A curious little platformer packed with muddled racial imagery and decidedly lacking in challenge.
We’ve already seen at least one Game Boy creation that would go on to enjoy a sequel on NES—specifically, Capcom’s spectacular Gargoyle’s Quest. But of all of the Game Boy works ever to show up again later on a console, the most unlikely—or if nothing else, the least-known—has to be Romstar’s arcade-style platformer Mr. Chin’s Gourmet Paradise.
Assuming, of course, that this actually is an NES prequel. See, the eponymous Mr. Chin also appeared in another NES game released by the same publisher right around the same time that debuted: Thunder & Lightning, a rather esoteric puzzler. However, the actual origins of and relationship between these two games is fuzzy at best. Gourmet Paradise shipped in the U.S. in October 1990; a planned Japanese release for the following year evidently ended up being scrapped. Meanwhile, Thunder & Lightning looks to have showed up in both American and Japanese arcades a few months later, in December 1990. Its NES adaptation launched around the same time, with a Famicom conversion called Family Block dropping midway through 1991.
So, by all appearances, Mr. Chin’s Gourmet Paradise launched before Thunder & Lightning. However, Thunder & Lightning had been co-developed by Seta and a company called Visco (which is still around but has long since abandoned video games in favor of manufacturing televisions and slot machines). Meanwhile, Gourmet Paradise has no in-game credits, and its developer is unknown; online sources list it as Romstar, but that seems unlikely. A California-based company, Romstar existed entirely to publish and distribute Japanese arcade and console games; to my knowledge, the company never actually sold games, so taking this lone foray into Game Boy development seems unlikely.
This is one of those cases where obscurity and a profound lack of interest by the general public makes it almost impossible to fully understand the true origins of this game. A likely guess: Romstar had the weirdly ambitious idea to create a mascot character out of Mr. Chin, the protagonist of Thunder & Lightning, and either commissioned a game based around him or (more likely) grabbed the rights to some mediocre work-in-progress Game Boy platformer and said, “Hey, could you change the hero of your game into our mildly racist Chinese caricature?”
Aside from Mr. Chin himself, Thunder & Lightning has almost nothing in common with Gourmet Paradise. The former is an Arkanoid clone that swipes its presentation gimmick from the bonus screens of Nintendo’s Pinball for NES—you know, the mini-stages where you play to rescue Pauline, with Mario holding the paddle aloft over his head. It very direct lifts its other core mechanics from Arkanoid, shamelessly swiping several elements of that game—including the power-up capsules that sometimes descended from broken blocks in the playing field. It’s not bad, as shameless derivatives go (although it would be more fun if Visco and Seta had gone all-in and integrated support for the Vaus controller for NES that shipped with Taito’s game).
Gourmet Paradise, however, plays more like a game in the Mario Bros. vein. A steady stream of enemies pours onto the screen, and Mr. Chin has to defeat them with his limited capabilities. Specifically, he transforms them into peaches and eats them. I guess this is where the “gourmet paradise” name comes into play, although it’s kind of a stretch: The only food here is… peaches. Not just any ol’ peaches, though… ambulatory peaches. It’s kind of weird.
Given the Chinese theme of the game, I have to assume these were really intended to be steamed pork buns. But since this was targeted at American kids circa 1990 and Pixar’s Bao was still decades away from breaking America’s hearts while expanding America’s culinary horizons, they’re framed as peaches. Or, who knows, maybe there was some Momotarou imagery that got muddled up in here.
The game works like this: Enemies wander and waddle around the screen, and as many as four can appear at a time. They’re deadly to the touch, but Mr. Chin isn’t defenseless against them. He can lay down small barriers that obstruct the monsters. Once you place two barriers on the same level, you can transform any enemies trapped between them into peaches, which you can collect and eat. The more peaches you devour in a row, the higher the point multiplier you earn: 200 points, then 400, then 800, and finally 1600.
There are a few minor mechanical details to make note of here: You can smash bricks by leaping into them, and Mr. Chin can pass through certain types of floor that the monsters can’t. Also, every third stage is a bonus level in which walking peaches march across the screen and you need to collect as many as possible. And finally, you don’t earn points—you collect “calories.” In short, it feels like they were reaching hard for some sort of novelty here, but it didn’t quite pan out.
Mr. Chin’s Gourmet Paradise may represent Romstar’s attempt to create a corporate mascot by dropping him into a Mario Bros.-alike, but there’s a reason we never saw a sequel. As a protagonist, Mr. Chin basically looks like Japanese food mascot Anpanman transformed into a doughy Chinese caricature. Meanwhile, as a game, Gourmet Paradise lacks the substance of a true masterpiece; it consists of eight endlessly looping stages that never feel particularly difficult—at least, not outside of the mild frustration introduced by the somewhat stiff control mechanics.
At the very least, it would have been more interesting if Romstar (or whoever developed the game) had stolen Mario Bros’s best feature, its multiplayer action. The central mechanic here, which involves surrounding enemies with traps, begs for cooperative play and mutual sabotage. That’s nowhere to be found, though, and as a result amounts to simply another forgotten, unremarkable Game Boy release by an anonymous developer and a long-vanished publisher. Its ties to an equally forgotten NES game—enigmatic as they are—haven’t helped remain in the public consciousness, either. It’s a strange little blip in video game history.