Long before cable television rendered the idea antiquated, Saturday morning used to mean cartoons. It was the time of the week that the network television channels would set aside as blocks of animated (and occasionally live action) programming aimed at the younger audiences. This created an awful conundrum for the viewers of these programs, since it meant having to choose between sleeping in on a lazy weekend morning or waking up early so as not to miss the brief window for catching the shows that you loved.
These cartoons were so long ago that I barely remember them, but I do remember a few of my favorites, and one of them was Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers. The show stars two chipmunks, the titular Chip and Dale, who run a private detective agency for other animals. This show isn’t about a world of anthropomorphic animals like Duck Tales, rather it’s set in a world where animals lead a covert existence among humans that are unaware of the intelligent civilization that goes on beneath them (more like The Great Mouse Detective). The chipmunks and their friends go on various adventures to help their troubled clients while clashing with a series of colorful recurring villains. While I’m afraid I remember very little of the television show, I do remember in vivid detail the well-known companion game to the show that was released by Capcom on the NES.
This NES game is a fairly basic 8-bit platformer. It has some similarities to Super Mario Bros. 2 in that the primary means of attack is to pick up objects from the environment and toss them at enemies. While SMB2 provides the player with the ability to snatch up baddies and use them against their compatriots, Chip and Dale are hurt if they touch enemies from any direction. Instead, their weapons are entirely objects found strewn about the environment, principally small brown crates that litter each level by the dozens, but there are also some more distinct items like giant apples (relatively to the chipmunks) and trash cans. One of the things I always remember most clearly about this game is how enemies “die” once they take a hit. Instead of falling of screen or blinking out of existence, the bad guy, no matter the size, speedily flies off the screen at a 45° angle. I always found it super-satisfying to see the enemies before me blasted away in such a manner, and it’s accompanied by a really fun sound effect.
Capcom was known for it’s great music on the NES, and fellow Disney title DuckTales had easily some of the most memorable tunes on the system. Regrettably, the compositions found in Rescue Rangers don’t hold as much magic. It’s not that they’re bad. It’s just that the background themes in each level are extremely forgettable and compare especially poorly to DuckTales’ remarkable themes. The only level that I thought had a catchy beat was the final stage. Meanwhile, the only two tracks that I could remember from my childhood were the chiptunes rendition of the cartoon’s theme song that plays at the title screen and the frantic boss music which has gotten stuck in my head quite a few times. Otherwise, the soundtrack is unremarkable and a major letdown when compared to Capcom’s output in other games.
Recently, I’ve embarked (see here) on creating what I call my “Maximum 30“ list, which are a series of posts covering the 30 games which I consider to have the most personal significance to me. It’s not necessarily a list of the best games I’ve ever played, just those that have had the greatest impact on me. I began gaming on the NES at a very young age, and, near as I can recall, Rescue Rangers was actually the first game I ever beat. For this post, I replayed the game for the first time in forever, and I could immediately see why that was the case. It’s not a particularly difficult game, really the only part I would consider hard was the final level.
I still distinctly remember the final boss fight with Chip and Dale’s arch-nemesis, Fat Cat. True to the cartoon, he towers over the chipmunks and is a huge piece of the background. I always found his attack to be a little peculiar. He doesn’t attack with his claws or teeth, rather he moves around his cigar and flicks it at the player. The hot ashes from the cigar act as projectiles which the chipmunks must dodge. I have a feeling that in today’s tobacco-conscious world a cigar wouldn’t at all be featured in a product aimed at youths. I grew up when candy cigarettes were still a thing sold to children, but even as a kid, I thought Fat Cat’s prominent tobacco use in the game was a bit bold.
Another very strong memory of the game is the discovery that it actually has two world maps. The game begins on a world map that has 7 stages, but after beating the seventh stage and rescuing the chipmunks’ friend Gadget, she tells you that you need to pursue Fat Cat to his secret lair in another area of the city. The Rescue Rangers then take a *rocket ship* straight up into *space* and then come straight back down onto a new world map which contains the game’s final three levels. I vividly remember how amazing and surprising this was to me, both because of the discovery of new levels which I never knew existed and also because I thought the little rocket ship ride was absurdly cool.
Capcom put out some excellent games on the NES, and Rescue Rangers really isn’t their best. Even just among the Disney games, it’s easily surpassed by DuckTales. I owned Rescue Rangers back then, but didn’t own DuckTales. DuckTales was available for rental in a local shop, but it didn’t come with a manual, and I don’t think I ever knew about the pogo stick move which is essentially critical to completing the game. Consequently, I don’t think I ever got very far in DuckTales. Of course, I’ve tried DuckTales again as an adult, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s definitely a better game than Rescue Rangers.
But, like I said, this top 30 list of mine isn’t necessarily about the best games, rather just those which have left a big impression on my life, and Rescue Rangers easily fulfills that criteria. I think most people have these games that they played when they were very young that they suddenly realize are super-easy when they come back to them as an adult. Ironically, I find a lot of other Disney games, like The Lion King and Toy Story, are the opposite. I mastered those games in my younger days, but now I’m baffled by how frustrating I find them. I tried to decide which of these sides of the coin was better, harder than the past or easier, but I really couldn’t decide. I don’t think either is so appealing, and they both betray that those games were more a product of their time and place. I guess in some ways it’s just another harsh reminder that we can seldom regain those cherished experiences that exist in our memories, no matter how much nostalgia tempts us otherwise. The great experiences of our futures will lie in that which creates new memories and new feelings, not necessarily that which tries to desperately reassemble the past.