It's been quite a while since I've had time to do any import gaming, so I'm shifting back into gear with a change from my usual PC Engine fare. This summer my excellent brother and sister-in-law ran across a batch of Nintendo Famicom cartridges, and a colorful stack of rectangles has been sitting here awaiting my attention.
I had to start with Nuts & Milk (translated phonetically, Nattsu & Miruku) whose mysterious title manages to sound cute and potentially salacious all at once. With a little research, I discovered that this particular cartridge represents a significant piece of Nintendo history. Produced by Hudson Soft, later co-creators of the PC Engine, Nuts & Milk debuted on Japanese home computers like the MSX series. It was also the very first third-party cartridge released for Nintendo's 8-bit Family Computer system.
Nuts & Milk is an arcade-style puzzle-platform game featuring cute animated blobs with big eyes and feet -- our hero, Milk, is a pink blob, and his enemy, Nuts, is a blue blob (some levels feature multiple Nuts running around). Each level challenges Milk to collect several pieces of fruit, after which the door to his girlfriend's house will open so he can join her for a brief moment of bliss.
Unlike this game's obvious inspiration, Donkey Kong, there's no external force tearing the couple apart at the end of each apparent success;
presumably, Milk's girlfriend eventually tires of his gambling and womanizing and
throws him out. He wanders off in a drunken haze; eventually he gets her new address from her confused, passive-aggressive mother, and their whole insane relationship plays
out another cycle.
Seriously, it's hard to believe that this game was not created specifically for the Famicom, as it wears its Nintendo influences on its sleeve. There are jump-boosting springs and sections of green pipe a la Super Mario Bros., and a countdown bonus for completing each level borrowed from Donkey Kong. The game is also an excellent fit for Nintendo's 8-bit hardware -- the chiptune music is bouncy and charming, and everything is colorful, cartoony and simply animated, taking full advantage of the system. Later NES games sometimes tried to do too much, adding visual detail that became muddy and confusing; Nuts & Milk keeps it clean and simple.
The controls are solid, and the gameplay fairly challenging. Milk's jump distance is powered in part by his momentum, and it's a lot easier to drop down than climb up, making careful route planning a must. There's time/score pressure to finish each level quickly, and while we can earn bonus points by leaping over Nuts, it can be dangerous. There's also no way to dispatch Nuts other than tricking him into falling into the water or getting him temporarily stuck someplace, and he re-spawns almost immediately so timing remains critical.
There's no real story to Nuts & Milk, or rather there's just one venerable classic tale, as old as humanity itself. The player's only goal is to reunite Milk and his best girl, as the levels become progressively more difficult.
Ain't love grand?