Everyone has a first video game.
For me, it was this piece of crap.
Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle.
Welcome, to the Videogame Shoebox
Gargamel has kidnapped Smurfette, again. You’re a Smurf, not a particular Smurf like Papa or Brainy or Grouchy, nope you’re just an unnamed Smurf and It’s up to you to brave the same six screens over and over again on your quest to save her. The idea is that you have to walk from the Smurf village through a forest and a cave on the way to Gargamel’s castle, where Smurfette is patiently awaiting rescue.
The player has an energy bar that slowly depletes over time too, but that doesn’t tend to be much of a problem.
Each time you complete a level and rescue Smurfette, you’re reset back to the Smurf village again and must adventure forth once more. Because, y’know, Gargamel is a bit of a dick and the Smurfs clearly have some security holes that they need to plug. Each trip, however, gets more and more perilous as the journey gets longer by simply repeating screens from the already limited pool but with extra issues to avoid like snakes or bats. Being the Atari 2600, which wasn’t exactly a powerhouse of a machine, even at the time, these levels become more and more tricky by virtue of the limitations of the hardware.
Besides from the background the Atari could only render two sprites at a time, this would normally mean you, Miscellaneous Smurf and a single obstruction such as a fence or a snake. The developers started getting ballsy though and as the levels progress they started throwing more than one problem per screen at you. The technique is kind of disgusting, though. Let’s say you have to jump a fence, no problem, Fence jumped. But now we need to render a bat to throw at you but we can’t exactly take the player character off the screen so away that fence goes. The problem here is that, even though the fence is not visually represented it is still totally there. So if you screw up your approach to jump over the bat and have to back up a few spaces, the bat will disappear while you are mid-jump, the fence will reappear and all obstructions will kill you instantly if you so much as land on them. I can only assume that sprained Smurf ankles are not only easy, they’re also deadly.
The various obstacles must be precisely jumped over or landed upon. Failure to execute any jump results in instant death because videogames!
Eventually, after journeying between the Smurf village and Gargamel’s castle and rescuing Smurfette over and over again, I can only assume that the game ends and Gargamel gets bored of doing the same walk every day. I actually have no idea because I never came close to finishing it as a child, I actually don’t remember ever completing the first level, I do remember that bloody spider though!
When I thought about featuring this particular game I knew that it was going to be one that took an emotional toll on me. Think about it, of all of the thousands of videogames that I have played over the years THIS was my first one.
What was it about this game that grabbed me? It certainly wasn’t the Smurfs license, I didn’t really care at the time (yep, a 3-year old that didn’t care about The Smurfs, I still don’t, sue me) It definitely isn’t because it was a great looking game, it was an Atari 2600 game, released in 1982, they ALL sort of looked the same.
It wasn’t the music, although an Atari game that had a music track was actually kinda rare, at least one that also had sound effects, limited as they were.
The gameplay isn’t exactly stellar, walk sideways, jump over stuff, win. Occasionally animals show up, jump over those, win. Again, this sort of simplicity was by no means hard to come by back on these old systems, it was all sort of par for course which was definitely a contributing factor to the big videogames crash of 1983.
All of these pieces come together to form a pretty standard early-80’s licensed platformer, there wasn’t anything particularly offensive about it but nor was there anything special about it.
Going back and playing this for the show, I have no issue in saying that I honestly have no idea what made this game so inviting to me. So inviting to the point that here I am 27 years later appearing on television talking about my favourite games that my favourite industry has produced over the years, hopefully sparking a few memories of your own about your favourite games and your earliest memories involving them.
It is certainly not the best game of 1982, hell it wasn’t even the best game on the Atari 2600 in 1982, far from it. But as the first piece of interactive computer-based entertainment that I saw and subsequently played it still sticks in my brain as an incredibly important stepping stone of my life that helped me craft an identity during those easily influenced, sponge-like brain formative years. My life was changed forever by it, my life was changed forever, by a fucking Smurfs game.
That’s it for this visit to the Videogame Shoebox, join me next time when I’ll be dusting off some more cartridges. Be sure to let me know in the comments or on Twitter @MikeNotridge any games that you’d like to see get a retro-regression-session on here.
I’ve been Mike Notridge, and I will see you, next time.
What’s in your Videogame Shoebox?