The SMURFS. Arguably one of the most popular cartoon icons of the 1980's. These little blue people took America, if not the world, by storm literally overnight. Once the cartoon aired it wasn't long before stores started loading down their shelves with everything from lunch boxes, vinyl records, figurines, dinnerware, posters, and many other items too numerous to mention. Seriously, anything you could think of to put SMURFS on was available. The Saturday morning cartoon series ran a full 9 seasons (1981-1989) containing 256 episodes.
I loved the SMURFS. Even Atari couldn't keep me from watching my favorite Saturday morning cartoon show. The Atari was on from about 6 until the SMURFS came on which was usually about 9. The first shows aired for about 30 minutes in my area. After the SMURFS I usually tried to watch Saturday Supercade on another channel if it was coming in good. If not then back on went the Atari.
I would pick up SMURF items during the show's run. I had lots of figurines but never could find a Papa Smurf. I had three of the full-length LP vinyl albums and enjoyed them. Some songs I still remember by heart.
"Hey! You forgot 6!"
"You forgot 6."
The the sounds of a rocket ship would take off followed by a pop-rock style beat and music. Yea, you just never forget some things from childhood. The one thing I was blind to was the SMURF games that came out for the Atari 2600. This was due to my owning an Atari 5200 which did not get any games made by Coleco, Mattel, and most other 3rd party software developers that graced the almighty 2600.
I recently acquired a SMURF game for the 2600 titled SMURF RESCUE IN GARGAMEL'S CASTLE. SMURFS? On the 2600? I have to admit my first thought was, "Oh dear. Those poor SMURFS. Even they were not immune to the 2600." Knowing how the 2600 really was not suppose to be capable of decent graphics I only imagined what the game would look like. I cringed to think about how it would play. But I loved the SMURFS so I took a chance on it. Would I see Gargamel? What about Azrael? What was the point of the game? Was I going to run for my life or was I suppose to try to get something back from Gargamel? These questions all popped up in my head because I only had the cartridge. I didn't have the instructions to read that might have gave some insight to what I was suppose to be doing.
On goes the game and I immediately hear that famous "La la lala la la" theme the SMURFS would always sing. And it wasn't that bad. Then I start playing the game. Make it to the next screen and ... couldn't figure out how to jump over that first fence for nothing. I lost all five lives in about 5 seconds...or so it seems. It might have been longer than that. I wasn't counting.
I try another round. Found the jump button! You push UP on the joystick. And if you time it right you can get a double jump that is significantly higher than before. I try the double jump and VIOLA! I'm over the fence. Next screen...a river. No problem. Double jump over that no problem. Next screen. Oooo...a spider! I try just walking down the hole and die. OK. Walking in the hole doesn't work so I tried jumping in it. Success! Pass the spider, jump up the other side and on to the next screen. Another river. I mistimed my jump and ended up taking a bath. Another life lost. I managed to get over it the second time. Next screen. Gargamel's castle. In the top right corner is Smurfette and now it all becomes clear. I'm to strategically work my way through screens, each with its own challenges, to try to reach Gargamel's castle before Smurfette becomes Smurf Stew.
The more I played the game the more I became hooked on it. The game is very colorful and the characters actually look decent. The controls take a bit getting use to but that's commonplace for 2600 games. What is a rarity with most 2600 games is in-game music that plays in the background while there is action going onscreen. Only a few games did that including Pitfall II and Moon Patrol, the latter of which did not do it very well but tried. SMURFS on the other hand managed to get background music and sound effects without either one cancelling each other out. It's like there is a second sound chip in the cartridge somewhere. There probably is truth be told.
What is even more interesting is how well Coleco captured one of the most on-going story lines in the cartoon series. Gargamel, an evil wizard whose schemes almost always never worked, would manage to capture a few SMURFS to try to eat. Eww. It was never clear why the two never got along and I remember a few episodes where the SMURFS actually helped Gargamel and his evil cat Azrael a time or two. By the end of some of the episodes where SMURFS were about to be Smurf Stew the SMURFS captured where always rescued and Gargamel kindly cursing his loss or blaming his cat for them getting away. And that's the plot of the game. To save Smurfette which, surprisingly, was originally Gargamel's creation to lead the SMURFS to Gargamel's castle.
For what it's worth SMURF RESCUE IN GARGAMEL'S CASTLE is probably the first true hidden gem I've come across on the 2600. It's not what you would think. This game is more like the ancestor to the Super Mario Brothers games. It's easily the first, if not the only, side scrolling style platformer for the 2600. Putting it down is hard to do and as you progress the harder the game gets but speeding things up. You will soon be trying to figure out how to jump a fence and avoid a pesky hawk, avoid snakes and rivers, and much more. No, it doesn't scroll but it fits better in that category of gaming than any other as far as I'm concerned.
My original thought on the game before I even played it was quickly laid to rest as soon as I started playing. I understand that this is considered one of the more rare games on the 2600 but should one be found in the wild don't hesitate to pick it up or might miss one of the best games Coleco put out on the 2600. If Donkey Kong on the 2600 is considered their worst then SMURF on the 2600 should be considered their best work. Period. Don't miss it if you find it and if you have it play it more often. Below is a video of me playing the game the first time after I learned the controls. This should showcase all it has to offer and why I feel it is a 2600 hidden gem.
Enjoy the video and I hope you enjoyed this post. And have a SMURFING Day!