The Game: In a bizarre collision of two very different game play elements that would probably be considered minigames today, you’re a fearless helicopter rescue pilot for the 4077th, fishing wounded U.S. soldiers out of harm’s way during the Korean War. When the window of your helicopter no longer shows up as hollow, you’ve got a full load and must safety return the wounded to the M*A*S*H base, and then go to retrieve more wounded. An enemy tank scoots along the bottom of the screen, trying to down both your helicopter and a computer-controlled chopper or an opponent’s chopper. This does not help matters, although being shot down merely causes a delay as an emergency vehicle appears – miraculously impervious to enemy fire – to push the wreckage off the screen before a new helicopter appears. Every so often, the action suddenly switches to the operating table, where you have to retrieve projectiles from victims’ bodies without causing worse damage as you remove them, and with the clock ticking down – if you fail to complete the surgery in time, then it’s goodbye, farewell and amen to that patient. (Think of the board game Operation! here and you’ve got the idea.) (20th Century Fox Games Of The Century, 1983)
Memories: M*A*S*H could be held up as a prime example of the third party video game market right before the Crash, being two very simple (and not terribly original) games squashed together with a licensed title. But let’s give it credit for being better than, say, Chase The Chuckwagon – M*A*S*H is at least fun. It’s also somewhat repetitive, but that’s hardly an issue that was unique to this cartridge at the time. And truth be told, it’s hard for me to imagine a game based on M*A*S*H that would really be more fun, even in the Xbox 360 generation.
It’s really curious to envision how M*A*S*H was turned into a video game in the first place. It’s just not the sort of thing that really lends itself to guilt-free entertainment – countless sci-fi and action movie and TV and cartoon franchises were no-brainers for Atari games, but M*A*S*H? A politically charged character drama/comedy in its twilight years on television? It almost boggles the mind to contemplate the show’s rich legacy of comment on war, politics, and human foibles and failings and nobility being reduced to snatching up pixellated stick-figure “victims” by running a helicopter over them, and a somewhat weak attempt at doing the board game Operation! on the Atari. This is a game license that likely would not even get past a pitch session today, and probably only happened because 20th Century Fox’s fledgling video game operation was hurriedly trying to churn out any games that it could that might have some connection to one of the studio’s movie or TV properties. Even though the TV show was coming down the home stretch toward its still-record-setting finale, it was a hot enough property to merit a video game, and it still makes more sense than a game about Purina dog food (though I say that in a day and age where Burger King is peddling branded video games…).
But it’s still fun enough to play, so there are far worse games to have on one’s shelf than M*A*S*H.