? Whatever the reason, at least now we have a situation wherein food can be both good and bad, which is much closer to how a “real” Peter Pepper would have to live his life. The brave men and women that make your massive cheeseburgers have to worry about their health, too, ya know!
And speaking of chefs that are in mortal danger…
Nintendo Entertainment System
Like in Burger Time, Panic Restaurant features a heroic chef. But there is also a Food Fight-esque antagonist chef, and this nefarious Chef Ohdove (it was a mistranslated hors d’oeuvre pun, if you’re curious) has conquered valiant Chef Cookie’s dream restaurant! Now Cookie must fight through a full course meal’s worth of levels to defeat Ohdove and reclaim his livelihood. But it won’t be easy, because Ohdove has been cooking up evil, and now everything in the restaurant is trying to kill Cookie.
Seriously. Like…. Everything. The first boss is a friggen’ popcorn maker, and it is extremely fatal.
Cookie may be a chef, but this is a game where food is consistently the enemy. Cookie doesn’t even cook a single thing! There is the occasional minigame that involves gathering simple ingredients (eggs, fish, bombs), but beyond that, Cookie must constantly be on the defensive around food. Pizzas are rolling boulders of death, egg whites blob along to attack, and french fries become machine guns of salty death. Aside from some inexplicable lawn chairs, literally every adversary (before finding humanish Ohdove) is a food item of some kind, and it is all living for revenge. No one is certain why an onion wants to make Cookie cry, but here we are.
And, if you are curious, the bosses are a mix of appliances & food, sometimes simultaneously. A killer ice cream cone or burger is unpleasant, but the wok that blasts shrimp all over the arena is its own level of Hell. And the obstinate oven that absorbs chickens only to eject roasted runners? There is something metaphysically wrong there tinged with a unique flavor of evil. And speaking of which, it is difficult to parse Chef Ohdove. He is purple! What has he been eating? Why does he remind me so much of Waluigi? What happened here?!
And just in case this situation isn’t obvious: Cookie might be all smiles and joy with his dream of having a restaurant that isn’t murderous, but his weapons are exclusively built for taming food. A collection of pots, pans, spoons, and forks is his armory. This means one thing: food is the enemy, and man has created tools to conquer this hated adversary. All food must be stopped, and, as the final master of monsters, their maker must be punished, too. Ohdove needs to get forked.
So what does it all mean? It appears that there are some games out there where food is not your friend. And when food is the enemy, it looks like bad things happen. So remember, kiddies, eat your greens, lay off the fats, and be good to food. Because otherwise, you might wind up on the wrong end of a malevolent hot dog.
FGC #624 Food Fight
- System: Originally released in the arcades, but then appearing on the 8-bit Atari 7800 three years later. It is available on a number of Atari collections, including one for the Evercade.
- Number of players: It is two player alternating, but the way that all the chefs and Charley have the exact same capabilities and goals makes me think that this could have been an early, successful battle royale four-player title. Or at least something interesting wherein one player tries to grab the ice cream, and other controllers aim for keep away. There are options here!
- Favorite Food: The different foods actually seem to have different properties, further cementing how Food Fight feels like a game out of time. This was so close to being NES quality! Anywho, I’m never going to say no to a pie to the face, so that is the first item I go for.
- Legal Eagle: Food Fight comes compliments of General Computer Corporation, the very same company that produced Ms. Pac-Man. They were also responsible for creating that “hack” kit that would speed up Atari Missile Command cabinets. Atari sued GCC as a result, and, after a settlement, GCC started making games for Atari. So, basically, there are good odds Food Fight was created by people being whipped into submission by Atari’s lawyers (legal disclaimer: this is a joke).
- Burger Time Fact: I always think I’m going to enjoy Burger Time more than I ever do. It looks like a fun Donkey Kong-alike… but then I’m reminded it is just walking around and hating how a burger bun doesn’t fall any further than you’d like because a pickle moved too quickly. I realize that sentence sounds like the ramblings of a mad man, and I am holding that against Burger Time, too.
- Panic Restaurant Fact: Yes, this is one of the most expensive NES carts out there. Yes, it is drastically changed from the Japanese version, and you’re looking at a totally different protagonist that is much more averse to headbutts in America. But is it any good? Meh, it’s an action platformer from the late NES days. It ain’t bad, but it really isn’t all that special, either.
- Did you know (back to Food Fight): Food Fight was revolutionary for including a replay feature that triggers when you “just made it” to that ice cream cone. Unfortunately, the “replay” was technically a literal, automated replay of the game, and random factors could lead to accidental death during the uncontrollable replay. Later versions at least corrected the fact that this could mean a lost life, but can you imagine blowing a quarter on simply watching an AI incorrectly ape your moves?
- Would I play again: This is a surprisingly fun Atari game. It’s also an Atari game. Maybe I will hit it if I am locked in a room with an Atari 7800, and the only option is to eat ice cream until my inevitable escape. It could happen!
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Double Dragon 3! Let’s go, Bimmy! Time to grab those Rosetta Stones! Please look forward to it!
Okay, Panic Restaurant has some expressive sprites