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Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (NES) artwork

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (NES) review

"Considering its length, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes packs a surprising number of mind benders into the mix. There are the organ-playing Ketchuk, the maze-like corridors that immediately precede him, the reversed gravity in the third stage, and other threats too horrifying to describe. It feels like half the areas you experience have some little quirk to them."

Somewhere between Better Homes and Gardens and When Animals Attack lies another odd little series from television history, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. A spin-off of the wacky 'horror' movie of the same title, this little feature was presumably about a lot of characters I never had the displeasure of meeting. Why Imagineering decided to develop a title based off the short-lived series, and why THQ decided this would be a gold star for its early portfolio is beyond me, but somehow the game got made.

Packed with the emotional complexity of a trip to the bathroom, this gem tells the story of a hero named Chad, the nemesis of an evil professor who plans to destroy the world with a giant tomato rocket or some such nonsense. He has compatriots in the task, too, a fearsome group of tomatoes with awe-inspiring names like Tomacho, Ketchuk, and Zoltar. They're all big, red, and anxious to turn mankind into a collection of corpses. Being the great guy that he is, Chad won't stand for such things, and so begins his epic quest to rid the world of killer tomatoes, the tomato rocket, and the bitter old professor.

Accomplishing this goal is both simpler than you might imagine, and much more difficult. On the simple side of things, you have the game's length. It's approximately 5 areas long, and that's counting the first one that Chad can breeze through in somewhere around a minute. The second stage is longer and requires more caution, as there are plenty of greasy ledges that can dump him into the soup if you're not keeping a tight grip on the controller. Then there's the agonizing third stage (that's where the challenge comes in), which is enough to make you see red, if you haven't seen enough already. From there, it's a downhill roll to the game's end. Of course, for those who want a 10-minute platformer, this is just the thing.

Yes, it's a platformer. I won't give you too much of a run-through on the details or I'll have described the whole game and removed half the point in playing it, but let me say that there's really not a lot of meat to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. The first area is perhaps the most enjoyable, a straight-forward jog along a street freshly exposed to the horror that is bouncing red fruit. You'll quickly find that Chad's sole weapon in the game (except for in a single boss battle) is his set of tennis shoes; our blue-clothed hero must hop on almost every foe. And if the opponent can't be defeated by hopping, he most likely isn’t going to perish at all.

As far as enemies go, there are tomatoes and then there is everything else. The tomatoes are a lively crew. In addition to the boss fellows I mentioned earlier (each of which is quite unique and forces Chad to employ a different strategy), there are the routine foes. Some wobble blindly about on the ground, others equip themselves with armor, and a few even hop around the air like popcorn kernels left on a hot grill. The 'everything else' I mentioned is comprised mostly of robot arms, acid droplets, and bats. These hazards are enough, though, because while Chad certainly moves more readily than some characters from games long forgotten, there are definitely moments where you'll swear he's wearing bricks instead of sneakers (such as when he plunges into a pool of acid he should easily have been able to avoid). If you've played The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants, you might wonder if you're playing the same title all over again. The controls feel precisely the same. They're just competent enough to inspire hope that you'll be in charge, just awkward enough to lead to premature deaths at an alarming rate.

If you can cope with hopping about, though, you'll find you've just about won the game. This is because the majority of threats are easily avoided or demolished, with a little patience on your part and some fancy footwork on Chad’s. Also, even if the plucky hero happens to die, he can still continue. The game provides him with three credits, and the same number of lives for each, so Chad is a bit like a cat in that he ends up with around nine lives to complete the whole routine. When he gets to the third stage, though, he might lose them all a few times over before you figure out the puzzle that will allow him to proceed.

Ah, the puzzles. Considering its length, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes packs a surprising number of mind benders into the mix. There are the organ-playing Ketchuk, the maze-like corridors that immediately precede him, the reversed gravity in the third stage, and other threats too horrifying to describe. It feels like half the areas you experience have some little quirk to them. I have to admire the effort on the part of the developers. It's a nice touch.

Also nice is the game's visual presentation. The title screen oozes personality, and the cinema that follows does a good job setting up the story with an ounce of humor. It's nothing like what we've seen in Playstation games since, but the setup for Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is more memorable than the usual 8-bit fare, just the same. A small chuckle is almost guaranteed. What sort of freak names a tomato minion Zoltar?

When you're not looking at the opening scenes or title screen, though, you're left with the rest of the game. Here the visuals impress a smidgeon less. While the first area is nicely detailed with good shades of blue and the outline of a cityscape (a fitting opener to the tale of a city mired in such horror), most of the rest of the game is typical platformer fare. The only time you have reason to notice much of anything is when you're trying to direct Chad through the drably-illustrated maze, which involves heading into the doors behind him or the paths that lead toward the screen in a vague stab at 3D.

Then there's the sound, which frankly is somewhat annoying. It's really fast and blippy, and no single track stands out as unique. They all blur together like a droning college professor. Fortunately, nothing is so bad as to make a person's ears bleed. It's all very manageable, more because of the game's length than anything.

Unfortunately, that's a lot of what Attack of the Killer Tomatoes comes down to: length. It's a decent pleasure while it lasts, not the epitome of videogame greatness but certainly not awful. Other than the third stage and its frustrating layout, there's not much to complain about. Then, you suddenly realize it's all over. The end result is that this is one title you'll not likely spend more than an hour or two of your life playing. And in that brief span of time, you may have beaten it into total submission. Pick it up if you find it bundled with other games on eBay, or for 99 cents in the bargain bin at your local game store. You won't be sorry. Spend much more than that and you'll find yourself wondering if you've got tomatoes for brains.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (October 08, 2004)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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