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Princess Tomato in Salad Kingdom (NES) artwork

Princess Tomato in Salad Kingdom (NES) review

"You'll want to spray the whole Salad Kingdom with Agent Orange."

While consoles in general have never really been the go-to place for adventure games that aren’t action adventure games like Zelda or Crystalis, the NES did have a few gems. Games like Shadowgate, Deja Vu, and Maniac Mansion showed that the lack of a mouse didn’t necessarily stop the genre from being worthwhile on the system.

Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom is not one of the games that demonstrates that, however.

Princess Tomato is quite simple and very cute. You can’t lose or die, and the cartoony graphics and light story may lead you to see it as “baby’s first adventure game.” That’s actually kind of true, but only in the sense that you’ll feel like you’re stumbling around the game’s environments like a toddler learning how to walk.

Unlike the games listed above, Princess Tomato has no pointing or clicking. You instead have a list of possible commands (Move, Hit, Take, Check, Praise, etc.) that will automatically affect whatever is present on-screen when used, or will lead to a menu from which to choose your target. Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom is closer to a text adventure than it is a point-and-click adventure, despite featuring lots of colourful (if not particularly good) artwork. This might sound appealing enough. Lots of adventure games, especially old ones, occasionally fall into the “pixel hunting” trap, where players would find themselves scanning an area for the tiniest little interactive object that doesn’t actually look interactive.

It’s a good idea that could have worked if it had been implemented well. Unfortunately, Princess Tomato seems to use that one strength as an excuse to bring a number of other, far more awkward and frustrating moments to the table.

Before discussing those examples, a brief summary of the story is in order. The titular Princess Tomato has been kidnapped by the evil Minister Pumpkin. You are the brave Sir Cucumber, who has been tasked with saving the princess from the usurper Pumpkin and his evil Farmies.

Yes, “Farmies.” The game is full of similar puns and they’re actually the highlight of the whole experience. Your sidekick is a persimmon named “Percy,” and there’s a pepper character named “Sergeant Pepper” who, sadly, does not come with his own Lonely Hearts Club Band. With one incredibly weird exception, all of the characters are fruits and vegetables, and most of them have similarly punny names. While they’re not laugh-out-loud funny, they’re a pleasant little quirk that make the game a bit more tolerable.

A few potentially-frustrating moments are actually offset a bit by this sense of humour. For example, in the first level, you have to jump through several hoops to obtain a pass so the guard at the front gates of Saladoria will let you in. The problem is that you finally give him the pass, he sees that it doesn’t belong to you and shreds it. So how do you get in? You leave the area and come back to find him asleep. Yep, all of those things you had to do to obtain that pass were unnecessary, from a plot standpoint. At this point, you sigh and move on, whether you get the joke or not.

Sometimes, though, the game's just not funny.

It’s an adventure game trope that you’ll often end up interacting with everything, or rubbing everything in your inventory against everything in the environment until something happens and you can proceed in the story. Princess Tomato takes this to the extreme, however. On top of the puzzles that sometimes seem to follow no logic at all, the game’s biggest and most frustrating offense is that it forces you to interact with many things multiple times. Normally, in an adventure game, if you check a door once and you don’t observe anything interesting about it, you’ll move on and try something else. At one point in Princess Tomato, you have to check a door three times. Then hit it twice. Then hit it a third time. Then check it a fourth time. The fourth time, you notice a keyhole, which you can unlock to open the door and leave the room. That’s seven commands to look at a door and notice that it has a keyhole. Incidents like this are far from rare, so instead of wandering through the world and using every command on everything, you’ll end up wandering through the world and using every command on everything three or four or five times. This counts as terrible, frustrating design. It sucks any potential fun or amusement out of the game. After a couple of situations like the one described above, you’ll want to blend the population of the Salad Kingdom into a Bloody Mary and call it a day.

Speaking of horrifying, anthropomorphic produce-people imagery, there’s a bit of that included in the game if you think about certain things. At one point, you’ll find a “banana skin” in a pile of trash. Not a peel. A skin. In any other game, that would just be the remains of someone’s snack. In Princess Tomato, it’s evidence of a serial killer. Later in that same stage, you’ll give a grape person some grape juice and he’ll drink it. This is the equivalent of giving a person a unit of blood and watching them stick a bendy straw into the bag and start sucking it down. Maybe he’s the one who murdered that poor banana.

It’s too bad that Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom suffers from such awful design. The jokes and setting help it stand out from other adventure games, and it could have been one of those quirky little hidden gems that get buried under the more mainstream classics but is rewarding for those who bother to dig it out. Instead, Princess Tomato is simply unpleasant to play, and should be avoided. It’s more fun to appreciate the idea from afar than it is to actually play the game for yourself.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (September 10, 2012)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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JoeTheDestroyer posted September 10, 2012:

Awesome review, Roto! I always thought this game looked stupid. Like, Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny stupid. Thanks to your review, it now sounds stupid too!

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