Remembering Kool-Aid Man
By Chris Sanyk
(originally published in March 6th, 2023 - LINK)
Kool-Aid Man was one of those
games that was an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the Atari 2600.
Released in 1983, the year of the Crash. As an 8 year old kid, the Crash didn’t
mean much to me, other than that games got insanely cheap that year, as a glut
of unwanted video games were liquidated by retailers for pennies on the dollar.
The Kool-Aid Man video game was initially a special offer only game. To get a copy, you had to send in proof-of-purchases for Kool-Aid, and wait several weeks for the cartridge to arrive by mail. I don’t remember how many points you had to send in, but we drank a ton of Kool-Aid in my house, and one day our copy arrived.
I found this scanned image of a
print ad from some comic book on the web, and it says you could send in either
125 Kool-Aid Proof of Purchase points, or 30 points + $10. I think each packet
of Kool-Aid drink mix powder was worth a single point, and mixed like a gallon
of Kool-Aid. So it really was a TON of Kool-Aid we had to drink to earn this
People will tell you this game sucked, but I liked it. The game was fun, if simple game. The premise of the game is that there’s this swimming pool full of water, that you, Kool-Aid Man, have to protect from these creatures called Thirsties. Thirsties are… well, they’re thirsty, and they want to drink up all the water in the swimming pool. If that happens, the swimming pool won’t be fun anymore, and everyone’s day will be ruined. But you’re Kool-Aid Man, your job is to quench people’s thirst. So you can save the day by quenching the Thirsties’ thirst, thereby saving the swimming pool for the swimmers. Now, if only someone could fix that huge hole in the wall…
The game consists in rounds
lasting 60 seconds, and if you can clear all the Thirsties in the level before
this time elapses, you’ll get bonus points for the remaining time, and then
start a new level with higher difficulty provided by the Thirsties moving faster
You spend most of your time dodging moving Thirsties. When a Thirsty drinks it stops to extend a long straw to the water in the pool. This is when it is vulnerable. Hitting Thirsties when they are drinking eliminates the Thirsty, and gives you some points. Colliding with a free-roaming Thirsty, or into one of the edges of the screen, will cause you to bounce out of control, giving the Thirsties time to drink more pool water. You can buy yourself a few seconds of invincibility by grabbing ingredients of Kool-Aid: Water, Sugar, and Kool-Aid Mix. Grabbing these changes you into a bigger pitcher of Kool-Aid and makes you invulnerable while a tune plays, and also adds some water back to the pool. Mercifully, you can still knock out a drinking Thirsty if you careen into it while out of control, and if you luck into a power-up it renders you invulnerable, instantly returning control back to you. The fire button does nothing in this game, which is a rare thing.
If you play the game enough, you may notice that the Thirsties behavior is not random — the Thirsties always stop to drink at the same time, in the same order. By learning the pattern, you can gain an advantage over the game and get a better score, which makes the game somehow both more and less re-playable. More because learning the pattern could lead to developing strategies to get through the level while losing less of the water, less because if the game is always the same every time you play it, that can get boring. I only noticed this when I went back to re-play the game to write this review, when I was a kid it seemed like each new game was random, and I never caught on to the pattern.
Unlike most Atari 2600 games, Kool-Aid Man starts a new game immediately upon turning the console on. To give you a second or two to get ready, there’s a sweet intro screen, which features a full-screen animation of Kool-Aid Man crashing through a wall around a typical suburban backyard. The invincibility tune plays, and then the game starts without any delay.
It seemed to me that the game
programmers were a little sloppy by making the game work like this. It always
made me anxious to know that I had to start playing the game immediately upon
turning on the console.
When the game ends, the screen background goes dark, and you lose control over
Kool-Aid Man, and the score stops increasing. But the Thirsties continue to fly
around, and every time they crash into Kool-Aid Man, he’s sent careening around,
bonking off of the walls and other Thirsties, forever. And while it was funny to watch
the defeated Kool-Aid Man bouncing around forever, the noise from this going on
non-stop was pretty annoying, and tended to make you want to turn the game off
as soon as your game was over unless you were going to immediately start a new
Overall, the game was a good test of skill and reflexes, had tight controls, decent balance, and a tough challenge curve. On the other hand, it got old fast, because there was nothing new after the first screen, the game immediately presented everything it had to offer.
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