If there’s one thing that Atari consoles have excelled at over the years, it’s bite-sized, monstrously addictive arcade-style experiences.
The woefully underappreciated Atari 7800 “ProSystem” was definitely no exception to this rule, with the majority of its library consisting of excellent arcade conversions. One of the most beloved games in this regard was Food Fight which, while perhaps seemingly not the most technically impressive 7800 game you’ll ever see, is definitely one of the most enjoyable and addictive.
Atari 7800 games haven’t seen many rereleases over the years, unlike those of its older brother the 2600, but all that’s changed with the advent of the Evercade retro gaming system — now you can enjoy Food Fight to your heart’s content thanks to the Atari Collection 1 cartridge!
Food Fight began its life as an arcade game, first released in 1983. It was one of several products of the relationship between Atari and General Computer Corporation (aka GCC) — a partnership which stemmed from a copyright dispute.
GCC had produced a version of Atari’s classic Missile Command arcade machine with improved performance, but claimed copyright on this new version. Atari understandably didn’t like this all that much, so sued GCC to protect its intellectual property rights. Rather than paying up to the tune of $15 million, GCC and Atari settled out of court, with the former agreeing to develop games for the latter. The original arcade version of Food Fight was one of several results of this uneasy partnership.
It didn’t stop there, mind; over the years, GCC continued to work with Atari, ultimately going on to develop the 2600 ports of Ms. Pac-Man and Centipede, a significant number of the Atari 5200’s cartridges and, most significantly for what we’re looking at today, the inner workings of the Atari 7800, including its custom 6502-based processor known as “SALLY”.
The Atari 7800 took an inordinately long time to get to market, however, primarily due to the sale of Atari to the notorious Jack Tramiel in 1984. The 7800, originally set to release in that year, was halted along with all other projects during Tramiel’s initial “evaluation period” of what Atari had been up to — and to make matters worse, GCC found themselves waiting on payment for their work. It would be 1986 before all this was resolved and the 7800 finally hit store shelves, however — and Food Fight was a launch title.
In Food Fight, you take on the role of Charley Chuck, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed young gentleman with a fat head and a penchant for ice-cream. It’s up to you to guide him through a fairground’s “Food Fight” attraction, avoiding the unwanted attentions of four chefs named Angelo, Zorba, Oscar and Jacques, so he can guzzle down as many delicious ice-cream cones as possible.
The mechanics of the game are extremely simple. All you have to do is move Charley from where he starts on the right-hand side of the screen to where the cone is on the left-hand side, at which point the game plays a genuinely horrifying animation of our hero unhinging his jaw and swallowing his tasty treat whole.
Naturally, there are things in the way, however. The playfield is riddled with manholes that open and close at random, and the four chefs emerge from these in an attempt to prevent Charley from reaching his goal. Both Charley and the chefs are able to make use of the piles of food around the arena to fling at one another; touching a chef or being hit by a piece of food causes Charley to lose a life, while hitting a chef with a thrown piece of food causes them to be thrown out of the arena for a few seconds.
In most levels, there’s a limited amount of food in the piles, with bonus points being awarded at the level’s conclusion for any unused food. Certain levels feature watermelon, however, and this can be used in unlimited quantities; consequently, you get no bonus for any remaining watermelon at the end of such stages, further cementing watermelon’s status as one of the most disappointing fruits in the world.
Different food handles differently. Hitting a chef with certain items will cause the food to disappear on impact, while others have a more powerful effect, continuing to move after striking an enemy. Knowing which foods are the most effective becomes essential to success in the later levels when the action accelerates considerably; hitting several chefs with a single well-aimed pie is both immensely satisfying and a means of easily clearing a path for yourself.
Food Fight has an escalating reward mechanic, with the points awarded for the completion of each level increasing the further you go. You also have the option of starting at a later level if you’re confident in your abilities, which provides the ability to immediately score considerably more points — though naturally you won’t have built up an initial stock of points (and perhaps an extra life or two) on the easier stages.
The 7800 version also incorporates several different skill levels independently of starting stage, with this affecting Charley’s initial stock of lives and how many chefs he will face at once. It’s nice to see such a wide variety of options available for such a seemingly simple game; it really makes it accessible for a wide audience, regardless of previous experience with arcade-style games like this.
Food Fight is, as previously noted, monstrously addictive. Its rock-solid implementation of its simple mechanics and its clear presentation make for a game that is endlessly replayable, easy to understand — and very competitive if you compete with a friend or two for high scores!
While it may not look like much from a modern perspective and most certainly is hardly pushing the 7800 to its limit — except perhaps with the number of sprites it’s flinging around the screen at once — Food Fight is definitely a highlight of the system’s library from a gameplay perspective. And it’s a real pleasure to finally be able to enjoy it in an official capacity on a modern system such as the Evercade!
Tips and Tricks
- You get more points the more chefs you defeat in a stage — defeat ten or more and they’re worth 1,000 points each!
- The ice cream cone is worth 500 more points with each passing stage, so in later stages it’s often worth just making a bee-line for your goal.
- You get an extra life at 25,000 points and every 100,000 points after that — but if you start at level 10 or later, you also get an extra life every ten levels!
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