Diet Go Go might sound like a Chinese energy drink banned by EU law because of its wildly carcinogenic ingredients, but it's actually a 1992 arcade blow-em-up-em-up by Data East. See, it's got a title screen and everything!
It prominently features two athletic children. They're probably on a sensible, balanced diet already, but they're not quite in perfect health as they're both suffering from a condition that makes one of their eyes droop closed, not that it'll hold them back from living the active lifestyle. Their eye problems might explain why they haven't spotted the giant cake behind them, a cake that represents a cruel barb from Data East. You can't start talking about diets and then show me a cake slathered in enough icing to disintegrate Godzilla's teeth, it's making me want to eat my body weight in marzipan and I can't afford that amount of marzipan.
Time for some plot, and here's the usual mad scientist type plotting word conquest. Funnily enough he's leering over the Earth in the same way I would be over that cake. So, what fiendish plan is Dr. Dingus here preparing to unleash on the planet?
He's giving out free food! That bastard! Well, it's a refreshing change from the usual doomsday-cannon-aimed-at-the-Earth's-core line of villainy. It's got a certain subtlety to it that I enjoy, because it relies on humanity's tendency towards excess - no-one is forcing these people to eat the downpour of fried chicken and cake, but they do and thus they doom themselves. Everyone becomes morbidly obese, which has no bearing on anything that happens in the game. I think that's the extent of the evil Doctor's plan - "make everyone fat". There's no step two, it's not like he's hiding outside the White House, twirling his moustache and saying "soon the President will be too fat to enter the Oval Office, and then I will be in charge! Muahaha!" Maybe the Doctor owns a company that makes mobility scooters, that would at least give him a motive.
Of course, our brave heroes will not stand idly by and watch the the people of Earth be condemned to a life of diabetes and elasticated trousers, and so the two youths set out to stop the Doctor. I've come to think of them as Punky and Spunky, the Exercise Extremists. They didn't eat the insta-fattening food. They must have been off somewhere filming a workout video or getting their headbands de-loused. They're here now, though, these nameless specimens of physical perfection, and they're ready to travel across the globe in search of the Doctor.
Okay, maybe the enfattening of the human race had consequences more grave than I first imagined. This map does not make for comforting reading - a devilish mountain now covers most of the USA, South America has become a vast, haunted graveyard and a giant carrot looms menacingly over India. No wonder that octopus wears such an expression of wild-eyed bogglement, the world has changed so much and it's left him reeling.
The game itself is a single-screen platformer that owes a great debt to Bubble Bobble and especially to Snow Bros., to the point that calling it "Snow Bros. with obesity instead of snow" feels like a fair assessment of the gameplay. Punky (or Spunky, I never did decide which was which) has to eliminate all the enemies on the screen before he can move on to the next stage, and to do that he has to make the enemies fat. Pressing fire makes him throw a sweet, which starts the fattening process, and once the enemies are fat Punky can run into the bad guy to defeat it. If the enemy was hit by one sweet they only get a bit fat - think Val Kilmer's chunky phase - and you can touch them to send them rolling left or right, where eventually they will pop and die. Hit them with more than one sweet and they'll gain the kind of bulk seen in your late-stage Marlon Brandos, and touching them when they're that size causes them to bounce around the screen, destroying any other enemies they bump into. If they're not fat at all, touching a monster is instant death, so the tactics for Diet Go Go are made apparent very early on: pump up some enemies as fast as you can and kick them around the screen, hoping that they take out the majority of their associates before they get close to you.
Each stage has plenty of monsters, too. Just look at all those gingerbread men, patrolling these platforms while peering at the player with eyes that are either soulless black voids or chocolate chips, the sinister silent guardians of the Dessert Kingdom. Why did I start my mission with the land of puddings? That seems like it would be the hardest place to free from the shackles of obesity. It'll be hard to affect change in the local attitudes toward healthy food when you can take a bite out of Jelly Mountain whenever you're feeling peckish. I should have started at the Giant Indian Carrot.
After a couple of stages, each world ends with a boss battle and they're all pretty much the same. Because you can't directly hurt the boss, you have to inflate its minions and kick them into the boss to cause it damage. The first boss is this evil fairytale queen, who keeps summoning gingerbread men even after I've used their bodies to bash her about five or six times. For their part the gingerbread men suffer this ignominy with quiet grace, never complaining ever once I've pumped them full of sweets and they've ballooned into the grotesque globular freaks you can see in the picture above. That's fatter than you get just from eating sugar, I'm sure of it. I know what's really going on here: my sweets are carefully tailored to the allergies of each opponent. They're not swelling up through calorie intake, they're going into anaphylactic shock.
After kicking enough grossly swollen gingerbread men into the queen - it doesn't take long, as she covers most of the screen - the first world is over. From here our heroes will move from themed world to themed world, doing the same thing as they did in the World of Sweets: throwing overweight monsters at each other until the Earth is safe once more. Next up - a trip to the funfair!
The funfair is packed with killer Pinocchios and angry gumball dispensers, both of which can be made fat with the application of sweets despite that making no sense at all. Pinocchios are made of wood, and gumball machines? Their whole raison d'etre is to be filled with sweets, you'd think this would all be in a day's work for them.
The monsters can also get their calorific revenge by firing their own girth-increasing morsels at our hero. Get hit with one of these and you start getting plump, as you can see here, and once you're fat eating another item of food will cost you a life. Diet Go Go has a very weird relationship with the concept of a healthy diet. Any kind of food will make you fat and a second helping will kill you, which in itself is going to cause some hang-ups, but when your character does get chubby you can't shed the pounds by running around and jumping about, oh no - you have to find a "diet drink," the game placing a higher value on faddy weight-loss aids than on sensible, healthful exercise. Having thought about this nightmarish food scenario for a few minutes, I have reached only one conclusion: that I have spent more time thinking about Diet Go Go's premise than anyone in the western hemisphere.
The boss is a big evil marionette. How do I know it's evil? It's the hat. No man, beast or animated wood golem with a shred of decency would wear that, and the matching pink bootees mean that we can exclude "I got dressed in the dark" or "it's part of a silly joke, ha ha" as possible explanations. No, that outfit - such as it is - was planned, possibly by a mad sorcerer. I'm less worried about the boss than I am that our hero's poor congested heart is going to explode, mind you.
It's the obligatory ice-themed stage! Well, why not get it out of the way early? This one has the usual penguins and snowmen, but it also contains the wandering ghosts of doomed Arctic explorers. You can make these ghosts fat, somehow. I assume the sweets I'm throwing at them are just piling up under their sheets.
As you play Diet Go Go you'll occasionally collect big Data East coins, each of which gives you one spin of the slot machine at the top of the screen. If it hits the jackpot you win a prize - usually this is in the form of a rain of gems that you can collect for extra points, but sometimes it warps you to this special Bonus Game where there's a rain of gems but you have to jump between these clouds without falling in order to collect them. That, uh, doesn't feel very special. My one big criticism of Diet Go Go's controls would be that there's sometimes a delay between you pressing jump and your character actually jumping. In regular gameplay this doesn't matter too much because you can't fall off the bottom of the screen, but it becomes noticeable in the bonus game and it's never fun to fail at something like this, something where you're sure you should be able to do it easily. The game isn't exactly encouraging if you mess it up, either.
"STOP," it commands. "Just... stop. You're embarrassing yourself. We'll try this again later, if you promise to take it seriously, but for now get back to inflating penguins."
Or inflating blocks of ice, even, which I can then use to throw at this ice dragon. The ice dragon is the most challenging boss so far. This is because it is the biggest boss so far, and that means there's more of it to avoid. It also means that it's a very large target for me to kick inflated icicles at, so it's all swings and roundabouts really, innit?
This world's theme: all the enemies are something you might include in a warming autumnal soup, with the possible exception of the carnivorous plant at the top. My main preparation tip for this theoretical soup is to make sure you remove the eyeballs from the mushroom and onion creatures first. No-one wants their soup to look at them while they're trying to eat it.
If you're paying even the slightest bit of attention to this article - and I wouldn't blame you if you weren't - you'll have noticed that Diet Go Go includes pumpkin-headed monsters and therefore gets a big thumbs up from me and my personal cast-iron guarantee that it's worth playing. Maybe not for the gameplay, which is nothing special and requires no real skill, but you can't argue with pumpkin-headed monsters. Literally, I mean, they'll just stare at you with their eye carvings. They're too laid-back to get confrontational. Check out the engorged pumpkin on the right, he looks so mellow. He doesn't want any of your bad vibes, man.
Sadly, the boss is not a giant pumpkin and as such I have no interest in it. It's a one-eyed mushroom. "One-eyed mushroom" sounds like a phrase you really shouldn't search for on the internet.
The undersea kingdom (desolate ruins edition) of Atlantis now, and that penguin in the top-left looks on in horror as Punky causes one of his nest-mates to swell into a barely-recognisable sphere of feathers and blubber. The rest of the sea life is much less concerned with what's going on, which feels about right. I can't imagine the anemones having real deep feelings about their current predicament, if that even is a sea anemone and not a pink bag of fries with googly eyes drawn on it.
All will cower before CRABULON, doom of Atlantis! He is a crab that is significantly larger than a normal crab! Significantly! Yeah, I'm trying to hype him up and it's not working. Even Crabulon (probably not his real name) himself looks dreadfully bored with the whole affair. More interesting is the crab dinner that appeared when I popped one of Crabulon's attack bubble. It has a tiny skull over it, and any food marked with the symbol of the skull it probably not suitable for human consumption... but then again no food in this game is safe. Eating anything will make you fat and, eventually, dead, so why does this plate of crab get the special skull-signal treatment? Perhaps it's just poisoned. The big crab is trying to poison me with smaller crabs. What a dick.
I have to be honest, I thought the stages in Diet Go Go would be more obviously food-related. It started off that way in the Land of Dessert, and I suppose you could argue that the previous stage had a seafood motif, but that's all gone out the window now as our hero jumps-n-plumps his way through Transylvania, which according to the in-game map has been relocated to the USA. It's home to weird snakes that are just a head an a tail - although now I think about it all snakes are just a head and a tail - and Frankensteins that are subtly different than the norm, with blue skin and bolts in their temples rather than their necks. I like it, it makes a nice change.
The boss is Dracula, or maybe a dracula, "draculas" being the subset of vampires who dress in eveningwear at all times and say things like "velcome to my mountaintop castle, ah ha ha!" and then there's a crash of thunder. This dracula looks kinda grandad-ish. If the old man from Up was bitten by a nosferatu and started dying his hair, this is what you'd get. It's a combination of his bushy eyebrows and lack of non-fang teeth that does it.
"Okay, what shall we have as the background for this world? The Taj Mahal? Sounds good, but it need something else, something that'll really bring it to life. I know, how about colossal vegetables? Yeah, that's perfect!" says the designer of Diet Go Go, even as the nice men from the mental health clinic bundle him into the back of their padded ambulance. You might think it's unfair to judge a man just for trying to come up with a unique backdrop for a videogame but then there are those carrot men. They are not the product of a healthy mind.
Some kind of mechanical cooking pot attacks, trying to make our hero fat by throwing steaming hot ladlefuls of whatever's bubbling away inside it around the screen. At first I thought that to damage it you had to launch carrot men at him in such a way that they landed in the pot, but then I hit it on the side and it took damage anyway. I wasn't surprised - Diet Go Go isn't interested in creating a nuanced gameplay experience, you just make enemies fat and kick them around the screen. There's very little planning involved and almost no aiming necessary, so after a while it all starts to feel very rote and disappointingly predictable.
Time for a dinosaur-themed stage now, and it looks an awful lot like Data East's own caveman platformer Joe and Mac. I don't think this is an accident, either, because Diet Go Go includes several references to other Data East games. Not only that, it is heavily based - "directly copied" might be a better way of putting it - on a game that Data East released the previous year called Tumblepop. Tumblepop is almost identical to Diet Go Go in both gameplay and graphical style, the main difference being that in Tumblepop you suck enemies up with a vacuum cleaner and then fire them out instead of Diet Go Go's lard-based executions. The two games even share the same Mad Scientist villain, but Tumblepop has a boss based on the Flatwoods Monster so I'm regretting my decision to play Diet Go Go rather than it's predecessor pretty hard right now.
The two-headed pterodactyl boss lays eggs, which hatch into baby pterodactyls, as you would expect. I threw these baby pterodactyls at the boss until it was defeated, so essentially I beat the boss to death with its own children. That's a bit grim.
I do like these pink slime-blobs. They look like they're having a really good time, their eyes wide with wonderment as they look around this gelatinous alien world. I think it might be Yuggoth. An alternate explanation would be that the player character has been shrunk to microscopic size and placed in the nasal cavity of a very ill person.
A less endearing blob takes on the role of end-of-stage guardian. He doesn't look very happy about it. He's had to come into work during The Time of The Thousand Agonies, the slime-monster equivalent of Sunday morning, just become some weird kid in sweatbands is trying to give the neighbourhood larvae high cholesterol.
Hey look, another horror level! It's got grim reapers and pumpkin men and clowns, because Data East know about the clowns. They understand.
Oh no, a giant ghost! But how do you kill that which does not live? By throwing smaller enemies at it, of course. I thought we'd covered this. I don't have time to be helping it with the unresolved issues of its former life, and our hero can't pick up holy water in case it turns out to be too much like food and it makes him swell up so a regular exorcism is right out. It's going to have to be ghosts slamming into ghosts, like an X-rated Paranormal Activity parody.
I've skipped showing you this stage because it's just another alien world with a slightly different background and recoloured jellyblob enemies, but the boss is about as close as Diet Go Go comes to a noticeable gimmick so I thought I should mention it. The boss, a small germ monster who didn't get past the ausition stage for Dr. Mario, is surrounded by smaller amoebas that you have to pull away from him to use as ammunition. This means that as the battle goes on the boss gets smaller and, in theory, more difficult to hit, although in practise the inflated enemies you're using as projectiles are so big and cover so much of the screen as they bounce around that you're unlikely to have much of a problem landing blows. It's almost an interesting boss fight, but unfortunately it's also the game's best effort at an interesting boss fight, which makes it difficult to praise Diet Go Go as a gameplay experience.
The final stage is set in space, and the background give the player a preview of what London Bridge will look like when the Blade Runner-inspired cyberpunk future really kicks in. We've seen all the monsters in this stage before, except for the spacemen and hold on, I recognise those spacemen: they're Chelnov, the Atomic Runner! They run around the screen and are easily killed, and that's exactly how I remember Chelnov being in Atomic Runner so well done to Data East for really nailing down his character.
Okay, it's time for me to stop writing about videogames and break into the lucrative children's book market. My first effort will be the story of Harry the Grumpy UFO. Why is he grumpy? Because he got stuck annihilating the earthlings while the other UFOs get to go to the cool planets. The elevator pitch is "Thomas the Tank Engine with death-rays." I think it's going to be big.
A youth misspent watching The X-Files and reading paranormal magazines means that I immediately recognised this UFO as a based on the one "photographed" by UFO "expert" and "not a fraud" George Adamski. I forgot my PIN number at the cash machine the other day. It doesn't seem like a fair trade.
The Mad Doctor was inside the UFO all along, but not to worry - with his advanced and miserable-looking spacecraft destroyed, he is utterly defenceless and our hero can balloon him up at will to bring an end to the game, and Data East get a thumbs-up from me for including my preferred "evil scientist is useless in an actual fight" ending. It's not as good as the petulant fist-waving from Crude Buster, but I'll take it.
Yes, I definitely feel like this picture of two gurning children dressed as fitness instructors from 1991 is a suitable reward for the time and effort spent getting through Diet Go Go. I don't even know what those facial expressions are supposed to be. Are they happy? Mocking me? Being injected with high-grade opiates? I doubt we will ever know.
Diet Go Go is not a very good game, especially if you're after a test of skill and reflexes. Every stage plays out the same: inflate the nearest monster, kick it around and then mop up any survivors. You might not think it given that I've written so many bloody words about it, but it's a short game, too, and it's not uncommon for stages to last less than twenty seconds. It's a tired copy of a game that had been released by the same company a year before, but still I warmed to it. This is in large part thanks to the graphics and specifically the creature designs - almost all of them are either cute enough to be endearing or weird enough to be interesting, and they're all very nicely drawn and animated. It's not like the gameplay's terrible, either, it's just one-note and, by the end of the game, unpleasantly repetitious. Give it a try if you really love single-screen platformer or cutesy monsters. Or don't, what am I, your mother? I'm not going to to tell you what games to play. The closest I'll get to that kind of advice is "don't eat poisoned crab dinners," but they've got little skulls hovering over them so you don't need me to tell you that.