Style over substance, an unfortunate vice that seems to grip many games released nowadays, as it seems all of the budget for them went to making the game look good not leaving enough for a developed plot or characters. We’ve seen this most recently with the Star Wars Battlefront games from EA, which, while being absolutely gorgeous have some of the most lackluster gameplay I’ve ever witnessed. There are games that do the opposite though, games like Stardew Valley and Terraria have very simple graphics, but have gameplay refined to near perfection, and need I mention the juggernaut that is Minecraft? But style over substance is nothing new, there have been many games in the past that LOOK terrific, but are either awful to play, or just plain boring to play, a few examples are: Shaq-Fu (I know this game get s a lot of flak but it looks pretty darn good), Dangerous Streets on Amiga (looks good in screenshot form at least), and the game we’ll be looking at today… Smurf Rescue on 2600.
This might just be the best looking 2600 game released during the system’s original run period. Every screen is bulging at the seams full of color and detail. There are several unique screens, the first you will see is the starting screen (obviously), which has your Smurf standing next to a mushroom house, in a bright happy forest (the sky is literally pink). The second screen is also in the forest, but there is a fence, yes a deadly dangerous fence that will kill you upon impact, how dramatic. The third screen is in a very green field but there is a river blocking your path, the river is animated quite smoothly so it gets a pass from me. The fourth screen has some very square cliffs but the same background from the third screen, a very low effort screen if I do say so myself. By far the most interesting screen is the fifth screen, the cave, it changes the color scheme from a happy green to a devilish purple with large stalactites hanging from the ceiling and a large spider web perched in the center this is an amazing looking screen. The final screen is in Gargamel’s castle more specifically his dining room where he has Smurfette on a platter, you’ve gotta climb the oversized furniture to save her. All around this is a fantastic looking game, especially for the 2600, but can the soundtrack add to or detract from this greatness.
Ehh… a bit of both actually; all that plays is the Smurf’s theme music, over and over again. The tune is on-key and harmonized well, it even lowers in pitch and gets a rudimentary echo effect when you are in the cave, but the song just gets on your nerves after a while, just like the Smurfs. Otherwise there are a few basic sound effects for jumping and getting hit, but I get the feeling that without that chipper music masking everything this game would be a rather silent affair.
The gameplay is where things begin to drag, all you do in is game is walk right and jump, that’s it, in later difficulties enemies are introduced, but in most cases you can just jump over them too. Your little Smurf is an absolute wimp, if he touches a fence he falls over and loses a life, if he puts a toe in the river he suddenly gets very heavy and drowns, if he touches a sheer cliff face he falls over and dies. To also increase the difficulty instead of adding different obstacles to the existing screens, the programmers just added more of them, suddenly you’ll have to jump over two fences or two rivers, in the next level it will be three fences and three rivers but the enemies will move a bit faster. It’s absolutely barebones and poses very little challenge to the player, the hardest thing about this game is figuring out how to high jump, you have to press up to jump, and when you land then you press up again to do a high forward jump.
Overall this is just a barebones experience with a shiny coat of paint on it, back in the 80’s this might have worked what with the 2600 being so limited in the graphics department, but not today. Thankfully this game isn’t too expensive; you can find them on Ebay for less than ten bucks a pop. Despite the low price I don’t think I can really recommend this game for more casual players since the gameplay is, again, so barebones and lacking, this game gets commuted to the Collector’s Zone for not being all that fun to play.