Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom -
Hudson Soft, 1990
Now there's a title for you: Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom. If ever there was a game to make you believe
that game developers were using hallucinogenic substances to come up with
their ideas, this is it. If I didn't own the game myself, I'd think it was
something I dreamed up as a kid. The concept is really something else. You
play the role of Sir Cucumber, a knight of the realm. The evil Minister
Pumpkin has joined forces with the dreaded Farmies (you're a veggie, remember),
stolen the Turnip Emblem, and kidnapped Princess Tomato. You have promised
the late King Broccoli that you would rescue the princess and defeat the
Pumpkin and, in return, would receive the princess's hand in marriage and
the kingdom. Your faithful and (sometimes) helpful companion is a young
persimmon named Percy, the greatest "Finger Warrior" of his village.
As 8-bit NES games go, this one was fun and very unique. It was an RPG-type
game, where the goal was to collect and use items, talk to people, and
mentally solve puzzles rather than to frantically push buttons. Essentially,
your game was one mini-quest after another.
This game was also unique for its day in that you never saw the main character
until the game's end. The screens were from Sir Cuke's point of view.
The difficulty level wasn't terribly high, but it wasn't childishly simple
either. There were three big mazes in the game - Parsley Forest, the cave
on Carrot Plateau, and the Basement Maze of Minister Pumpkin's Castle.
These were maddening to get through. While you can find a compass in the
first maze, there are no maps available or any hints on how to get through.
And the mazes are more than simply "find the exit". For example, in the
Parsley Forest, you have to find the compass, a tin can, and a shovel
BEFORE you take on the enemy character Saladron (who, by the way, is shaped
like a dressing bottle and has a knife and fork for hands).
I told you this game was messed up.
The battles were very kid-friendly and the opponents weren't very scary
(unless you were a veggie). Minister Pumpkin commanded the evil Farmies,
a brigade of Dice-O-Matics, and other monstrosities like Bananda (a bunch
of banana/snake monsters) and the aforementioned Saladron. Instead of
using swords or magic spells (or even elemental attacks), your buddy Percy
battled the opponent using "Finger Wars", a modified Rock-Paper-Scissors
fight. If you lost in Finger Wars, you usually were sent back to the start
of the level. Nobody really got hurt, and there was no violence to speak
of, so no parents could complain.
Here's how the first level started out, just to give you an idea: you
begin in a field where there is a red flower, nothing more. Moving forward,
you enter the Celery Forest, where there is a crying baby Persimmon who
desperately needs water. You can't help him now, so move forward again.
You'll come to a crossroads in a spinach field, with a signpost that lists
three destinations - Patch, Town, Lake. Choose the Lake and you'll arrive
at Lake Quench. You can take enough water for three drinks. Looking and
Checking, you'll spot the Fern Birds and their nest, which contains a
gold coin. Return to the forest, give water to the baby, and he'll reveal
himself as Percy, your travel buddy for the game, who constantly refers
to you as "Boss". You'll use the rest of the water on Prince Lettuce and the Melons later in this level. Level four will bring you back to the spinach field from level 1 once again, but things have changed: Prince Lettuce was harvested, as were most of the Melons (with one exception: Watermelon was too ugly to be harvested by the Farmies - who knew they were so discerning?)
You and Percy have to solve every puzzle set before
you, whether it's escaping from jail, rescuing Nutty (the chief of Peanut
Village's daughter), or sneaking into Sopville disguised as Farmies.
Percy is sometimes very helpful (selecting his name on the menu sometimes reveals a necessary clue you needed or solves the task at hand), but other times he'll complain at you or ask "What should we do, Boss?"
This game had to have the most unique mini-quests of any RPG. Here's
an example from Level 2: Arrive in Orange Park, where an Garlic Wanderer
asks you to get him coffee. You have one coin, so spend it at the coffee
shop. Return with coffee, he'll demand a donut. You have no other money,
so you can't buy one. Good thing, because the coffee shop is all sold
out, and the donut shop is closed (but the Cabaret might have some). Talk
to Mr. Pear of the Antiques shop. He'll ask you to deliver a letter to
Miss Peachy at the Deli. Peachy gives you a sandwich. Return to the Antiques
shop, and Mr. Pear will exchange your obsolete gold for coins. Search
the strip of shops, and find the Cabaret Celery. Oh no, they're out of
donuts too! You finally discover an Asparagus Donut in the trash in the
restroom of the Cabaret. But by the time you find it, the Garlic has vanished
(you find him in the jail in the next level). Once you can finally deliver
the donut, the Garlic has forgotten what he wanted to tell you in the
first place, so he gives you his treasure - a grenade he's carved from
a bar of soap.
I've never had so much trouble finding and delivering a freakin' donut.
The castle level in particular reaches a frustration past even the "our
Princess is in another castle" point. It seems like you have to chase
Princess Tomato all over the castle, and she "just left" wherever you
go. You chase her from a room, to the shower, to the garden, to the prison,
and then she seems to have vanished without a trace... but there's a mysterious
old lady Tomato... and if you don't do the events in the exact order,
the next appearance of Madam Tomato won't happen until you do.
Hudson put a few references to some of their other games in here (subtle marketing technique? You make the call). In Nut Park, there is a statue of the infamous Hudson Bee, familiar to anyone who played a lot of 8-bit NES games. Percy even comments that although "the Hudson Bee means "Bonus" in other games... not this time, Boss." And when you're lost in Pumpkin's Castle, if you talk to Percy he'll comment, "I finished Milon's Secret Castle in two days! ...Just kidding."
There are also some Japanese cultural references. The antique shop carries
a Maneki Neko (Japanese Lucky Cat), except there is a dollar sign instead
of kanji on its golden charm. Kanji adorn Clover Juice and other items.
The cops in the Jail level carry Japanese paper lanterns with kanji on
them. The Resistance troops look like samurai, despite being named Major,
Captain, Sergeant, and Chief.
Of course, small kids didn't understand all the humor in the game. The
warden of the jail is none other than "Sgt. Pepper", who turns from a
green pepper to a red pepper when he gets angry. Lisa, Princess Tomato's
sister, has a picture in her room of her family. If you hit the picture,
it will fall from the stand, but there's another behind it - a picture
of Tom Cruise! Speaking of Lisa, I still don't understand how a Broccoli
king can have a Lettuce son, and Tomato daughter, and a human daughter!
I don't even wanna know how veggie genetics work... makes you wonder what
the milkman looked like.
This game is definitely one to search for, despite its rarity. There
are many secrets to look for (like turning the stone Apple statue red
by making it blush, or seeing just how many times you can hit the mirror
before it breaks), giving the game some nice replay value. The graphics,
although simple by today's standards, are nicely detailed, with a slight
anime flair. The music is well above average for its day. But this game's
best feature is as an oddity to show your friends. Unless someone's actually
played this game, the concept is unbelievable. After all, no other 8-bit
game teaches you that Pumpkins are evil, everyone is prejudiced against
Radishes, enemies accept the results of Rock-Paper-Scissors as final,
and if you come upon a baby Orange in the shower, don't "check" or you'll
be called a pervert.
NES cartridge (US) - featuring clay statues of some of the main characters and a bright pink label
Close-up of game cartridge label art
Japanese box art from http://www.chipple.net
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