Review by Muchorattler

Reviewed: 01/13/04

A game Mother Nature never intended--but should have

When walking through a vegetable garden, what's the first thing that pops into mind? Is it the disgust caused by the bitter smell of onions wafting through the air, or possibly the realization that you have just absentmindedly stomped all over you neighbor's neat row of spinach plants? Before you take another step into that endless field of cabbage or that lonely apple tree orchard, be forewarned: unbeknownst to many, these seemingly oblivious stems and bulbs poking innocently up from the ground and swaying back and forth from branches think just as much as you do as you walk past. They despise those who squash their brethren or enjoy dehydrating melons—those people whom the vegetables call ''Farmies.'' In fact, they have even formed a resistance movement in an herbaceous world of their own.

So what could be the cause of such turmoil in what's known as the Salad Kingdom? What's that? You've never heard of such a place? Well, you aren't the only one. The fruits and vegetables of this great land are in a bit of a pickle, and for all we know, some might even end up being pickled. Everyone—royalty or peon—is in a state of suffering. You'd be agitated too if your princess was kidnapped by a stereotypical villain. However, this isn't quite the stereotypical situation...entirely. The renowned Princess Tomato, along with the Turnip Emblem, has been taken to a remote castle by none other than the squasher of squash, the king of crooknecks—the evil Minister Pumpkin himself! Minister Pumpkin has sent his followers, as well as the human Farmies, to hold captive anyone who stands in the way of unleashing his devious plan to have his son wed the helpless Princess. Moreover, in this time of great despair the noble King has passed away at the worst possible moment, but we all know he was probably just thrown into a pot pie. Whatever will the good people...err...vegetables of the Salad Kingdom do? Ah, but wait! There is a small glimmer of hope that is the brave knight Sir Cucumber and his young persimmon friend Percy. Watch them as they elude catastrophe and save the day...hopefully.

If the above sounds like a bad, drug-induced dream, it isn't (though that does not mean it wasn't inspired by one). Instead, it is the basic plot of the highly overlooked but imperfect game entitled Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom (henceforth referred to as Princess Tomato). Right, now there's a name indicating a life-threatening and memorable inquiry. Regardless of the overwhelming corniness present in the title alone, this is one game that can appease the boredom of even the most heated veggie-haters.

So, her saintly tomatoness needs rescuing and the world is your salad bowl...or something. As Sir Cucumber, the player must strive to do just that.

Because Princess Tomato utilizes more of a ''point and click'' style of gameplay, our courageous protagonist cannot be directly controlled like in most action/adventure titles. Instead, a set of commands including ''move,'' ''talk,'' and ''check'' lines the left and right sides of the screen. Obviously, the point is for the player to navigate his or her way around the Salad Kingdom by simply choosing a command and hoping to progress. However, not all is so easy. Oftentimes players must check the vicinity in order to figure out just where they are, which will then prompt the appearance of a small list of nearby objects or locales (in a text box, no less) that must be examined/talked to/praised/etc before the next area becomes accessible. This, of course, means players will undoubtedly become stumped at a few points as they ponder exactly what in the name of Veggie Tales they're supposed to do. No worries though: in case the large amount of brainfood encountered around every corner is no indication, the real objective here is to think things through rather than splatter every seed-bearing entity to kingdom come (an impossibility anyway). For players familiar with RPG's, it's clear off the bat that conversing with friendly seedlings or elder growths in every town decreases the chances of becoming confused. Puzzles and mazes abound, leaving ample areas to explore and several things to do, which at times mainly consist of running back and forth from vegetable, to place, to fruit, and back to vegetable while delivering and picking up random goodies—because we all know these types of adventures would not be complete without performing errands for utter strangers.

Being overly observant is the key to success in Princess Tomato, a welcome challenge for some and a difficult kick in the face to others. Unfortunately, there are areas where it is fully possible to become permanently stuck due to not picking up a limited-time item or such at an earlier point. Thankfully, a simple password system allows players to restart levels at any time should they mess up royally.

Despite not having to engage in any sort of bloody enemy combat, that does not mean players are off the hook when it comes to boss battles. Since all the fruits and vegetables are such good sports (you wouldn't expect a formerly law-abiding cucumber to choose violence over mentality, would you?), the aforementioned is done by playing a round of spine-chilling Rock, Paper, Scissors. A small twist is added to the simple children's game, however: instead of just outright winning after the player has papered the opponent's rock or what have you, he or she must then guess which direction the enemy will face and point an animated finger accordingly. As pathetic as it may seem, the latter half of these ''battles'' can be quite challenging without first figuring out the rival's favorite direction to look (i.e., which way they quickly face the majority of the time). No carnage, but the randomness can occasionally make it just as brutal.

Evidently, a game starring a handsome, green gourd would not be without its share of humor. Other than the fact that residents are all walking foods with enormous heads, there are literally no limits to the amount of laughable situations that can occur (within reason, of course). For folks who still have nightmares of eating a type of vegetable he or she deemed ''disgusting'' as a child, most likely a cartoon version will pop up at some point just asking for a beating (which can be done with the aptly named ''hit'' command). Vengeance is sweet, although that will not stop Sir Cucumber's advice-spewing ally, Percy, from acting as the player's conscience (since the earth will crumble to pieces if—God forbid—that scallion is harmed). On a more positive note, Percy will many times provide mildly humorous and somewhat informative tidbits about characters, objects, or the environment any time he is not stating the bleeding obvious.

It's clear Princess Tomato is intended to be more of an interactive cartoon than a melodramatic quest; not many graphical styles would allow for such an ''everyone-is-as-depressed-as-a-Christmas-tree'' approach. Needless to say, Hudson pulls off these visuals nicely. Many screens contain only minor detail amongst small ''key'' destinations in the distance while others provide comedic scenes of humorously drawn characters and winding paths. Only a small handful of animations exist (outside of ''battles'') such as numerous flying cherries on the horizon and an inexplicable strawberry/octopus hybrid popping up and pointlessly walking by; even so, both are effects with no purpose other than grabbing the player's attention, usually for an inane reason. Still, most everything is cheery, colorful, and filled to the brim with a certain charm only vegetables can pull off. To fit in with this happy-go-lucky world, every piece of music is decently composed to reflect the atmosphere to the best of its abilities. Of course, there are exceptions: while most areas contain catchy and sometimes sinister tunes, others insist on hammering a string of repetitive joyful notes mercilessly into the player's head. Not to worry, however, since much of what is heard is instantly forgettable.

No matter how addictive this rendition of ''Knight Saves Pitiful Damsel'' may be, the lack of length means the ending comes too abruptly and our boring lives must sadly be resumed. All would be well and good, except the mysterious appeal bursting forth initially disappears as quickly as it comes, leaving very little incentive to hastily return to the magical world of roots and foliage for quite some time.

Princess Tomato is by no means a game that should be cherished every waking moment. Heavens no; we have King's Quest for that. Rather, its best quality is perhaps its uncanny ability to act as a short, engrossing distraction allowing players to kick back and appreciate the simpler things in life: the trials and tribulations of our favorite vegetation. Since many of the underlying flaws can easily be overlooked, most players are sure to be moderately delighted by this unusual wonder. So gather your (presumably) carnivorous hides and journey down the road to the Salad Kingdom. Assuming you ever bother to look at plant life, you might never look at it the same way again (at least not until the game is over).

Rating: 7

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