Thursday, February 11, 2010

Oddities: Smurf Rescue In Gargamel's Castle

European cartoonist Peyo created the little blue Smurfs (originally known in French as Les Schtroumpfs) before my time, way back in 1958.  Their North American popularity peaked during the early 1980's, with collectible PVC figures, an animated Saturday morning cartoon series, and a 1982 videogame cartridge, courtesy of Coleco.

Smurf Rescue in Gargamel's Castle (there apparently wasn't enough cartridge memory to store the entire title, let alone a title graphic) was one of Coleco's few non-arcade-based licensed games.  It was announced for all three platforms Coleco supported at the time -- the Atari 2600, Mattel Intellivision and Colecovision -- but only the Atari and Colecovision versions actually saw release.

The game is historically interesting as one of the earliest true platform games -- while the screen did not scroll (except as a between-screens transition on the Colecovision), the jumping and ducking gameplay is a recognizable forerunner of Super Mario Bros.  

Unlike SMB, the action in SRIGC occurs at a leisurely walking pace, which is good because the player's Smurf can't take much abuse -- even running into a poorly-kept clump of grass is instantly fatal, so a double-jump is provided for greater altitude and distance.  Here, our brave blue fellow moons a passing blackbird, inviting instant death:

On the easiest skill level, fortunately, the Smurf encounters no real resistance beyond his own clumsiness, so it's a relatively simple matter of leaping over the fences and hillocks standing between him and the beauteous Smurfette:

Seeing as Gargamel himself does not put in an appearance to defend himself, or seem to care much about the impending rescue, one wonders whether Smurfette has even really been kidnapped or is just shacking up in the castle to avoid playing dishmaid to an army of little blue men.  Note the stunned narrowing of her eyes after Mr. Smurf attains the platform -- she looks less than thrilled with the arrival of her successful rescuer:

The Atari 2600 version is much simpler graphically, and the scoring is quite a bit different, but the gameplay is very much the same.  The fences are much harder to jump over, requiring double-jumps to be used exclusively, as there's no tolerance for ANY contact between Smurf and obstacle:

At least Smurfette's final reaction provides more of a reward:

In both games, after Smurfette is rescued the action starts over at the beginning, with a longer/more difficult road to travel; again, this suggests her return to Gargamel's castle is entirely voluntary.  The easiest skill level allows young players to see the whole story without too much trouble, as the game doesn't take more than a few minutes to play from beginning to end.

The Smurfs would appear in several other videogames over the years, but this early title is still their most memorable and historically important.  Simple but playable cartoon adventures have been with us ever since.

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