If you're a regular X-E reader, you've probably noticed that I regard the Gremlins flicks in the way most people regard their chosen religious icons. I was a scant five-years-old when the first film hit theaters in 1984, so suffice to say, I can't remember a time in my life where I wasn't positively obsessed with Gizmo, and to lesser degrees, Rand Peltzer and Mr. Wing. Having seem the gamut of Gremlins rip-offs and imitators, I can safely say that no movie has even come close to pulling off this kind of premise with Spielberg's (and later Dante's) success. Gizmo was cute, the Gremlins were horrific, and the story managed to seamlessly blend comedy into a scarefest so well that audiences of virtually every age could enjoy it. Well, at least with the first flick -- Gremlins 2 is more of an acquired taste for some, but any movie that scripts a waiter dressed like a Mountie to cut antlers off of a moose-shaped chocolate mousse for Haviland Morris is absolutely aces in my book. GIZMO CACKAH.
Forget about the sequel though, today we're stuck in that 1984 boom year. Gremlins-mania had swept the nation, ultimately garnering 150 million in ticket sales within the States alone, and spawning a legion of kids who lived by the Gizmo and died by the Stripe. I was one of those kids -- with a Gremlins sleeping bag for naptime and assorted Gremlins toys and coloring books for awaketime, I was a walking mogwai promo billboard. If something said "Gremlins" on it, I had to have that something. Hell, the novelization of the movie was the first "real" book I ever read. Yeah, they made a novel out of Gremlins, and it was stretched beyond belief. Putting a film that could be summed up in six sentences into book form was a problem, so the author would spent 25 pages "inside the mind" of "Stripe," the leader Gremlin, detailing how jealous the creature was of Gizmo and how badly it wanted to "chomp its limbs off." Oh well, at least it came with an eight-page full-color photo spread. Phoebe Cates was my earliest pinup. Wait, that was Zach Galligan. Shit.
In the later part of Gremlins' merchandising blitz, Atari released a spinoff video game for their Atari 2600 system. Then they made another for the Atari 5200. Today, we review both. See, "both" is "bold" because "both" is "important." Obviously, these weren't Atari's top drawer titles, but they both sold well and have stayed in the memories of most everyone who ended up with the cartridges on some long ago Christmas morning. While there were tons of games released both for the 2600 and 5200 systems, Gremlins was especially interesting for the stark differences between the two versions. They're completely different games, but as we'll see while reviewing the 2600's edition, that's a good thing.
Still, considering the limited technology, and when compared to the brunt of Atari's other titles, the Gremlins games were actually decent. They followed the plot of the movie as best they could, I guess, and while nobody would mistake them as past "game of the year" candidates, it's always nice to have a cartridge on hand that lets you make a vaguely defined Billy Peltzer keep falling mogwais from landing inside hamburgers. Yehup. Emulators have kept the legend of these games alive, so if your curiosity becomes even mildly negligibly kinda sorta piqued, you might as well give 'em a shot. With the water tucked away and Barney the Dog strung up in holiday lights on the porch; we march on, we review, and we make fun of shoddy Gizmo graphics...
Article continued below advertisement:
Visit our sponsors to support the site!
Dig that title screen. We'll start with the 2600 version, because, you know, it came first. The character icons on the bottom of the screen extend an ominous omen regarding what we're about to see, but graphical wizardry aside, the game was a perfectly fine waste of time. It's incredibly simplistic -- evidently another Atari rush job to get the Gremlins game on the market while it was still culturally significant, but unlike some of the big flops, at least this one doesn't have glitches that render it unplayable. It's more like two separate "little games" rolled into one, each based on a more recognizable game's schematics. Uh oh, I'm trying to get wordy. That means I'm going to misspell something soon. Before we take a look at the playing field, let's meet the cast of characters, and their assorted knickknacks!
Yes, that's supposed to be Billy Peltzer on the left. Gizmo and his mogwai pals arrive in a decisively incorrect neon green hue, while the Gremlins themselves are only recognizable to those not clouded with memories of Greg Brady's accursed Hawaiian Tiki amulet. And then there's hamburgers! Lots and lots of hamburgers! The burgers are more important to the story than you might expect, but then again, you probably would expect crappy hamburger graphics to play a big part in a Gremlins Atari game.
Oh, see that thing that looks like a clay pot? A clay pot it's not. Those are actually the mogwais' cocoons, where they metamorphose into hedonistic, bloodthirsty Gremlins. The transformation unfolded fantastically in the movie, but here, they cocoons just sort of "blip" into green scab graphics meant to represent Gremlins. That's about it, folks. Suddenly, that room with the malleable orange square in Adventure doesn't seem so mundane. Here's the setup...
There's only two stages in the game, which alternate and repeat forever and ever, growing harder with each passing round. In the first, you're stuck in the middle of Kingston Falls -- after midnight -- and because God hates you, there's hungry mogwais falling from the sky. You know what happens when a mogwai eats after midnight, right? Good. What's your goal? Oh boy -- portraying an arms-outstretched Billy Peltzer, you've gotta catch the mogwais before they hit the ground and eat the suspicious quantity of hamburgers littering the pavement. Did I actually claim that this follows the movie plot? Okay, I was wrong. Still, it would've been plenty interesting if Spielberg made a movie about a kid who was forced to spend all of eternity catching falling hamsters and keeping them from eating hamburgers. Who wouldn't pay to see that?
You can't "die" in this stage, but there is a downside for those who aren't up to snuff with their mogwai-catching skills. After one of the beasts eats a burger, he'll make a cocoon. More honestly, he'll just fall to the bottom of the screen and morph into a clay pot. Either way, it's bad news. When eight mogwais are able to circumvent Billy's substantial, condor-comparative armspan, you're forced to move on to the second, tougher stage. And you can "die" there. You can also "murder Gremlins with a gun" there. Let's check it out...
It's a Gremlins onslaught! In a sort of Space Invaders clone, Billy uses an invisible gun to shoot sporadically visible bullets at the monsters -- if he succeeds, it's bonus point time. If he fails, and one of the Gremsters catch him, well...looks like Phoebe might end up with Judge Reinhold after all. By the way, Billy's "shooting pose" is phenomenal -- with a slight skew of one's view, it looks more like he's holding his hands behind his head in nonchalant fashion while pissing all over the bad guys. Each of these rounds only lasts for eight Gremlins -- the same mogwais you idiotically neglected to catch in the first round finally hatch, and if Billy misses one now, he loses a life. Don't kill Billy, he's endured enough hardships with that rusted old Volkswagen.
After successfully MOIDERING the eight Gremlins, Billy advances to the next round, which even to the trained eye looks a lot like the first round. The funny thing? If you die twice in round two, the same exact thing happens -- only when you get back to the Mogwai-catch stage, it's set on "easy." In Atari's Gremlins, only the worst players are rewarded. I'm not sure if the game even had an ending...if it did, it had to be after round #899, and by the time anyone could've gotten that far, the Nintendo had already come out. No point then. I suppose you really had to be a Gremlins fan to forgive the game's simplicity and repetitiveness, or more fortunately for the game's sales considering the target demographic, five-years-old. Luckily, the better game was yet to come, arriving soon after and exclusively for the Atari 5200. Despite being a totally different game, it's also titled "Gremlins." I think Atari was just trying to confuse the market into forgetting about that damn E.T. game.
Check out the swank title screen -- no longer one-colored bastions of graphical failure, the Gremlins look more realistic than ever. This game's way more involved than the previous, involving some genuine strategy while supplying plenty of unexpected obstacles and surprise twists. Hahah, you believed me. No, it is a lot better; sorta reminds me of the classic "Food Fight" game, which I had for the Atari 7800. Speaking of which, I never got to try this version of Peltzer's conquest as a kid -- I skipped an Atari generation, going from my older brothers' 2600 straight to the 7800 as a Communion present. Religious riches. The 5200 was all Greek to me, and I've only ever played this one on emulators. Here's Gizmo, the other characters, and the other characters' gizmos...
As you can see, Billy's looking a tad more himself. Armed with a machete, his job is to heard the mogwais into cruelly small cages while slicing any of the poor rodents that've turned into Gremlins -- something which completely isn't their fault, I should add. Billy's just erasing his mistakes. Mr. Wing sad. Gizmo and pals also look better this time around, though I've kept the nagging feeling that the mogwais are short a few appendages. They Gremlins themselves still look like crap, literally, but at least it's not crap that was just run over by a truck this time.
In the upper left: puddles of water. When the monsters hit that shit, they multiply. The rest of the icons represent food for the mogwais to eat. Don't let them -- it's after midnight, and eating will just make them turn into piles of not-runover crap. I'm trying to determine what kinds of food are shown, but the best I can come up with is a slice of cake, edible soap, and the world's largest pimento-stuffed olive. Must be another of Rand's inventions. Love the Bathroom Buddy. Oh wait, that's not food, that's other stuff. Oh well, I like the paragraph too much to correct it.
Your goals are semi-fold. You must collect every mogwai on the screen and lock them in the cage shown on the upper right, a feat that grants you mucho points and keeps the creatures from doing anything stupid like multiplying or eating after midnight. And boy, are those mogwais hungry! You'll also have to fend off an ambitious troop of Gremlins with your sword. It seems so easy at first, but things grow much more complicated as the game progresses...
See? Look what you're up against now. First, there's obstructing walls that can easily box you in a corner to fight against a squad of speedy demons. You'll have to be a quick slicer to make it out alive. There's also a refrigerator which, for reasons never adequately explored, shoots ice cubes out onto the floor at random intervals. So even while fighting off the increasing number of Gremlins, you must continually throw mogwais in the cage to preclude them from multiplying and transforming into your certain death.
You're afforded a few "flash cube" power-ups, which let Billy stun the surrounding Gremlins into a temporary standstill so he can KILL THEM ALL TO DEATH WITH THE MACHETE. Meanwhile, the caged mogwais illustrate their disappointment by growing to sizes larger than anyone else on the screen -- again, for reasons never adequately explored. Oh, and there's a popcorn maker! The thing spills popcorn everywhere, and the mogwais invariably catch the scent. Keep them away from it, or you'll end up with more Ghoulies-inspirers trying to murder you.
Billy's got one last trick up his sleeve. See that blue, clamshell-like thing by the upper border in the middle? It's a television. When Billy turns it on, the mogwais and Gremlins all gather around to watch their favorite shows. It's a good thing Billy knows the mogwais' and Gremlins' favorite shows. This gives you an opportunity to sneak up and do your stuff. Still, you're not out of the woods yet...
AHHHH! Too many Gremlins! Really, once you've gotten the hand of the game, this is the only way you're going to lose lives. Without fail, the Gremlins will ultimately grow to numbers much too high for one Billy to handle. Too bad this thing wasn't a simultaneous two-player deal. Two players would equal two Billies! Unlike the 2600 version, you must remain somewhat conscious to last long in this one. On a related note, the horizon we're looking at up there is supposed to be the Peltzer house, no? If so, why are there mogwais and Gremlins trapped in the corner foundations? Didn't the same shit happen to Kate's dad around Christmas? Oh well, they nailed enough movie continuity with that pesky machete that appeared in the film for all of six seconds.
Believe it or not, there's been a tremendous amount of Gremlins games over the years. One version, for computers, was kind of like a roleplaying game that thrust danger at Billy by making him choose between inspecting his bedroom garbage pail or coat rack. Also of note was Gremlins 2 for the Nintendo, a fairly well-received title that pitted Gizmo against bats, bottomless pits, and gigantic tomatoes. For those wondering: no, there were no giant tomatoes in Gremlins 2. There was one that was genetically enhanced so as not to squish during transport flights, but it was sized like any regular tomato. I'm absolutely serious, that was really in Gremlins 2. I told you, they're the greatest movies ever made.
As for these Atari games? Well, they're not the greatest games ever made, but I like 'em. I'd also like rotting dead birds if someone put Gizmo stickers on them, so consider your source and tread carefully. You don't understand? You are not ready.
RETURN TO X-E!