In Hot Potato, a group of however many players you want gathers in a circle, with the required equipment being: a small beanbag or ball or even an actual potato, some sort of musical recording and an appropriate playback device, and an impartial outsider. One usually finds this unbiased observer is a nursery school teacher, since most often the group of players is a nursery school class. The players proceed to pass, or throw — you should decide at the outset what types of deliveries are permitted — the beanbag, amongst each other, while the music plays. At a random time, the outsider stops the music, and the player left holding the ìpotatoî must leave the game. The goal, then, is to be the last player not to get ìburnedî by the ìHot Potato.î Sound stupid? Sure does. Blessedly, Hot Potato for the Gameboy Advance has little in common with the childís game of the same name. Thereís no circle of people, no beanbag or other small object to pass around, and no buxom young kindergarten teachers. Well, itís too bad producers BAM! Entertainment couldnít find some way to incorporate that last one. But the others wonít be missed.
Unfortunately, the elements brought in to replace them arenít all that exciting either. The premise is so: you are piloting a box of six potatoes — dinner for a family of six in Ireland, as the old joke would say — down a city street; on this street are other potatoes, pedestrians if you will. Obviously, as you drive down the street in your potato crate, one cannot simply plow through these streetwalkers. Instead, one must shoot potatoes into the innocent pedestrians out the front of your box, obliterating these starchy potato-people and thus clearing a way for your vehicle. Or, frequently, you could just move your box aside and drive past them politely, but that would not be very sporting.
Thereís a little more to it than this, however, for the people of Hot Potato-land come in two colors, red and blue, and much as in the United States before the great Dr. King enlightened us, the two colors of citizens do not cohabit well. Indeed, if you shoot a red potato with another red potato, both will disappear, and the road will be that much cleaner of this nutritious and delicious litter. But, if you shoot a red potato with a blue potato, these mortal enemies will hardly depart in happiness. In fact, the racial tension here is such that the red potato will stubbornly remain, and our blue friend — once a loyal member of our crate team — will stay as well, only adding to the obstacles in your path. Fortunately, by moving from side to side, and rotating the six tubers in the crate, one can orchestrate things such that when your front three spuds are fired, they all hit racially compatible targets. Also on your side are rare green potatoes, which only appear in your crate, but are quite powerful; when launched, they simply plow through anything in their way, regardless of color. By rotating your six-pack you can keep these powerful weapons in reserve, and doing so would be wise, for often the road ahead will be clogged by vast masses of carbohydrate-loaded biomass.
Despite the fact that the game will often demand you to pass down enormously congested streets, however, its never really too hard — which indeed is depressing, because the game as a whole is not very long, meaning thereís not a lot of lasting value. Oftentimes, instead of employing quick thinking and rapid reflexes to fire the right color combinations, holding down the fire button will allow you to magically plow through a thick wall of potatoes. In the rare instances you get caught between obstacles and the bottom of the vertically-scrolling screen, youíll die in an impressive and presumably quite messy explosion of car and potatoes, but you have an ample supply of lives to balance this out — unlike many similar puzzlers, Hot Potato is not a one-shot deal. The low difficulty often makes the longer stages feel more of a chore than a challenge, but at least it makes the lack of any tangible rewards sting a little less. One doesnít really feel deserving of any reward for beating this game.
Visually, we have a far more entertaining experience than one might expect, for the artists behind this game decided to abandon the whole ìpotato as inanimate food productî issue. The potatoes crowding the streets here are a friendly, raucous folk. Aside from the excited bouncing step that seems common among them, individual tubers display uniqueness and emotion. Some seem angry, throwing their hands in the air and pounding their fists. Others put on a display of unrequited love by pumping throbbing red hearts from the top of their head — a capability it would be nice for humanity to acquire in our next evolution, for it would make flirting a lot easier. Many potatoes seem content to sway from side to side as they play in traffic. Even the box we pilot putters along entertainingly and has wild googly-eyes that seem quite dysfunctional but are a suitable addition to any vehicle in this strange world. There is a great deal of movement on the screen, however, and everything is rendered sharply. Despite a monotony of color — weíre basically limited to the red and blue skin of our potatoes and the gray of the asphalt street — this game is quite fun to look at.
The action is driven forward by a cacophony of upbeat music, and squelching, beeping sound effects. I donít think Iíd immediately associate these sounds with any action that a potato would take, but then again the producers were pretty much opening a new field when it came time to create the ìpotato noises.î The problem here is not one of composition: the sound is effective if repetitive. In fact, the bouncing rhythm of these tunes seems well-paired with the pulsing potato pedestrians and the put-put motion of your crate. However, all this music is not very well produced, and comes over even more poorly than sound generally does on the tiny speakers of the GBA. While the problem is admittedly more of a technical issue than a creative one, youíll still probably find yourself turning down the volume pretty quickly.
By this point in the review, Iím sure youíre getting tired of reading the word ìpotato,î and Iíve certainly exhausted my supply of synonyms. In the end, thatís one of the most unappealing things about this title: who the hell approved a game based around possibly the most boring staple food? The creators didnít even bother to come up with a backstory to explain a world inhabited by active, obviously intelligent potatoes. The best I can do is assume that Hot Potato takes place far in the future, after a nuclear holocaust has wiped out humanity and the radiation has created a super-race from a once humble root. This might be reading a lot into it, but if Iím right, nuclear holocaust is not a very fun theme for a simple puzzle game. In any case, it would have spared my imagination a lot of taxing work if BAM! had taken the initiative to include some kind of story. It also might have given me some basis for caring about this game. Hot Potato is indeed entertaining for a few hours, but with no story of note, no significant unlockables, and not even much satisfaction to be taken in beating it, there seems little point.