Wow, had no idea that was the case, I was just a snotty nose kid who loved show biz and was absolutely gutted when chuck e cheese took over the scene when I was living in St. Louis. But kids don't get whet business is all about. I have to say that today's Chuck e cheese is not as cool as it was back then. The ball pit, where you hang out when your out of tokens and try to find tokens that someone else lost in there.
We go to the next game by selecting the middle pig from the menu. But this is not just any pig. This is the pig, the one and only Miss Piggy, or First Mate Piggy as she is cast. Hogthrob may have been the captain, but it's Miss Piggy who was the real star of the show. Indeed, the cartridge art not only depicts her the most prominently, but the title even reads "PIGS in SPACE starring MISS PIGGY". One could say she was the Seven of Nine of porcine science fiction.
This game is "Pastaroids". In case you are wondering, the only resemblance to Atari's "Asteroids" is in the title. The gameplay here is more original than for the previous one. It reminds me most of Activision's Freeway. Piggy is caught in the midst of a pasta storm and must spacewalk to the Swinetrek, which is slowly traversing the top of the screen.
Starting at the bottom, she must avoid spaghetti (which travel left) and meatballs (which travel right) to reach the ship before her shipmates abandon her. Well, OK, according to the manual the crew come back for another pass, but either way is entirely within character for these swine. Accomplishing this causes the screen to be filled with more spaghetti and meatballs the next time the game is played. These obstacles knock Piggy down to the lane below, often right into another obstacle, and so on.
Pressing the joystick button compels Piggy to use her trademark karate chop, which can be employed to destroy oncoming meatballs. Noodles are impervious to all attack, naturally. At the beginning, I was unaware of the karate chop ability, and so, while the first few rounds were easy enough, they quickly became very challenging, and success seemed as much based on chance as anything. Even so, I was once able to complete this mini-game 15 times before expending all my lives. As soon as I discovered the karate chop, the game became much, much easier. If you have extra lives enabled, this is the game you'll go to to restore any lives lost. You don't get as many points as you do with the others, but it is easier and faster to complete than both.
Graphically, Pastaroids is not quite up there with the others, but it's not bad. The depiction of Miss Piggy here is a bit crude (and, arguably, without the spacesuit seen on the cartridge she has bigger problems than pasta), but the motion of the Swinetrek tilting side to side like a ship tossed at sea is nicely implemented with five frames of animation. It's the gameplay that is lacking. Depending how it is played, it either feels tedious or frustrating, but never really achieves "fun".
However, there is one game left. Selecting Dr. Strangepork gives us "Escape from the Planet of the Gonzoids", or as I like to call it, "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Boomeray". The Swinetrek is moving up through a passage, and the player must make sure the ship does not come in contact with any walls or projectiles until it reaches the exit. If the corridor seems to pass by too slowly at times (and it will, especially at first), at your own peril you can speed things up by moving to the top of the screen. I won't try to describe what occurs when the ship collides with an object, but it is an unsettling combination of sight and sound indeed.
The tunnel is always symmetrical, but sometimes divides into two passages. Continuing the game's food obsession, the manual explains that this is a pizza mine and that the Gonzoid robots placed along the walls are throwing deadly pizzas (which once again look like lines... but horizontal ones!).
There are places where destroying the Gonzoids is essential for passing safely, but the way to do so is not straightforward. Literally. The ship is equipped with the bizarre "Boomeray" which fires a dot which moves upward, then curves to the left or right (whichever you moved last), and then downwards. The shot cannot pass through walls. The placement of the enemies above the walls is such that the player must take advantage of the curving path of the boomeray to clear the way.This comes with risk: the returning dot can destroy the ship. Offhand, the only other classic game I can think of where you can be damaged by your own fire is Fortress of Narzod for Vectrex (no doubt there are others).
The progression of difficulty in this game is odd. Each time the game is successfully completed the mine passes a little faster, but also the Gonzoids alternate between firing quickly and slowly. The result is that the second round of this game is easier than the first. After roughly half a dozen rounds, the alternating pattern settles on a moderate firing rate.
There is one significant problem with this part of the game: the layout of mine and the placement of the enemies is the same every single time. Had the developers been able implement a bit of variety here, I'm sure the entire package would have a better reputation, but as it is they may have been pushing their eight kilobytes of ROM to the limit. I can't help but think, though, that with a bit of time they could've implemented something akin to River Raid's procedurally generated level design.
(I would like to add that Dr. Strangepork gets the short end of the stick through all of this. Being the hidden pilot of Swinetrek here and being omitted from the cartridge art entirely, his only real appearance is on the menu screen. Anyways, we still love you, Dr. Strangepork.)
So, looking at the whole, we have three games in one cartridge which aren't too terribly challenging and tend towards repetition quickly. That said, I love that Pigs in Space for Atari 2600 exists. That someone looked at one small piece of a favorite show, and figured, "We can make a game out of this!". And I sincerely enjoy the quirky humor and the small graphical touches. Had I been the person who originally purchased it, I might well have been disappointed, but as a collector, I find it's great.
I would've loved to see Atari produce more adventure, multi-screen games for their mothership console.
To this day, the idea of adaptating movies and shows to the 2600 landscape enthralls me, much more than anything done for modern consoles.
So yeah, I would've loved to have seen more Bond flicks, horror and action titles be adapted in a simple yet fun way for the VCS.