Thursday, November 12, 2009

Oddities: Strawberry Shortcake Musical Match-Ups

It was 1983, and executives at Parker Brothers and American Greetings likely took note of demographic data indicating that many households contained an Atari 2600 and one or more little girls.  Thus was Strawberry Shortcake Musical Match-Ups born.

The game actually pushes the graphic envelope pretty hard on the 2600.  There's a lot of tricky timing going on to render these simple, colorful images -- given that the machine could only render half a background with copied or mirrored symmetry, and programmers had to use sprites and missiles to render detail or produce multiple colors, there's serious effort invested here at 60 frames per second.  In that era, it wasn't just a matter of dropping Strawberry Shortcake sprites into an existing game engine -- the programmer had to figure out how to draw specific details, like the Purple Pieman's mustache, and display character names onscreen, no mean feat on the 2600.  It's a pretty impressive game from a technical standpoint -- each character has a musical theme played in two-part harmony, and the largeish characters do look more or less like the plastic originals.

The gameplay is very, very simple, aimed at a target audience of youngsters aged 4-7.  The general idea is to match the appropriate head, body and legs to build five familiar characters from Strawberryland, including Ms. Shortcake, Huckleberry Pie, Blueberry Muffin, Lime Chiffon, and the Purple Pieman.  Some game variations require the player to construct a specific target character, others just reward any correct combination.  When the player pushes the fire button, the game plays music -- if an entire character is matched up correctly, the music sounds right too.  Otherwise the game plays a mixture based on the character pieces the player has haphazardly assembled like some kind of Frankensteinian bakery nightmare.

There are additional variations which put a timer into play, or indicate the specific character to be assembled by playing his or her theme song rather than displaying a name.  But it's not a game for the long term -- the game manual's stated objective is to "correctly 'put together' as many Strawberryland characters as you can!"  Which would be a total of five three-piece puzzles, so the game's entertainment value can be exhausted in a matter of minutes.

But I still had fun making the Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak as peculiar as possible.

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