Monday, 15 October 2012

Pierre le Chef is...Out to Lunch

System(s): Super Nintendo, Amiga, Amiga CD32, Game Boy

Genre: Platfomer

Developer: Mindscape
Publisher: Mindscape

Release Dates:
North America - November 1993
Europe - September 1993

Note: Review is for the SNES version only

The early 1990’s, games were still growing as a medium and were beginning to evolve to become more complex. Many games in the 80's had been simple, arcade style shooters, beat em’ ups or platformers. The legacy of arcade cabinets and their domination of the games industry in the 1980’s left a lasting impression on games in the early 90’s. Some of the more successful of these earlier games were designed to be easy to pick up and play, with short levels and timers so as to encourage people to keep pumping coins into the slot. Out to Lunch (Or Pierre le Chef is: Out to Lunch, to give it it’s full title) is one of many that kept this style of gameplay well into the 1990's, but with the added focus of being an educational game. Out to Lunch was released on the SNES in 1993 by recently defunct UK developer and publisher Mindscape, before being ported to the Amiga the following year. It’s interesting to note that the developer is known for it’s educational games. It’s likely this was the purpose of Out to Lunch, as the game is simple, colourful, and features a variety of areas based on real-life places and types of food.

Pierre le Chef is touring the world preparing his dishes, but his ingredients have escaped and he must capture them. Pierre must watch out for bacteria, insects, and his arch-rival, Le Chef Noir. Noir, an evil chef jealous of Pierre’s success, wants to ruin his career by releasing all of his gathered ingredients. It certainly won’t win any prizes for best plot, but it was broadly representative of games of the time, where plot and narrative take a back seat in favour of gameplay.

In any case, within each of the regions in the game, Pierre goes running off to in order to track down his food. There is a critter based on the speciality of each stage area - for example, in Switzerland, the first stage, it’s a piece of Swiss cheese; in the West Indies it’s Pineapples. The sprites are nicely drawn and imaginative, and the game is very bright and colourful. Lumbering, slow witted potatoes, eggs that sprout helicopter blades for flying down from ledges, and tomatoes that bounce around – the game has a certain cartoonish, adorable charm to it. The animation looks good too; ingredients will have birds flying around their head when stunned and Pierre’s arch nemesis visibly lets out a mean snigger as he releases your food. There are also some fairly nice backgrounds.

The platforming action consists of multiple short levels, spread over the individual stages. The basic premise is simple: you guide Pierre around the levels, capturing cartoon ingredients and depositing them in a cage in order to progress. To do this, the game gives you multiple tools such as bags of flour you can throw that stun enemies. When Pierre is hit by his escaped food, they temporarily stun him and release any others he is currently holding, which generally means you want to be careful not to bump into any enemies or other food when taking them to the cage. When you do capture enough critters, a warp door appears to the next level, although if you want extra points added to your score you can capture more ingredients.

It also provides some interesting obstacles. Bacteria and bees show up later in the game, and turn the ingredients they touch hostile. If any of the infected food touches Pierre, he loses a life. Fortunately, the evil ingredients can be turned back into normal ingredients by stunning them, but if they are jumped on before they change back, they are removed from the level. Unfortunately, enough can be removed to make it impossible to beat the level, which can be very frustrating. The real challenge in this game comes from the time limit, as opposed to the enemies. The time limit is quite severe at times, and it might take several attempts early on to get to grips with it.

Players can pick up cakes and other collectables in order to boost their points total, which also increases based on how quickly you complete the level and how many ingredients you capture beyond the required number. Between certain stages, if the right goals are met, there will be bonus a stage where Pierre tries to collect as many bonus items as he can before time runs out. The game gives you a high score based on these points when the game is finished, either by losing all your lives or by completing it. It will give you a rank based on your score as well. The game also has the standard two player alternating mode that was common for games at the time.

Platforms are arranged in such a way that you need to find a path, usually up above, to reach many of the ingredients. Then there is of course Pierre’s aforementioned arch-rival to look out for. Le Chef Noir is generally not too tough to deal with, more of an inconvenience at best. You will get a brief dastardly chime to inform you of his appearance, after which he will attempt to open your cage and re-release your food. This does become considerably tougher to deal with in the later levels. Springs will help or hinder your ascent to a higher platform – having an ingredient jumping up and down on one can be tricky to deal with if your timing is poor with the net. Out to Lunch is not an easy game, but it's just easy enough to appeal to a large audience, particularly children. That’s not to say the game isn’t fun for adults too. But be aware that Out to Lunch is not a particularly deep game. In fact, the lack of depth and variety in the gameplay hurts it to an extent, and older players are more susceptible to losing interest. It’s definitely a game you want to play in short bursts.

The music in Out to Lunch is catchy in the extreme. The title music in particular is so happy you could play it during a funeral and everyone would stop crying and start bobbing their heads side to side. The sound design is definitely one of the better elements in the game, with every jump, capture and teleportation sounding fantastic. Swishing nets, zapping noises etc. all add to the ultra cuteness. Also, there is nothing is more satisfying than jumping on a tomato or mushroom and hearing it splat. Sometimes you feel tempted just to bounce on an enemy like a trampoline to hear that sound and forget that you’re supposed to be playing the game. Or at least I did, but that might just be my own tendency not to stick strictly to objectives!

Overall, Out to Lunch is not the deepest of titles, gameplay wise, but then it’s not really intended to be. Clearly, as with much of Mindscape’s other titles, Out to Lunch was made with a younger audience in mind, but is easy for anyone to pick up. The colourful graphics, hand-drawn sprites and upbeat, catchy tunes will keep younger gamers entertained. The gameplay is fun and can at times be challenging in the later stages, especially for younger players. However, if you are looking for anything other than a couple of hours of boredom relief, needless to say you won’t find it from this game.

+ Charming, colourful sprites and backgrounds add character to the game
+ Great sound design and catchy, upbeat music
+ Easy to pick up and play

- Can be a bit too challenging for it’s target audience
- Gameplay is not particularly deep
- Time limit can be quite frustrating

Overall Score

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