A curious part of growing up in a small, European country is constantly seeing American pop culture everywhere that you do know about, even though it doesn’t (and probably shouldn’t) exist where I come from. The Kool-Aid Man is a great example. I have often seen comics and posters of the TV mascot bursting through walls, yet I am pretty sure they don’t sell Kool-Aid here. What I also have is an Atari 2600 game of the Kool-Aid Man, which seemed ideal for this month dedicated to games used as advertisements for products.
In Kool-Aid Man you play as a jug of Kool-Aid and it is your task to preside over a pool of water. Little creatures appear at varying speeds and height from the edges of the screen and travel in a horizontal line across the playing field. You have to dodge these creatures and keep an eye on them, for sometimes they will take out a straw and begin drinking from your pool.
Each level of the game has you grab the miscreants trying to drink until you have sufficiently depleted their forces or the timer runs out. After you have stopped 30 of them, the game moves on to the next level of difficulty. As with other Atari games, the main goal here is to get the highest scores.
Making this process more difficult is the bouncing. When you bump into an enemy that isn’t currently drinking, it bounces you away with some remarkable physics. This can be chained together if one enemy bumps you into another or you bounce off a wall straight into another foe. You will have 0 control over all this and won’t get to move Kool-Aid Man again until nothing touches you for a few seconds. With some bad luck, this can be a thoroughly frustrating mechanic. However, I do enjoy the comedic sound-effects and it can be hilarious to look at just how impressively the game is beating you.
You can claim the upper hand by collecting little power-ups, which turn the little jug sprite into the proper Kool-Aid Man. This renders you immune to being bounced and the larger sprite makes it a lot easier to catch thirsty enemies. However, this empowered state lasts about a nanosecond, after which the enemies can freely bully you again.
Kool-Aid Man is a surprisingly good Atari game to add to your collection if you enjoy setting new high scores and outdoing yourself and your friends. It doesn’t offer much variety, but the idea of intercepting enemies trying to drink your dwindling supply of water is a fun one. This does make me question how well it holds up as a marketing vehicle though. You barely get to see the mascot at all and the water you protect is a clear blue. Were they perhaps worried that making the water red would make it look like blood? The struggles of advertising in the Atari Age, we’re seeing it right here people.