Killer Tomatoes seem ripe for an NES platformer.
To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 12/5/17 – 12/7/17
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes Longplay
I know I’ve mentioned before that I don’t watch much movies or TV, but play video games instead in my free time. So Attack of the Killer Tomatoes comes up on my list to play. I know nothing about it at all, but I just know that this is based off some kind of movie or something. It has to be. I turn the game on and I’m greeted by these introductory story segments, further cementing my suspicion. Now that I’ve finished the game and done the research, yes indeed, this is the game based on a cartoon series that was based on a movie. I guess most people figure these things out the other way around, and I just come about it differently than others. But learning is learning, and now I know something about this strange NES game.
The original Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is, according to the movie poster, a “musical-comedy-horror” movie that debuted in 1978. The concept is well summarized from the movie title alone, and it was meant to be a spoof of B movies. It was produced by Stephen Peace and John DeBello, and also directed by John DeBello. The movie concept was conceived by Costa Dillon, and all three worked together to write the film. It has since become a cult classic and eventually spawned three sequels. Return of the Killer Tomatoes was released in theaters in 1988. The other two films, Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! from 1990 and Killer Tomatoes Eat France in 1991 were both direct-to-video films. An animated series, also named Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, aired on Fox Kids in 1990 and 1991, spanning two seasons and twenty-one episodes. This cartoon served as the base for the NES game.
There are two video games based on Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, both bearing this name. The first game came in 1986 for the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and MSX, and it is an isometric game. The NES version is a different game that was developed by Imagineering and published by THQ. The game was first released in Europe in 1991, then released in the US in January 1992. It was ported to the Game Boy and was also released in 1992. Japan only got the Game Boy port, where it was renamed Killer Tomato and released in March 1993. Altron published Killer Tomato in Japan.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a side-scrolling platformer. Dr. Gangrene has evil plans to take over both San Zucchini and the world with the Doomsday Tomato. Young Chad Finletter sets out to stop these plans. A set of huge killer tomatoes called the Gang of Six attempt to stand in his way. Chad travels through the city streets through Dr. Gangrene’s lair and beyond. Stop the evil doctor’s plans and you win the game.
This game has normal platformer controls. Use the D-pad to move Chad. You do a lot of walking left and right, but sometimes you need to climb a ladder or something by pressing Up or Down. The A button lets him jump. The B button is used for a few different actions. You can hold the B button to run, but for unknown reasons this only works in certain areas in the game. Holding B while jumping lets you leap a little farther. You can also hold B while climbing to move faster. In one place in the game, you can also press B to throw rocks. Holding down B and pressing Select lets you toggle the background music if you want. The Start button is just for pausing the game. There’s a weird glitch that happens when the game is paused. You can press Select to advance the game one frame at a time. That sounds like something that could be exploited but it’s not really helpful.
There is a status bar in the upper-left corner during gameplay. It displays your score counter, number of lives, and your health bar. Chad begins each new game with three lives and three bars of energy out of a maximum of six. There are items found in the game that can increase all three of these things. These are found on the ground and are not dropped by enemies. Fertilizer sacks are the most common item that just give you points. Lunch bags restore health and this amount varies depending on the pickup. Sometimes it is just a couple of health points and other times they give you even more than six. The rare lunch box adds an extra life. The design of these pickups is poor because they all look a lot alike. The lunch bag is folded on the top compared to the sack that looks like it is closed by a drawstring. I had to really pay attention to see if it was worth grabbing. I only came across one lunch box in the game and I couldn’t tell you how it differs graphically from the others.
There are a few enemies that show up in the game and most of them are tomato related. There are tiny little hopping tomatoes as well as larger ones that split into two tiny ones when stomped. There are tomato spiders and other tomatoes that sort of run at you. There are also rats and bats. You can jump on all these enemies to defeat them and you just fall through them when you kill them. A lot of times in platforming games you will bounce off defeated enemies a little, but it makes sense that tomatoes would just get squished. Each enemy deals one point of damage if it hits you, and there are also various stage hazards that can hurt you. A platforming game wouldn’t be complete without bottomless pits that can cost you a life.
The Gang of Six appear throughout the game, but instead of acting as boss battles they are mostly roadblocking enemies and should be avoided. The first one you meet in the game does need to be stomped to get it to run away, but all the other ones stand in your way and try to knock you around. It even hurts to jump on most of them, so don’t even bother. It seems like a strange choice to use these characters as merely stage hazards instead of bosses, but it seems to work fine. You do want to be careful around them because sometimes they can juggle you in the air and hit you multiple times.
Some of the stages in the game are mazes. The manual calls them 3D mazes but that’s a little misleading. These areas are still side-scrolling platforming levels that have a bit of a three-quarters perspective to them. There are branching pathways visible either into the background or into the screen, and you can press Up or Down to walk to the adjacent screen. They may seem difficult but are pretty straightforward as far as mazes go. If you take the wrong path, you won’t have to backtrack too far to figure out the correct way through.
If you lose all your lives, you get to continue. One of the killer tomatoes spells out the message “Try again tomato head” when you lose all your lives. I like that better than the standard Game Over! You get a new set of three lives, but you can only continue twice before having to restart the game.
This was my first time playing Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. It was one of the later additions to my collection. In fact, I bought this copy in the same lot that contained the recently-beaten Kiwi Kraze. That lot was five games for $35, so I did well getting the game for essentially $7. It’s not a common game to find and sells in the $15-$25 range today.
Platformers with limited continues are normally the kind of game I would rate as a 7/10 or 8/10 difficulty. There are lots of way to take damage or die, and you have to play the game repeatedly to get the hang of it. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes gets an average rating because the game is very short. During the first night of playing I got majorly stuck during the third level. It doesn’t look like you can go anywhere at first. You need look for something within the stage that lets you proceed and I just completely overlooked it. The next night I saw my way through that part and ended up beating the game directly from there. I wasn’t recording because I didn’t expect the game to end so soon. I recorded a run the next night in around 15 minutes, only dying once in the first level and again near the end of the game.
Because Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is so short, I’ll run you through the whole game. These are all spoilers, so skip this section if you want to try this on your own. You begin on the streets at night working your way to the right. You have to bop Tomacho five times to progress to the manhole on the far right. This takes you to the sewer maze. Work your way past Ketchuk twice and chase the shadowy figure to a room with a large pipe organ. Here you throw rocks and must break each pipe of the organ to move on. You go back to the streets briefly before going into the tomato factory. Avoid Beefsteak on the floor and the roving robotic arm above and work your way to the top where you will flip a switch on the wall that reverses gravity. This was the part I didn’t get at first. You will need to go up through the ventilation shaft and end up in a small room where you need to bop some enemies for awhile until Dr. Gangreen opens the door ahead. This takes you to the tower. Fang and Zoltan will get in your way at various points as you climb to the top of this maze. Reach the Doomsday Tomato and Chad stops it on his own, loading the end credits. Now that game isn’t quite done yet because you get eaten by a huge tomato and need to work your way through the final maze inside. Just keep moving and get past Mummato when you see him and you’ll get to the end. If you hit a dead end you will probably find a lunch bag to refill your health anyway. Grab onto the large stalactite at the end to crush the tomatoes for good!
Imagineering may not have the best track record for platformer games on the NES, but Attack of the Killer Tomatoes plays well enough and has some neat technical moments that helps it stand out a little bit. Thrown tomatoes help spell out the letters during the credits sequences. Street lights illuminate the character palettes in a clever way. The tomato squishing graphics are oddly satisfying, and splitting bigger tomatoes in two is pulled off seamlessly. The platforming and character movement aren’t the greatest, but may well be the best of their games I’ve played so far. The music is good too.
Despite all the neat touches, the game is only average in gameplay and it is over just as soon as it gets started. It would have been disappointing buying this game when it came out at full price. I really have no idea of the popularity of the cartoon at the time and if that had any bearing on the sales of the game. Word of mouth of the short length of the game might have deterred it from selling well. Both of these could be factors for why the game is a bit on the uncommon side. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is merely NES library filler. Though I’m glad I played it, like I feel about most NES games, I would say skip this one.