Sunday, March 7, 2010

Hey Kool-Aid!

For a brief period in the early 1980s, I had a Kool-Aid Man phase. This wall-busting, "Oh yeah!" spouting mascot for General Foods' Kool-Aid drink mix started life as a mere smiling glass pitcher, but eventually evolved into the walking, talking, and destroying pitch-man who delivered cool servings of himself to the thirsty kids of America.

While I enjoyed the drink, I never gave much thought to the Man himself until this 1983 comic book ad, a sneak-preview of a soon-to-be released videogame built around the character.

This ad tickled certain receptors in my brain... the one's that respond to things that are so lame they are kind of cool. I had to admire the sheer audacity of a videogame centered around a corporate mascot whose personality was barely there. There was also the novelty factor, at that time, of using the videogame medium as a product tie-in (although that same year, both Purina and Johnson & Johnson would offer videogames as mail-in promotional items as well. Purina's Chase The Chuckwagon was themed around the miniature dog-food hauling stagecoach featured in their commercials, while Johnson & Johnson's was a toothbrushing game, Tooth Protectors).

Don't be too dazzled by the eye-popping graphics depicted in the above ad... the fine print reveals this screen image is merely simulated.

This later ad reveals a more accurate approximation of the game's graphics, as well as the price point... 125 Kool-Aid points.

Kool-Aid points were found on the proof-of-purchase symbols on the product packaging.

After obsessively collecting enough points and mailing in for my game, I had to direct my recently acquired Kool-Aid Man fixation somewhere during the 6 to 8 week interim it would take to process my order. So I started seeking out other Kool-Aid Man shwag to be had.

A tote-bag? Mother's Day is coming... it's win-win.

Kool-Aid Man kite and keychain.

A stamp collecting kit. Since this doesn't seem to have anything to do with Kool-Aid or Kool-Aid Man, let's look away.

This inflatable Kool-Aid Man allows you to express your fetish in bizarre and confusing ways.

There was also this Kool-Aid Man Secret Decoder Game, which came in the 10-quart canisters. You used a red anaglyph decoder card to reveal hidden messages and collect Thirsty chits.

Between ogling the Kool-Aid Man merchandise catalog and playing the decoder game, the 6 to 8 weeks passed quickly. One day, upon walking home from school, this cartridge box was waiting for me in the mail.

Those yellow creatures that look like miniature suns are the "Thirsties". In a throwback to Dark-Age misconceptions of science and medicine, feelings of dehydration and thirst are attributed to these mischievous gremlins.

You control a pair of children trapped in a "haunted house" surrounded by the ghost-like Thirsties. You must gather the 3 ingredients (sugar, a pitcher of water, and a packet of Kool-Aid) to summon Kool-Aid Man, who busts through the wall in a crude cut-scene that must have ate up half the available RAM, then turns the tables on the Thirsties by trying to catch them before time runs out.

Although allegedly set in a "haunted house", about the only thing remotely scary to be found is the vaguely unnerving high-pitched electronic shriek the kids let out when one of the Thirsties catches them and sucks out their soul makes them thirsty. (My mother was actually disturbed by this sound!)

At this point, I should point out that this game is very lame. Back in 1983 there was an ongoing and bitter rivalry between the Atari 2600 kids and the Intellivision kids, but this game finally brought these two warring factions together. Both sides agreed that Kool-Aid Man sucked. In fact, a videogame magazine of the day dubbed it "the stupidest game of 1983".

But I wasn't ready to give up on Kool-Aid Man just yet. I just transferred by attention from the electronic medium to the printed.

Yes, there actually was a short-lived Kool-Aid Man comic book, something to keep my Radio Shack and Mulligan's Stew comic books company. Published by Marvel, The Adventures of Kool-Aid Man followed his exploits from the neighborhood baseball game to outer space and even back in time, but they always followed the same basic structure: the kids have been made thirsty by overexposure to the sun and lack of proper hydration the Thirsties, and call on Kool-Aid Man to help.

Kool-Aid Man, who is monitoring the children of the world from his pitcher-shaped headquarters, busts through a fence/wall/airlock to dispatch the Thirsties and deliver cool servings of himself to the parched kids.

Every superhero has his weakness. Superman had his kryptonite, and Kool-Aid Man has his center of gravity. The opportunities for intense action sequences are severely limited when your hero has to constantly stand upright or risk spilling himself all over the floor.

Kool-Aid Man attempted to educate as well as entertain. In one adventure, we learn the important part that the Thirsties and Kool-Aid Man played in the American Revolution.

Each adventure ended with an important life lesson, such as how Kool-Aid Man's presence makes it harder to discern winners from losers...

Some pages contained instructions on how to build your own Kool-Aid stand...

...while others invited you to mail in a photo of your stand for some kind of contest.

Other pages had puzzles and games.

My excitement tempered by the awful videogame (and correspondingly awful comics) my Kool-Aid Man phase ended as suddenly as it had begun.


Drew Cep said...

You can see the original Kool-Aid Man costume and hundreds of premiums at the Hastings Museum in Hastings, Nebraska, the birthplace of Kool-Aid.

prof. grewbeard said...

it took me an inordinately long time to find the picture with a difference, i must be getting old...