Game: Alfred Chicken
Release Date: 1994
Rarity (1-Common 10-Ultra Rare): 5
Publisher: Mindscape/Twilight
Platform: NES
The success of gaming icons such as Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog, as we all know, was enormous. So much that their fame had seeped outside the crevices of the gaming industry and manifested themselves into mainstream popular culture. Seeing this success, other gaming publishers went to work devising their own mascots in a futile attempt to recreate this incredible success. Flying bobcats, snot-flinging superheroes, martial-arts practicing cavemen and even more arose from the "mascot-craze". Unfortunately, none of them were able to reach the ranks of the mustachioed plumber or speedy hedgehog. In fact, most of them have been forgotten by time due to low production runs and poor marketing techniques. However, one of them has almost been forgotten completely. Just when you thought mascot-oriented games couldn't get any crazier, tthere comes a game by the name of "Alfred Chicken".

"Alfred Chicken" is one of those titles that you'll find on every classic 90's gaming system. It saw ports on the Amiga, Super Nintendo, Gameboy, Commodore 64, and of course the port in question today- the NES version. Released three years after the dawn of the Super Nintendo, it's quite easy to see why this one went practically unnoticed. By 1994, very few producers were still constructing games under the ancient 8-bit hardware, and the marketing for NES games went downhill when the new (at the time) Super Nintendo Entertainment System hit shelves. Not to mention that a red, anthropomorphic chicken wasn't exactly as "hip" as the other mascots wrestling for control of your money at the time.

In order to meet the limitations of the NES, the original 12 levels seen in the Amiga version had to be reduced to just five. This is quite a disappointment, and means that the game can be cleared in about 20 minutes should the player be a veteran of the genre. The game itself plays, more or less, like a typical action game. Your primary mission in each zone is to release each of the green balloons from their anvils, with the last taking you soaring through the skies and into the outer reachers of the galaxy. However- puzzles, traps, monsters, and multiple rooms keep you from achieving your goal. Alfred's only means of attack, at first, is to peck his enemies by leaping up into the air and then drilling down into them with his bionic beak. Incredibly well hidden rooms (who'd think you had to go through a very specific wall in order to reach a power-up?), thankfully, transport him to outer space. If he answers an old dial style telephone for Mr. Pekles, an overgrown flower, he will receive a pot of jam. Talk about absurdity...but then again, video games were not designed to be logical. The jam operates a lot like Super Mario's fireballs, allowing Alfred to flick chunks of it at his enemies. This is not where the insanity factor ends. At the end of each stage, Alfred is attached to the final balloon pecked, and must snatch up presents to score as many points as possible. At the very top, our friend Mr. Pekles (creepy, anthropomorphic flower who needs you to answer telephones for him) will reward Alfred based on his performance in the zone. The rewards are extra men, and you can find yourself amassing a nice number of them if you are able to collect everything and speed your way through the different zones. If you manage to collect enough watering pots (which are also hidden very well), you'll be rewarded with the secret fifth zone, which will grant you access to the game's "true" ending. This adds a lot of replayability to something that may only appear as a 15 minute "casual" game. You will not find those cans on your first try...only the most creative and intelligent minds will know where to look without consulting a strategy guide.

The graphical aspect of "Alfred Chicken" is fairly nice...not shabby for something operating on eight bits of memory. Right from the animated, decal-filled title card, you know a lot of work went into the game's artistic flair. Alfred himself has a sort of primitive "2.5D" appeal to him, and he animates smoothly and fluidly for most of his motions. The characters are clearly defined, and show enough emotion to create a sort of charm. The robotic mice zoom around the playing field, occasionally sticking their noses into the air to sniff the area out. The large, metallic "Meka Chickens" wince in pain whenever you fire at them, and Mr. Pekles "talks" as his dialog sequences appear.

What truly pulls this one back into mediocracy one is its ambigious physics and puzzles. Attacking without the use of the jam is never explained. Your first instinct is to simply bounce on the enemies, which will of course destroy you. You need to hop up into the air, and press down on the directional key in order to attack. You are sent flying high up into the air on impact, which of course is going to kill you in more than a few situations. You can consider your goose cooked if you're trapped in a narrow space, and there is a monster gliding just under a ceiling of spikes. The puzzles are also a bit arduous, and this is especially the case in zone 4. If you do not activate a series of switches exactly the way the game intended you to, you will find yourself repeating three quarters of the level (and, of course, missing out on the time bonus at the end-of-zone rewards screen) until you get it right. The game also has a bit of the "Battletoads" effect- the first four zones deceive you, and then you are tortured when you arrive at zone 5. Narrow spaces, incredible leaps of faith, and ultimate knowledge of the game's ins and outs are needed to succeed. A true test of skill, which can be a positive or negative factor based on your level of playing ability. It isn't exactly as harsh as say, Ninja Gaiden, but is still an unpleasant awakening for the average player.

Overall, "Alfred Chicken" is not for everyone. If you're willing to expect the unexpected, both characteristically and gameplay wise, you may be able to squeeze a bit of fun out of it. Those wanting to use their brainpower and platform/puzzle skills to a decent extent will also due well to check it out. Due to its low production run and poor marketing, it may be tricky to snatch up a copy in today's world. Emulate it first, then decide if you want to add it to your classic gaming library.

About the Author: "TheActionGameMaster" AKA Harley Schaffer is a 14 year old retrogaming enthusiast and an active collector for many retro systems.