Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon (1993)

This week, we're joining the anthropomorphic automobile Putt-Putt and his peppy dog Pup puppy dog Pep for the second adventure in Humongous Entertainment's popular series, as Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon.  Created by Ron Gilbert during his post-Monkey Island years, these games use the SCUMM engine under license and are aimed at children ages 3 to 8.  The target audience makes for simple gameplay, but these are still entertaining little adventures with a charming sense of humor.

The opening features a musical theme song with vocals, brief but rather innovative at the time.  The story begins with Putt-Putt being invited down to the Cartown Fireworks Factory -- and since we've already seen the title, we may presume Mr. Firebird's rockets are rather more powerful than the usual.  Pep is stowed in Putt-Putt's inventory, and the road leads straight to the factory, so we won't be shooing any cows out of the way this time.

Again, there's a ton of fun incidental animation -- kids love to click on things, and every smokestack on the factory does something amusing.  Humongous' artists put a lot of effort into these completely optional, repeating animations, and I'm sure a lot of very young children spent time poking around without ever trying to move the plot along.

But time's a-wasting for the dedicated adventurer, so let's get into the factory and see what's up (according to Putt-Putt's dashboard radio, everyone in town has been invited to the fireworks factory, but Putt-Putt and Pep seem to be the only Cartown residents who've bothered to show up.) 

 Mr. Firebird warns us not to touch the lever with the big "Do Not Touch" sign next to it, but he doesn't know how adventure gamers think, obviously.  We can fiddle about making rockets with Mr. Firebird's help, but we really want to touch the prominent red lever... except Putt-Putt is a good little car, and just says, "I'd better not touch that."  Dang it.

Fortunately, in these games there's always a way to get something to happen without seeming responsible for it, and so it turns out that we can open a window, allowing a butterfly to enter, perch on the ladder, and attract Pep's innocent, enthusiastic attention.  Soon, Pep has pulled the lever and Mr. Firebird is urging Putt-Putt to hang on because he's "going for a ride" (safety last!)  In short order, Putt-Putt and his dog find themselves in space, as Pep dons a dog-sized astronaut helmet he found stashed somewhere.

Putt-Putt is in orbit for a while, and can learn about how far away various planets are from a passing alien tourist booth, but the only reachable destination (as we might have suspected) is the moon, so Putt-Putt goes in for a landing, then starts wondering how he's going to get home.

A spacefaring family of mice, just in from Kansas, suggest that Putt-Putt try launching himself off a flattish rock, but even the moon's weak gravity makes for some challenging escape velocity requirements. Pep runs into a dark cave -- apparently he enjoys these kinds of places, based on our initial meeting in Putt-Putt Joins the Parade -- leading to a game of hide-and-seek in an overhead maze.  This activity is optional -- we can just call Pep back by clicking on the exit arrow in the upper left-hand corner, and while I thought we might need to search the maze for something useful, that never happens.

Responsibility is not one of the things the Putt-Putt games attempt to teach -- we can read the Caution sign at a bridge, but then roll merrily over it until it breaks under Putt-Putt's weight and he falls into a green, mucky river.  He's trapped, but blowing his horn summons Rover, a lunar rover left behind by astronauts from Earth -- he desperately wants to go home too, and gives Putt-Putt a photograph of the moon as a gift in exchange for his promised assistance.

The moon seems to be rather more heavily populated than conventional wisdom would have one believe.  The alien proprietors of Rocket Ice Cream are willing to sell their establishment, a genuine rocket, for ten glowing moon crystals.  We'll also need to track down some parts -- a steering wheel, nose cone, rocket fuel, and key -- to get it into working order.  So this will be a treasure hunt game, in essence.

At the Cosmic Dust Diner, we can play a free round of Bear Stormin', a simple arcade game in which a bear in a biplane dodges balloons, pigs and other obstacles, fun but not required.  Moon City Gas has rocket fuel available, but it seems we will need a container or something as the rocket is a good distance away.

We can visit Moon City Hall, where Governor Moonbeam offers a key for a good deed.  Fortunately there's a little red alien to rescue from the moon goo under the bridge, so that's one part down.  We have to pick one key of several, but if we've forgotten what the rocket blueprint suggested, we can always trade an incorrect key for the right one later.

Some aliens are playing basketball with what appears to be a nose cone as the basket, and we can join in the fun, for fun's sake.  A beauty shop has a machine that performs radical makeovers on the customers -- Putt-Putt can play with this, mixing and matching a variety of cartoon alien heads, torsos and legs to comic effect.  An apartment building features numbered/lettered rooms, populated with creatures doing comical things, again for our amusement.

Putt-Putt can play alien tag -- kind of like whack-a-mole -- and this activity is not optional, as winning earns moon crystals, up to five at a time depending on how well we do at tagging the aliens as they pop up out of craters.  We can play repeatedly, so it's not hard to earn the ten crystals needed to buy the rocket here.

A Simon-like memory color/music challenge earns us entrance past the gate to the opulent home of the Man in the Moon.  He wants a picture of himself, which we happen to have courtesy of Rover, and giving it to him earns Putt-Putt the nose cone (so the basket was just an entertaining diversion.)

In the meanwhile, Rover has found the steering wheel, high up on a ledge where he can't reach it.  He can boost Putt-Putt up, but Putt-Putt's extending arm can't reach it either.  We need to use Pep to drag it closer and claim the last part needed.  Rover goes to pack his things, and now we just need to figure out how to get some rocket fuel.

The Putt-Putt games used CD-ROM technology to support colorful cartoon artwork, especially impressive given the limitations of 256-color 320x200 VGA.

We can observe various constellations using the moon's observatory telescope, and also learn about the planets of the solar system via an animated/narrated wall display.  This educational content is unfortunately wholly optional; it would be nice if we had to know some of this to finish the game, but that might have shut out the youngest members of its target audience.

Putt-Putt buys the rocket ship, and the only item we still need is the rocket fuel.  Putt-Putt is aware he can get it at the gas station, but how do we actually dispense it?  Ah -- clicking on the station's door produces a note from proprietor Robby Radar, who's offsite at Apartment 3A; apparently he can't be bothered to run his own business.  Nor can he stay in one place -- the girl in 3A tells us he's now at 1C (this all seems to be an exercise reinforcing alphabet/number learning, and encouraging youngsters to prepare for an Excel-based future.)  The gentleman at 1C says Robby has now gone to 4C, where we finally track him down, and he agrees to give Putt-Putt some free rocket fuel (with a can, fortunately) back at the gas station.  There's no explanation given for the freebie; perhaps it is some sort of persistence bonus.

Now we have everything needed to blast off... we just have to put rocket fuel in the tank, pop the nose cone on top, attach the steering wheel, and turn the key.  Putt-Putt, Pep and Rover take off and land safely back in Cartown, where everyone was sort of worried but Putt-Putt just had quite a day.  Victory is ours, though it doesn't look like Putt-Putt will be reusing the rocket any time soon and may just barely have made it in without burning up in the atmosphere:

These simple games are quick to play and disarming enough to be entertaining, and... and...


This was my umpteenth escape-the-alien-planet adventure, cleverly disguised as a kid's game!  Rackin frackin' Putt-Putt cute furshlugginer adventure games...

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm ... you need to track down a steering wheel, yet I can see from Putt-Putt's dashboard that he starts the game with one. Why doesn't he just use his own? Or would that be too much like donating one of your own kidneys?

    I also notice that Putt-Putt's steering wheel is elliptical, and lacks any spokes connecting it with the smiley-faced horn/hub in the center. The laws of geometry are for losers!