When I was a kid, Nintendo Power featured a game called Panic Restaurant on the NES. It was about a chef who did battle with nefarious food items and cooking utensils. I didn’t think there was anything similar to it on the SNES until I encountered Out to Lunch. There are similarities regarding enemy types and the protagonist. I never had an opportunity to get Panic Restaurant ( and with the current prices, forget about it), so I picked Out to Lunch to compensate. Will this game turn out to be Fillet Mignon or chopped liver?
Good Food Gone Bad
Here’s the weird part: One day the food in his refrigerator decides to come to life and escape for dear life! The food items run away to exotic locales such as Switzerland, Greece, The West Indies, Mexico, China, and Chef’s home country of France.
Pierre must travel through 48 levels to collect various food items so he can cook the glorious meals he is known for! But things won’t be so easy peasy. Harmful bacteria and insects will contaminate his ingredients if given the chance. Also Pierre’s arch nemesis, Le Chef Noir, is lurking behind the scenes to release any food that Pierre captures.
Can our culinary hero get his food back in time for dinner?
Controls and Gameplay
Control setup seems familiar. B button makes you jump, A swings your net, Y allows you to accelerate while moving left or right, and X triggers your special weapon (if you have one). The trigger buttons duplicate the A & B button functions. Finally the start button pauses the game and select grants you the option of quitting the game and returning to the title screen.
The controls conjure up memories of playing Super Mario World. That’s a good thing. You don’t need an instruction manual; just jump in and play. Most people will figure out the controls in no time. Unfortunately, Out to Lunch isn’t nearly as fun to play as Super Mario World for a couple of reasons. More on that later.
Firstly, let’s talk about the premise of the game. You control Pierre through 48 levels in 6 different countries. The game is a combination of platformer and puzzler. A game that has a similar gameplay feel to Out to Lunch is Spanky’s Quest. Your goal in each level is to collect a certain amount of food items with a net, and put the captured food in a cage before the time limit runs out. Once you capture the prerequisite number of provisions, a door will appear to whisk you away to the next level.
Sounds easy right? Not so fast. The food is constantly moving. And when they see Pierre, they begin running away from him. Pierre has to chase them down to catch them in his net. There are powerups that aid your character in nabbing the runaway groceries. Examples are flour, tabasco sauce, bombs, and more. These items stun the grub so Pierre can net them more easily.
It gets annoying at times when attempting to catch your prey because when they are alarmed by your presence they go into hyper mode and move faster than normal. Countless times I came within an inch of netting one and they escape by jumping down to a lower ledge or using a transporter machine. This game is basically a fetch and catch quest that becomes quite repetitive after awhile.
However there are two variables that try to lighten the repetitious nature of the game.
In some stages there are bacteria that are capable of making your food turn “bad”. If a vile bacteria touches a piece of food, it will turn evil and try to attack you. If the bacteria or the evil food touch you, a life is lost. Evil food eventually turns to normal and bacteria can be squashed. This element makes you think a bit and is a welcome diversion from the normal catch and fetch syndrome the game suffers from.
Another factor is Le Chef Noir. In some stages this chef dressed in black appears when you put some ingredients in the cage. If you don”t hit him with a special item before he reaches the cage, he’ll release the food you’ve worked so hard to capture.
But there’s one giant flaw in the game: High frustration level. There are sideway springs that don’t want to cooperate. You only have 3 lives to start (though a paltry amount of 1 ups can be attained in certain stages and bonus rounds). There is no continue option (though there is an option to skip to the 3rd country on the title screen). There will be times where getting hit by bacteria or “bad food” seems unavoidable. And the ultimate slap in the face: Time is seconds away from running out, you just put the required amount of food into the cage, but the exit door materializes a fair distance away from your current position!! At that point all you can do is sit there and cuss like a sailor. Not fun.
There are options for 2 players, to turn off the music, skip to the third country, and input your name to record a high score ( your high score is erased once you turn the console off).
Graphics and Sound
The graphics is hit or miss. I think the Pierre and Noir sprites are cute looking, but tiny. The food ingredients look totally unappetizing. Potatoes look like dookie. Cheese resemble sponges. Eggplants look even more disgusting in this game than in real life. At least the eggs and tomatoes look ok. The highlight of the graphics department is the backgrounds. Some of the them almost seem photo-realistic. Too bad they feel out of place with the cartoony sprites.
Music matches the look of the roster; simplistic and lighthearted. Unfortunately, you only get two tunes per country that alternate. These tunes get really annoying as you replay the levels over and over. Thank goodness there’s an option to turn off the music.
Despite its good qualities, Out to Lunch fails to stand with the great titles of the system. Coupled with the tiresome fetching gameplay mechanic, the game is highly frustrating. I would classify this game as a poor man’s Spanky’s Quest. It’s fun in short spurts, but playing for an extended period of time will leave you boiling with rage. With no battery backup or password system and only 3 lives to start, it is a chore to complete the game. A definite pass in my opinion.
Two stars out of five
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