Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Kool-Aid Man on the Atari 2600!

Oh yeahhhh ... is definitely NOT something you're going to say while playing this antiquated sack of shit. (And also, some stuff about a comic book from the early 1980s.)

By: Jimbo X

Video game/consumer product tie-ins - sometimes colloquially referred to as "advergames" - are hardly anything new. In fact, the Atari 2600 was eat up with such games, including titles based on dog food, tooth paste and literally killing the word "Pepsi." Alas, as brass-balled exploitative as those games may have been, they pale in comparison to the utter shamelessness of Kool-Aid Man, a video game based on ... well, what the fuck do you think it would be based on

Granted, the idea of turning a recurring advertising character primarily known for flippantly causing massive property damage to spread the gospel of artificially flavored sugar water into a feature-length video game sounds a bit of a stretch, and the end product we got on the Atari 2600 certainly demonstrates that some ideas simply don't make for interactive virtual experiences. 

Now, do keep in mind that two Kool-Aid Man-branded games were released around the same time. The one on the Intellivision had far superior graphics and gameplay, as you commandeered some kids trying to collect all the accouterments to make Kool-Aid while avoiding these little gremlin motherfuckers who traipsed around the house like Michael Myers in that awesome Atari iteration of Halloween. Even better, once you finally DID collect all the Kool-Aid ingredients, you could summon Kool-Aid Man himself a'la Captain Planet to enter the fray and proceed to brutally murder said gremlin motherfuckers before advancing to the next stage. Man, that game was fuckin' awesome

Unfortunately, the Kool-Aid game we got on the 2600 was nowhere near as much fun. It's about as rudimentary of a video game as you can imagine, yet it's also frustrating as all fuck. And to top it off, the core gameplay is so minimalist that I'm starting to wonder if I can even stretch out my review beyond two paragraphs. Alas, we here at IIIA love us some challenges, and if we can get 1,000 words out there about this thing, we can assuredly churn out twice as many words on literally ANY other topic in the universe. 

So, uh, is it about gay pride or something?

After a cold opening that depicts the titular character (whose stature, interestingly, keeps fluctuating) crashing through a brick wall, the game begins proper. The gameplay is really, really simple. You play a mini pitcher of sugar water and there are multicolored "Thirsties" flying all over the place. Every two or three seconds, one of 'em will halt in their tracks, extend their penis-like proboscises into a pool of what I presume to be water and start slurping up the agua. If they suck it all up, it's game over - and to make the game THAT more difficult, the depleted water doesn't refill from stage to stage. So basically, every time they drop their cocks in the drink, you're supposed to bump into them, thus instantly killing their water-thieving asses. The catch is, if you touch any of the Thirsties when they're not drinking, your avatar will start flying uncontrollably across the screen like a Pong ball. This is made a billion times more aggravating because every time you hit another Thirstie while flying across the game space, the bouncing animation continues for another two or three seconds. And with all those motherfuckers speeding across the screen (like in Galaga, the fewer enemies there are on screen the faster they get) there are points in the game where you're basically going to get stuck in an infinite "bounce" loop because you keep getting pinballed by bad guys. And to say this is just mildly irritating is kinda' like saying taking a drink from Bill Cosby is just slightly dangerous to your butthole. 

NOW you motherfuckers are going to pay ... for like, three seconds, then it's back to not being able to do Jack Shit in this P.O.S. game.

Thankfully, the game is pretty liberal with its power-ups. Every 15 or so seconds a random letter (sometimes it's an "S," sometimes it's a "K," sometimes it's "W" - all allusions to the three primary ingredients of the product, sugar, water and Kool-Aid, I suppose) flies by and if you touch it your avatar will momentarily (as in, for about five seconds) get three times as big, develop facial features and - most importantly of all - become totally impervious to enemy attacks. Granted, you've got to be fast as a motherfucker to snatch the things up, and you better be one hell of a navigator, too, since the items usually blaze by virtually unavoidable clumpings of Thirsties. While the letter you pick up changes you a different color, your abilities (and the duration of those abilities) remain the same no matter what hue you are, which I guess could be taken as a coded message about racial harmony. Well, that, or the game designers were just lazy as fucking hell. Your call

Welcome to Kool-Aid purgatory. Pity-a-plenty for the whippersnapper that
can't figure out how to restart the game from here...

Your guess is as good as mine as to how long the game is or just how many stages are included. I got up to level four and just stopped giving a shit, so for all we know, maybe the game takes on some sort of radical genre shift beginning with stage five - like a snowboarding simulator, or maybe even a real-time military strategy theme. Alas, it's more than just a little bit likely that the game just loops on forever and forever until there's no more water left, at which point your avatar is thrust into a nightmarish, pitch black purgatory and you have to hit the reset button. So there's no way to technically die, but there's no way to technically win, either. So, uh, what's the point of playing the game again? Oh yeah, that's right - there isn't

I suppose, structurally, the gameplay is decent-ish. The controls are pretty responsive and if you have super autism and/or are easily entertained, you might be able to squeeze a half hour of entertainment out of the experience. But this thing is clearly not built for longevity, and what you've seen after five minutes of gameplay is literally all there is to it. Certainly there are worse 2600 games out there, but even compared to the bare bones nature of most games released on the console, this shit is just absurdly basic. It's pretty easy to see why this one was initially launched as a mail-in premium - anybody who paid cash money for this fucker got gypped worse than Enron shareholders.

Alright, is that 1,000 words yet? I don't even fucking know and I really don't even care at this point. I just spent an entire afternoon emulating a fucking Kool-Aid Man Atari game for a stupid comedy website, so literally anything else I could have been doing for the last two hours would be a step-up. That said, since we've got some virtual real estate to fill up, I'd like to turn your attention to the following:

...but wouldn't that kill the kids, too?

Yep, believe it or not, Marvel actually let the iconic spokes-jug have his own comic book series for awhile. From what I gathered from the Internet brain trust, The Adventures of Kool-Aid Man wasn't long for this world (Marvel only published three issues before giving the license to Archie Comics, who only published three or four more issues before yanking the plug on the title altogether), but it actually does serve as a CANONICAL backstory of sorts for the Atari 2600 game.

Eh, it's still better than Black Panther & The Crew, though.

Obviously catered for the elementary school set, there's not a whole lot of depth to the comic (a shocker, I know.) Regardless, it nonetheless introduces us to the Thirsties - basically, these fuzzy yellow motherfuckers from outer space who get their sexual jollies making people sweaty and miserable. Of course, their plans are really, really short-sighted - for example, instead of depleting the world's fresh water supply, they decide to spend their afternoons shutting down the snack bar at little league baseball games and, gasp, getting sunshine in people's eyes while they're up to bat! Still, there's something unsettling about the creatures gagging and bounding a food vendor, and something VERY unsettling about Kool-Aid Man returning the favor by tying up the Thirsties with a 30-foot-long sausage link. But it's still not as creepy as the part where the giant, anthropomorphic dishware WHISKS several children away to his top-secret Thirsties-surveillance headquarters...

So nobody's going to question how a sentient jug of sugar water is able to monitor literally EVERYBODY on the planet in real-time ... or why he feels the need to do so?

Well, don't say the people who made the comic didn't give you more background on the Kool-Aid Man's origin than we've gotten from the commercials, that's for damn sure. In the TV adverts he's just some red jug with a smiley face who causes massive property destruction to give children diabetes-causing beverages, but in this comic series? He's actually some sort of intergalactic policeman with a GLOBAL surveillance system watching all of humanity at all hours. So basically, he's like the George W. Bush Administration, in sugary packet form. If nothing else, you have to admire the extent to which the creators of the comic TRIED to expand the mascot's mythos. Really, they had carta blanche to work with, and the idea of turning the Kool-Aid Man into Marvel's equivalent of the Green Lantern isn't necessarily where I thought the product would be heading. So does that mean there's some universal force of multi-colored Kool-Aid People protecting the cosmos from Thirsties a'la those bounty hunters in Critters, and the only way they can pay for their galactic police state is through marketing artificially flavored fruit punch powders to children? Goddamn, this thing caused me to think way more than I thought it would.

You know what I'd like to do with an inflatable Kool-Aid Man? That's right - everything. Well, except for fuck him. Come on, now, that's just gross. 

Of course, it's still just a front for shameless Kool-Aid propaganda. There's a good eight pages in the middle dedicated to nothing but various branded merchandise and to be totally honest, this stuff is some grade-A kitsch I'd LOVE to have in my collection of all things "stupid outdated shit." I'd be ecstatic to possess a vintage Kool-Aid Man key chain, and I'd be envious as a motherfucker of anybody who had a tote bag with the words "beat the Thirsties" inscribed upon it. But to own an INFLATABLE KOOL-AID MAN like the one pictured above? Not only is that shit easily worth 45 proofs of purchase, I'd probably stab somebody to get one.

I love how they tell you to charge more for the larger cups. As if anybody is dumb enough to charge people less for more of the same product!

The comic isn't limited to crappy superhero theatrics involving copious amounts of child endangerment and shameless product pimpage, though. Just like those McGruff the Crime Dog comics, the comic also has quite a few special activities, including a page showing you how to set up a Kool-Aid stand (hooray, capitalism!) and another one that gives you a secret language to decrypt in order to find a super special message about what position the Kool-Aid Man would hypothetically play in baseball (and for fuck's sake, if you can't figure the pun out automatically, do us all a favor and please KYS.) All in all, though, I think it's a sturdy enough language and I think we should adopt it as secret tongue to trade sensitive and inflammatory intel back and forth online - a
nything to keep all those damn from nosing around in our business, ain't that right?

"Joey _____ all his baseball cards." Aw, shit, that could literally be anything, you terrible clue-giving motherfuckers. 

It comes with a standard crossword puzzle, too, although I've got to say I think they're being just a tad too oblique with the clues here. For example, look at 2 Down:" _____ causes sickness that keeps you from playing ball." Well sweet fuck on a cracker, I can think of hundreds of diseases that could feasibly keep you off the baseball diamond. Is the answer "AIDS," or "herpes" or "Ebola?" 'Cause every one of them logically checks out. Let's see if any of the other clues are any easier. How about 4 down? "You need a ball and ____ to play." Well, this one's pretty easy, actually...

Well, that, or "dick," I suppose...

I mean, what else could it be? Speaking of fun and games, you have GOT to check out this "connect the dots" puzzle included in the first issue.

Well, if it excites a cross-eyed, retarded looking kid, you KNOW it's got to be something good!

Looks rather innocuous, no? Well, not when you actually complete the portrait. Needless to say, Kool-Aid Man's top secret message is - well, more than just a little concerning...

So does this mean Kool-Aid Man's working for Hydra now?

Well, if nothing else, I suppose it explains why that blonde and blue-eyed kid at the bottom of the page is so excited. Still, you have to second guess Marvel's decision to include Nazi propaganda in a comic book intended for elementary schoolers, and I'm sure it's something the manufacturers of Kool-Aid were none too pleased about. Or were they?

Now THAT is how you end a story ... very, very poorly.

There's a lot more I could say about this Kool-Aid Man comic. Indeed, the last two pages beseech me to dwell upon the following matters: 

- How is Kool-Aid Man able to burst through a spacecraft wall without the vacuum of space sucking him and everybody else into the vacant vastness of the cosmos? Furthermore, does Kool-Aid Man even need to breathe oxygen? Is he just entirely self-sustained by Kool-Aid? Can he reproduce, sexually? How did he learn English, and how is he able to talk without anything even remotely resembling vocal cords? 

- If Kool-Aid Man is impervious to thirst, does that mean he's technically immortal? And where did he get that jet pack? Come to think of it, where did he get the money for anything? That high-tech surveillance compound couldn't have come cheap. Is Tony Stark or Hydra bankrolling this motherfucker or something?

- Did they mean for the exploded Thirsties to look like minstrel show characters?

- Is it just me or does that scientist look LEGITIMATELY concerned that a sentient fruit punch bowl figured out the fundamentals of outer space rocket travel? And whatever happened to that kind of iffy in hindsight brand slogan "the one for kids?" Does Kool-Aid still have the patent, and at what point did they decide to abandon it so as to not alienate adult product purchasers? And for that matter, is it true that black people foster a peculiar fondness for said product, and if a white politician serves said product at a fundraiser for black supporters, is it really technically racist?

Eh, like I said earlier, this is just too much shit to wrap my head around at once. Instead, I'm just going to end this whole pointless spiel the only way that's sensible - with a whole bunch of old Kool-Aid commercials from way back when. Watch 'em and weep with nostalgia, kids!

Damn, anybody itching for a glass of Purplesaurus Rex or Sharkleberry Fin right about now? 'Cause I sure as hell am. Fuck, at this point, I'd even settle for some lukewarm Pink Swimmingo, if I really had to ...


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