Thursday, March 25, 2010

Oddities: Cabbage Patch Kids - Adventures In The Park

Having had some success with Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle, Coleco decided to base another children's videogame on a property it already had under license - the Cabbage Patch Kids.  The game was developed by Konami, and also came out for the Japanese MSX computers; an Atari 2600 version exists in prototype form but was never released.  There were at least two different Colecovision editions, with slightly different titles; this screenshot doesn't quite match the official box title, Cabbage Patch Kids: Adventures in the Park:



Younger readers may not be aware of just how big the Cabbage Patch Kids were in the early 1980's -- new manufacturing techniques allowed each chubby little doll's coloration, outfit and features to be randomized and fairly unique, but shipped quantities were insufficient to meet early demand, and stories about physical altercations between shoppers in search of the elusive dolls were common at the time.  Coleco survived the death of the Colecovision during the mid-80's industry crash largely on the back of the Cabbage Patch Kids, but that craze also came to an end -- a more definitive one, in retrospect -- and Coleco went under shortly thereafter.

Like Smurf: Rescue, Cabbage Patch Kids: Adventures in the Park is clearly ancestral to the Mario-era platformer.  The screens do not scroll - instead, the action flips from one screen to the next - but the hazards are many and varied, and the game is more difficult than one might expect.  The player's goal is to guide little Anna Lee from one Babyland General hospital location to the next, heading from left to right -- the gameplay borrows heavily from Activision's classic Pitfall!, though the graphics are significantly more detailed:





Some screens contain no hazards at all, at least on the lower difficulty levels, but some of the challenges are trickier than they appear, especially because the rules of platforming were still in their formative stages.  One annoying convention is that Anna Lee can't survive a "fall" taken when she jumps over an obstacle she is meant to jump onto, even though she isn't landing any lower than she started:



Other screens are challenging for other reasons, not always good ones.  This sequence isn't really difficult to survive, but jumping from one Donkey Kong-esque spring to the next takes careful timing -- it's easy to get stuck in place, bouncing up and down repeatedly while the clock ticks away:


At every 10th screen, Anna Lee reaches Babyland General and celebrates the end of the stage:



But apparently her princess is in another hospital -- there are at least 70 stages, according to online reports, and I'm not sure anyone's documented a complete runthrough of the game.  So without so much as an intermission, Anna Lee is off to the next stage.  A major improvement over Smurf: Rescue is that most of the early screens actually introduce new hazards, though the background graphics are heavily recycled:


This was a fairly late entry in the Colecovision library, and it's a smooth, colorful game with simple but pleasant background music.  A notable visual improvement is the adoption of arcade-style screen fonts, which Coleco often featured in its early artists' renderings of upcoming games, only to rely on the console's standard thin-line font (as seen on the title screen) in the actual releases.

Cabbage Patch Kids: Adventures in the Park is an entertaining little platformer, and the Colecovision technology was within a stone's throw of the NES in many ways; playing this game, it's easy to see Super Mario Brothers as a logical next step, just a few years later.

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