Nightwatcher's Patrol #26: T.H.I.N.G.S.
Milton Bradley's (failed) Attempt At Countering Video Games
Welcome back! Yes, I know, it's been quite a while since I last posted an article here (the last one that went up was my Spyro article which was about a year and six months ago, so around the middle of 2018), but between having finally reached full time at my job at the hospital and then the COVID-19 pandemic turning the world upside down, it's been pretty crazy. Speaking of which, I hope that everyone is staying safe and retro. That being the case I needed something to take my mind off of life for a while, so here I am, typing nostalgia again. I was going to dedicate this article to a 16-bit game series that I fondly remember (no, I haven't forgotten), but I've decided to cancel it because I was having trouble writing it and besides, I just got inspiration for another one that I thought might be easier to write. In fact it doesn't even make sense to mention the game's title any mo- okay fine, it was Streets Of Rage. Instead I wanted to talk about T.H.I.N.G.S. What are T.H.I.N.G.S.? It's an abbreviation for Totally Hilarious Incredibly Neat Games of Skill. Yeah, cute right? They are small wind up games where the object is usually to accomplish a certain goal before the timer runs out. There were three waves of these little oddities with nine games in total and I recently aquired one in my travels (more on my little treasure in just a moment). Sadly the line was canceled when video games proved to mighty to topple and interest in the line began to dwindle. There are other articles by other nostalgia loving gamers on the web but this is just my take on this. In a bit of irony, MB did release some video game titles, in fact I happen to have two of them: Marble Madness (loose cartridge for NES and cartridge in-box for Genesis) and Abadox: The Deadly Inner War for NES, which I only recommend for those with strong stomachs.
But that's not why we're here, is it? Nope, we're here to take a look at some T.H.I.N.G.S., so, without further ado (or stalling), let's dive into it.
Wave 1, (1986)
The first wave consisted of four games.
In this game you play as a knight who is trying to collect rings from a swarm of pesky bats. The bats have magnets built into their feet and once the game is wound up they carry the metal rings around the castle. You hit a button to raise the knight up so that he can capture the rings with his lance when the bats swoop low over him and the object is to collect all the rings before your time runs out, but be careful, because once a bat gets away with a ring the ring will be deposited in a slot on the back side of the castle and then it's gone fore the rest of the game. I understand that this is one of the most common T.H.I.N.G.S. games so it's one of the easiest to find although it is usually missing the rings these days as they were small and therefore easy to lose.
As a kid I was a huge dinosaur fan (still am) and a fairly big Godzilla fan, mom used to rent the movies for me all the time from our local Blockbuster Video, so naturally I really wanted this one (REALLY wanted it!) and now I finally have it after finding it on Ebay for a pretty reasonable price. It seems that I lucked out with this one when I purchased it too because, according to what I have been able to dig up (no pun intended), the Eggzilla figurine itself is usually the only part that anyone ever finds because the original owner will usually have thrown rest of it out a long time ago after getting bored with it, but I found a copy that's complete in the box. This is the only entry in the T.H.I.N.G.S. line that could be considered more of a puzzle than a game because the object is to reassemble the five egg shell pieces around the baby dinosaur monster before your time runs out. Only five pieces, sounds easy doesn't it? Well no, it isn't, mostly because of the timer stressing you out. When the top piece is placed into the yellow scale in the top of Eggzilla's head the timer will stop signaling your victory. Lose and Eggzilla will burst off of the game base, startling the daylights out of you! This is also one of the few entries to have a difficulty setting, only, instead of the usual 'easy, medium or hard', it has 'Normal, Challenge and Eggspert' (get it?). Basically, each setting will give you less time to assemble the egg making it effectively more difficult. Yep, this is one hard egg to beat! Hmm, that's strange, why am I suddenly hungry for an omelet?
In Grabbit you play as a frog who is trying to eat some tastey bugs. Once wound the tree will spin and you press the button to make the frog "leap" up and try to grab the bugs in his mouth. The game is won when you have gotten all the bugs but watch out, when the timer runs down the tree will pop off of the base, whether you have all of the bugs or not. This is another entry in the series with a difficulty setting and it also has the same problem as most in the line for collectors nowadays because the bugs will be missing a lot due to their tiny size.
It's feeding time! The object of Flip-O Potamus is to fling all of the blue marbles into the Hippo's mouth, although I understand that that the flipper doesn't always shoot straight and you could literally lose your marbles after they roll off the table. They did think of that for this one however, because the game has a built in storage compartment for the marbles underneath that doubles as the flipper and swivels around under the game when not in use, which could also make this the most portable of the bunch. This is also the only entry in the series to have the popularity of a major board game to back it up: Hungry Hungry Hippos. Ironically though, that game is made by Hasbro.
Wave 2, (1987)
Nice touch with the Real Ghostbusters bumber at the end, huh?
Wish I could take credit for it
Wish I could take credit for it
For some reason the number of games was reduced with each wave and this time there were three games, although it did also pick up a little in this wave.
It's time to conduct a little experiment. In Dr. Wack-O you have to flip the caps (discs) over as they pass in front of him so that the magnet sides are up, while simultaneously picking them up with the magnetic hammer behind him and depositing them in a slot on the side of the game all before the timer runs out and Dr. Wack-O pops off of the base...at the waist...okay then. This, however, as I understand at least, is the problem with this game. You have only one button, as with most of these, but here it operates two different mechanisms at the same time which doesn't work as well as the designers had probably hoped. You either hit the discs so lightly that nothing happens or so hard that all of the discs go flying everywhere, and I understand that the hammer doesn't work all that great either. Overall, this is considered by collectors to be the worst game in the series.
In Go-Rilla you play as an explorer who, for whatever the reason, is trying to roll barrels across a bridge and into a cabin at the other end. Meanwhile, a large gorilla is trying to stop him by jumping up and pushing on the bridge, parting it in the middle. Unfortunately, the barrels are reportedly the problem here due to their light weight (it's the tiny ones, not the big one) because they can get stuck in places making the player have to pull them out with their fingers and ruining the game's momentum. It also doesn't help Go-Rilla's cause that it happens to bare a close resemblance to a certain video game that also stars a guy in a hat and a giant gorilla...and barrels.
Space explorers on a distant planetoid have come under attack by an angry alien, and it's up to you to rescue them. First you pull the alien away from the base to wind up the game, then you use the magnet on the spaceship to pick up the astronauts and place them onto the round, blue platform next to the crater. When all of the astronauts are safely placed onto the platform you win and you lose when the alien reaches the crater before you have rescued all of the astronauts. This is considered the best game in the series because of it's unique method of being operated by a pull string instead of just winding it up with a switch or dial. This makes it work more smoothly so that kinks like jittering or sudden stops in the middle of gameplay are avoided here. Of course, it's cutesy take on a Xenomrph probably helps too, and the astronauts are just adorable. I also kind of like the spaceship piece, I could imagine many hours playing with just that and ignoring the game.
Wave 3 (1988)
The final wave only saw two games released because the powers that be at Milton Bradley decided to pull the plug when interest in the line began to fade and sales declined.
Jack B. Timber
In Jack B. Timber you play as a very angry looking lumberjack named...Jack, who is trying to finish chopping down a tree when a wayward buzzard decides to make a nest right on top. Apparently Jack doesn't care about that though because the object here is to chop out all of the sections of the tree before the timer runs out, otherwise the tree will explode off the base sending the buzzard flying (for real). There is a trick here too, you have to make sure that Jack only chops each section in a certain spot or it may not work right. Seriously, why does he look so pissed? Does he really hate that buzzard that much?
The final game in the line has you facing off against Egor, a grumpy ghoul who doesn't seem to like other people's skulls rolling into his grave. The goal here is to get all of the skull marbles into the hole in the top of Egor's tomb (right under the red skull on his headstone, ironically enough) before time runs out (I think we all get that part by now), but he won't make it easy for you, foolish mortal. As you fling the skulls toward the hole, Egor will slowly rise up from his grave making it more difficult to sink your shots. This could be a good little game for the kids to play on Halloween, although I wish anyone a lot of luck finding it. Because it was the last game released for the T.H.I.N.G.S. line it has become somewhat rare these days since only just so many copies were purchased before the line was canceled, and because of that a copy of the game, especially complete in the box, can set you back a bit.
These T.H.I.N.G.S. were pretty cool for their time and they seem to still have a fan following today with some folks trying to collect all nine, which can be difficult with some of the smaller pieces, and sometimes also the boxes, missing, and in some cases kind of beaten like mine, it's in pretty good shape, just not like new. I've often wondered what other ideas the designers of these games may have had that never got to see the light of day because of the cancelation. It would be cool to see the blueprints of whatever games may have been planned and part of me hopes to see a revival some day. It might be a long shot, but it would be nice. Until next time, everybody stay safe - wash your hands, wear a mask, all that good stuff - and I hope to see you all next time (yes, I'm writing another one). Until then, Nightwatcher out.