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Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum Review


For an hour or two, we were hook, line and sinker. Retrotainment Games and Digital Eclipse had us believing that this truly was a long-lost NES game, buried in the desert like so many E.T. cartridges, mainly because it was deemed to be the equivalent of a video nasty. The advert for the upcoming documentary, supplied as an Extra in the menus, was just too convincing, the vox pop interviews way too believable. 

But then the evidence started piling up. A Jurassic Park reference here, a Donald Trump reference there. Things weren’t quite right. We realised our mistake, and there’s every chance you knew it way before we did: this is a fabulous hoax, a Loch Ness Monster. But it’s an incredibly well made one, and we’re embarrassed that we fell for it.

But that’s one in the positive column for Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum. Its presentation is authentic and immaculate. It really could be a golden-era NES game, and that claim is made even more impressive by it being released as a NES cartridge thanks to iam8bit. You can own this game and play it on your dusty NES, should you choose. We stuck to playing it on the very un-‘80s Xbox, however.

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The museum additions only help to support the joke. There’s an animation short, with Mad Mike on the hunt for garbage to power his bike (Back to the Future 2 saw that coming), and getting chased down by other Garbage Pail Kids. It’s gross, over the top, and laced with just enough shoddiness for it to feel true to the period. Oh, and Mark Hamill is in it, which is a recommendation alone.

That’s not the end of the museum pieces. You can browse through all of the ‘80s cards and see their digital incarnations placed side by side. The love for the property is abundantly clear, as there’s barely a single character who you don’t play, summon or fight in Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum. Prepare to feel warm waves of nostalgia, although that might just be the radiation from Atomic Tom.

The game, too, looks exactly as you’d hope. It’s presented in all its 4:3 glory, with a banging midi soundtrack and the general outline of a B-list NES licensed platformer. You aren’t getting a game as crisp and objectively brilliant as Super Mario 3 here. We are in the realm of M.C. Kids, Rad Gravity and Joe & Mac Caveman Ninja. This is a little bit clunky, a little bit janky, but absolutely stuffed with ideas and bizarre moments. Perfection.

You play as Mad Mike, on the hunt for stale gum because he just wants something to chew. So, he enlists Leaky Lindsay (snot projectiles), Luke Puke (arcing vomit) and Patty Putty (bottom bounces) to form four playable characters on a journey to find it. 

The quest takes you through time to prehistory, Tokyo of the future, Ancient Egypt, the Moon and Transylvania, among others, in a 2D platforming adventure. Levels tend to be sprawling, but chopped up into individual scenes, and your aim is to simply get from one end of the screen to the other. As long as you’re progressing, you are getting incrementally closer to that gum. You can virtually taste it. 

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Along the way are hordes of Garbage Pail Kids. You will see almost all of them, by our reckoning, and the vast majority are trying to kill you. They vomit, snot and defecate over the screen, and it’s down to you to dodge the attacks or kill the grotbags that chucked them at you. Mad Mike has a pathetic little sword attack (he’s not one of our favourites – sorry Mike), so we tended to switch over to one of his buddies. Leaky Lindsay is an efficient little Mega Man-like character, who makes short work of enemies, while Patty Putty is Mario, bottom-bouncing and chaining together enemies as they do so. 

We’d go so far to say that some characters are so poor that they could have done with something of a buff. Luke Puke’s vomit is a pathetic little ‘bleurgh’ that barely reaches any enemy. You have to be standing up and to the side of your opponent, and that’s close enough for you to get hit. We tended to leave Luke till last, and hope we had enough lifepoints in the other characters to get through the level. As mentioned, Mad Mike isn’t much better. 

There’s a superb meta-layer on top of the platforming in the form of collectible cards. Hoarding and trading these cards was a big part of the Garbage Pail Kids’ original appeal, so it’s a cracking idea to replicate it here. Kill enemies and they will often drop a trading card, and that trading card comes in one of two states. It’s either playable – and you can activate these mid-level to turn you temporarily into a different Garbage Pail Kid, with all of their associated powers – or they are unplayable, and are simply there to be collected or traded. Friendly NPCs appear in the levels, offering trades, and you can swap to your heart’s content. It’s a bit inconsequential, but great fun all the same. 

Bosses await at the end of each time-period, and they’re huge, game-filling GPKs like Sy Clops, the gargantuan cyclops. These are simple enough, as waves of attacks are clearly telegraphed and need to be memorised so that you can take them down. 

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The bosses mix up the pacing, which is something that Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum is expert at. Barely a screen passes without a new enemy, minigame or friendly character being introduced to you and your team. And a helpful restart system, plus generous checkpoints, means that you’re going to see an awful lot of the game before you cop it. This doesn’t play by old-school NES rules when it comes to failure. You are given everything you need. 

It is, of course, not perfect. It nails the licensed NES game aesthetic superbly, which also means that it’s sporadically ugly. The childish humour isn’t going to be for everyone (and nostalgia is almost a pre-requisite, as there’s not much here for people who’ve never encountered a Garbage Pail Kid). 

But it’s the gameplay that might be too retrograde for some. There’s almost no finesse to the platforming, as is the case with almost every 80’s platformer that you replay out of curiosity. The jumping is too floaty. The enemies are often difficult to hit, as the attacks are so limp. There’s an occasional delay to the jumps, as if every input is travelling down metres of controller cable. It feels old, which is half the point. But unless you have rose-tinted spectacles from that era, that oldness will diminish the enjoyment.

Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum doesn’t stand up to any kind of modern day scrutiny. It’s stiff and cheap, like the cards they were originally printed on. But if you’ve got nostalgia for the gruesome scamps, then Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum is massively rewarding. It packs in all the characters you could possibly recognise, stuffs them in a surprisingly deep little platformer, and then presents it with affection. There’s so much to feast on that you could soon become a Slobby Robbie.

You can buy Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum from the Xbox Store

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