Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Smashing Pumpkins into Small Piles of Putrid Debris (1993)

Name:Smashing Pumpkins into Small Piles of Putrid Debris
Publisher:Jamul Software
Developer:Jamul Software
Genre:Top-Down Shooter
Time:4 hours 00 minutes
Won:Yes (78W/62L)

To the question you are asking, yes, that is the title. (originally this was going to be game 200, as a sort of quasi-gag, now something much better is going to be 200) A sort of distantly connected to Doom, Smashing Pumpkins into Small Piles of Putrid Debris or it's initial SPISPOPD, which I'm going to use hereafter, is a quite strange top-down shooter. In order to get where the name comes from we need to go back to the hype for Doom back in 1993.

Despite what it might seem, the internet of yesteryear wasn't too different from that of today. Sure, there were less companies trying to extract their blood from a stone, but people were broadly the same. More elegant in speech, but still wondering when the next hyped up game was coming, complaining about inane garbage and complaining that Bethesda games were buggy. They just did it on Usenet. One man's joke post about the first began far more famous than most other posts of the era.

These posts have been archived, and all I'm really do is restating what they said. Someone suggested that for Id's next title, they pick something less interesting than Doom, and instead go for something like SPISPOPD, and from there it snowballed into something of a big fake joke game. Such things would be passed by unremarked, except that someone at Id Software decided that, hey, that'd make a pretty good cheat code.

And, you know, someone decided they should make an actual game based off this joke. Enter SPISPOPD, a game that would have never won anyone's game of the year. Supposedly made in 48 hours, even if that isn't true it was still made quite quickly. I doubt there are any other 48 hour games, that aren't text adventures, which are better. Which is less a statement of quality and more an observation that most 48 hour games aren't good.

I actually played this one at the same time I was enamored with all the rest of the classic DOS games. It wasn't ever really good, between the music, the gameplay and how it all came together in one long package, but for some reason I kept trying to play it. Now I'm doing it again.

The level select screen, which appears as the main menu every time you start up. This is taken from the end game, where I've beaten every other levelset to unlock this one.
The story is, the pumpkins are tired of being carved up every Halloween, so they've taken all the candles to their planet. Now if the power goes out everyone is screwed. Your job as the Gourdslayer, which is the actual name, before the decision to name Doomguy "Doomslayer", so they stole from this guy, is to take back the candles and kill some pumpkins.
The very first level.

SPISPOD is a very open-designed DOS top-down shooter, levels have a very tile based design. Each level is somewhat independant of one another, only progress involving your overall mission is carried over, and this includes weapons.
There are several worlds, and while each one is uniquely designed, they all share common elements. Baby pumpkins, the most basic enemy, which come out of various pumpkin patches. Candles and various gems, which come in attack power, health restoration, score, armor and invulnerability.

The intro world, which might very well have been the only world during the original release, introduces you to most of these concepts, and is generally pretty much like a tutorial. Baby pumpkins look like pumpkins. They come out of pumpkin patches, which you can and shoot shoot, as slow as it is. We also get your standard issue variety of terrain, ice, teleporters, moveable blocks, conveyors and deadly water. Key and door puzzles, though the game does eventually get better about this. Each level is a single screen, well, unless there are ladders of some sort around, in which case there's a second screen, possibly even more.

As explained before, you get candles, but this is not all of it. Sometimes you have to kill a boss, and in either event you need to find an exit pad, which shoots you to the next level in a rocket. It's lamer than it sounds.

Baby pumpkins, and the big pumpkins introduced here, are dumb, they move around in some fashion and sometimes towards you, at which point you start taking damage rapidly. Your only defense is to walk away and shoot them by hammering them with the space bar. I note that everyone has a square hitbox, like the kind of thing you'd get by counting the invisible edges of an image file.

Attacks are done with a hammer, which have a slight bit of an arc, but not something that would actually be annoying. Each red hammer you get increases the number of hammers you can throw...at first, then you can shoot behind as well as in front, and eventually just a triangle of destruction up front. Green "A" gems allow you to continually fire.

Nothing like a crappy game that mocks you for being bad at it.
 Also, every time you die the game mocks you.

Every enemy is tedious, but some are more tedious than others.

The introduction world isn't too bad, and the boss is basically just a really big pumpkin, easily killed. What's next? Well, I picked the robo world.

You need to get a key to get the hammer gem in the south, because the blue circles are teleporters and you can only reactivate one by getting off then on again.
In robo world, everything looks different. Now there are destructible blocks which look like computers. Pumpkins are now robo pumpkins, no change in behavior, and conveyor belts are everywhere.
This isn't annoying/terrifying at all!

So everywhere, in fact, that the second level has you doing this to advance. I didn't even realize there was a ladder down until I realized one of the "pumpkin patches" was different. This is the space levelset's theme, jump out into space.

Level three, go down two levels of conveyors leading to space to deal with this. Conveyors have very variable speed, ranging from, can walk against to going where the game wants you to. This one's a very fine needle threading, the ones at the top and bottom match your speed, going left and right respectively, so you have to very carefully go past everything to get that key. Then you can actually play the level.

As a result, it's all coming back to me, that this one's more of a puzzle shooter than a real one, where it's less about enemies and more about how obtuse the level design can get.

WTF? This is level four.

WTF!?! This is the second part of level four.

This is part three, the most reasonable part. What I haven't mentioned yet is that teleporters work randomly. You need to get lucky and get the teleporters where the keys are, while the lower right area is instant death, remember, everything resets on a new level, including your weapon. You cannot attack those spawners and the conveyors point outwards.

Lives are unlimited, but I really doubt even with this factor included that many beat this game back in the day. You have to, in order, get the two keys from the first part, while dealing with a 1-in-6 chance of just being screwed over, go through a maze to get a dozen other keys, then on the final level get the key on the other side of the robo giant pumpkin, which shoots at you, then back to the locked doors in the central area. Then you can actually shoot here. You have to do that, with limited health, as gems are limited and enemies push you, so you can't just rush past them.

You haven't even shot a single enemy to get there and it's already an endless nightmare of a level. Every single aspect of this game is effectively randomized. Baby pumpkins and their variants spawn randomly and move randomly. It is effectively up to the game if you can win this level. Well, unless you cheat.

SPISPOD includes cheats, like the ability to nuke all enemies on-screen, useful if you're sick and tired of playing the same level over and over again, and the ability to increase the number of hammers you have so you don't throw just one. I'm not really sure how anyone could beat this level without resorting to cheats.

Robot pumpkins, they actually try to intentionally kill you!

Level five is another desperate race to get the hammer gems, only this time it's much more reasonable. No insane amounts of luck required to win. Once you're down below you don't even need to go back. Unless you want to go the secret level.

It's really lame. This takes the place of the boss fight, with this being a special version of it, I guess. Frankly, this water tank pumpkin is just annoying. Basically the story of this game.

Iceworld, everything is ice. Ice works by preventing you from stopping, go in one direction and you'll keep going until you end up in a wall...or the drink. Unlike conveyor belts you can generally deal with this.

Level 2 introduces the asparagus. Apparently the game has turned into Keen Dreams. They run straight at you and have a very annoying hitbox. This level is actually more difficult than it looks, because I cheated here to get more hammers, it's murder trying to burn through a whole bunch of pumpkin patches with one and no autofire.
At least there's an autofire gem.

Level 3, at this point every new level is another "look at this crap"! Destructible blocks are slightly brighter than the regular ones. All the eye-searing pain of an EGA game with the graphical quality of a VGA game. Remember to go through the blinding blocks in a certain order or you have to go back, across treacherous lakes.

Every screen's another tedious exercise in patience.

After another floor of that, we get this one. The water-bound pumpkins shoot across the entire screen, undeterred by walls. Thankfully they can't aim very well. Watch out for that bit on the upper left, where you have to make a turn, on ice, next to instant-killing water. That's certainly not annoying at all! It's telling that the cheat list includes an option that makes you immune to water.

Level 4, I think, I've lost track of where I'm at because of that last level. Mostly okay, except for this part. On ice you can't exactly aim precisely, because momentum of where you're moving determines where you aim, also hitting a pumpkin knocks you away. The first section is even fun, requiring you to get past some big pumpkins before you get a hammer gem.

Level 5, those blue bits are little pieces of water. Yeah. It's mostly a nice level, except for placing two doors together on an ice stage and then limiting the amount of keys you get.

Level 6, no, not as bad as it looks. Yes, it's dangerous grabbing that hammer gem, but it's far easier than most thing I've done in this game.

It's this part that's hard. Until you realize you don't need anything out of the middle section because the locked door is surrounded by moveable blocks. Level 7 and 8 are basically just ordinary levels but everything is ice and the odd bit of annoying water.

Level 9 is downright normal. It starts off like the level to a more typical game. Shoot some monsters in a hallway. This shouldn't be near the end of one levelset, it should be the first one. Even towards the end when the game throws some of the asparagus monsters at you, it's still easier than every level you played to get here.
Level 10, the boss is three yetis. It's basically a joke, though they're very deadly. They throw snowballs like you do hammers and make annoying "excuse me" statements whenever they touch you. The game provides three hammers and three shield gems, which is enough if you feel like breaking your space bar.

Forest world or whatever it's called. Level 2, because level 1 is easy. I feel like making the player select which world they're on is silly considering that this is something that should clearly have been played before both the space world and the ice world. The forest world has that charmingly amateurish look to it. Anyone who's been involved or has played a few games made by amateur designers knows this look well. It's everyone's first forest area. The whole weird look of water is something new, because it's either harsh blocks or oddly smooth edges all the way, not this in-between stuff.

Anyway, this level is annoying, because you have to get all the candles, without any weapons. You have to snake up and down all three levels and I swear the game is intentionally making me go up and down some ladders more than I should. It's here that I figure out the game has a per level setting for pumpkin spawning, this one is noticeably fast.

The reason for my highly bloated score is that the purple gems give some absurdly high number of points.
Level 4, I guess. Not too bad, but I question throwing in the autofire powerup after you've already done most of the level.
Level 5. There is one hammer and you have to navigate below a maze of pumpkin patch filled sections, along with a few water pumpkins. It is exactly as annoying as it sounds, I'm not even surprised the author pulled the lazy bit and just put an exit pad on each little area.
Level 6, a bunch of water pumpkins, delayed hammer gems and carefully navigating over an encircling maze. Not the hardest level, but certainly some busywork.
Level 7, a mundane maze top leading to a deceptive arena below section, the ladders down and the ladders up aren't at the same place, something that would be clever if it wasn't this level. You get one hammer gem for this, with an OPTIONAL autofire gem. As per usual whenever the actual threat is over, I activate the weapon cheat, this would be a hour longer and somehow less fun otherwise. Level 8 in contrast is more of the same.
The way this serpent looks, I get the feeling he should be on a list.
Level 9 is the boss, a water serpent. It's okay. The game overcompensates by giving you like a thousand healing gems. Could have used those in any other level.

Now for Happy Fun World or whatever it's called. (subtle hint that I'm losing patience with this game) Pumpkins are multi-colored eyesores, water is pink cotton candy, and ice are blue tiles. It's an eyesore, but I don't necessarily mind it so much. It's weird, I don't want to look at it, yet I actually respect this setup more than the rest.

Level 2's second floor, there is definitely a readability issue. But to be honest at this point the game isn't really interesting as much as tedious. For my own sanity I've had the music off for a while, but now I've been turning off the sound too, even though this greatly impacts the game. (I have in fact, been listening to October Noir instead, a great little Type O Negative-esque band)
Is "at least it's supposed to look ugly" a compliment or a criticism?

We do get the key room kind of puzzle, which is less annoying than the other puzzle levels of this nature. Though I think you need to play it a few times to figure out the optimal order. Going down those stairs is the destination, there are no more keys down there.

Then there's this Pac-man-esque level. You know, I'm starting to feel like that's less cute and more annoying. It's not as clever as a Pac-Man level should be since there's a couple of hammer gems in the upper part of the level. I find the secret level from here by shooting left on one of the spawners.

Papa Brickolini's evil brother, you know he's evil because he listens to NIN.
...Which leads to I guess another version of this place's final boss. It's a chef LEGO minifigure over a Nine Inch Nails logo...for some reason. Wonder if this was thought up before Quake. In either event, this guy is annoying, he's not deadly in that he chases after you, but if you get hit by the pies he throws, you're going to suffer for it.
Desertworld, it's a desert and the pumpkins are set up like stereotypical Arabs. The music is literally a two second loop and now water is quicksand. This set of levels loves the quicksand. It's the only defining feature. The darker sand is a conveyor belt, and nearly every level seems to require you to perform some impossible move over the quicksand to win. I frankly just skipped past them whenever they pulled something like that. I kneel to the maniac that can actually win those.

Then there's this level. Rather than the usual mess of seemingly inescapable pits, there's this genuinely perplexing level. Don't get me wrong, there's the usual bit of nightmarish bullcrap you're expected to put up with here, remember, all of the dark colored sand is a conveyor belt and those holes are instant death. That means the area on the right is basically impossible to get past. No, what's interesting is what this level expects you to do. Blocks haven't really been important up until now, but this makes them really important. Those trees are all destructible, but there's no way for you to get a hammer pick-up here.

Instead, you have to exploit the game's engine with these blocks. If you move just right, you can push them in a way you shouldn't be able to. There are still limitations, you cannot push them over conveyor belts, hence why there's no possible way for you to get the hammer pick-up here. But because it's this game, it has to ruin the cleverness by throwing in a not optional perilous climb over the conveyors, and then a series of running conveyors containing the candles. Miss one and you have to go through that perilous climb again.

The boss is a pretty creepy pumpkin centipede. It doesn't really chase after you and because this levelset is conveyor city, you have to set yourself in one of the islands of sand. And that's the last of the regular levels, on to the final section. Hell.
I didn't even realize that was a swastika until later.
Considering the game was already hell, yeah, it's hell all-right. Now enemy spawns kill you if you touch them. Because they're pentagrams. More to the point, you have to go across a long series of these guys to get one hammer gem, and trust me, you're going to need it. Because while this isn't as bad as the desert levels in that they don't expect you to deal with the conveyor belts, they do expect you to go through long periods of the level with low hammer power.
I guess they're in hell because I already killed them.
Oh, yeah, tricky lava bits too. And repeating the bosses from earlier levels. It's as tedious as you expect. Because this levelset never ever gives you more than 4 hammers on a level and only rarely the autofire gem. So it's a bunch of levels that you either cheat at, because that's probably what you've done until now, or play for an hour.
My score is so high it wrapped around to negative numbers.
There are two unique bosses to this level. First, the evil Gourdslayer. This guy has an actual AI for once. He fires randomly, but if he notices you he goes after you. It's clever, but it's still this game, so it isn't fun. There's also the pumpkin mastermind, which I just noped out of because you have to deal with the asparagus first and he's still surrounded by big pumpkins. Those are the most annoying enemies.

The ending slide is cryptic. Undoubtedly channeling Doom, we see the Gourdslayer ride his rocket down to the Earth, the screen slowly goes to the left, to this monstrocity. Then pumpkins fall onto the Gourdslayer from the sky. The end, at least until the sequel.

As you're going to be hearing a lot in this summary, I like the idea of getting gems to increase the power of one weapon in theory, but in practice it's kind of annoying. Especially since autofire is an optional extra, not automatic. 2/10

In a better game, I would enjoy the variety of enemies. To the small enemies that get constantly spawned to the bigger ones which have their own unique concept. I really would have liked the evil Gourdslayer in a different game. 3/10


Sometimes tolerable. Sometimes not. Sometimes an exercise in making the player question why they even started this game. I still really like that one desert level, and the clown world was okay. 1/10

Player Agency:
There's nothing, on the surface, wrong about the controls. You move, it's fine. You shoot where you aimed. It's just...wonky in the details. Getting attacked or put on a conveyor belt changes the direction you move, which means the direction you aim. You can't consistently aim while doing either of those, so you're stuck in a bad place should you end up in either situation. And your movement relating to the death tiles feels too loose, like the game is too eager to kill you. 1/10

I like how the game exploited the movement of the push blocks, but I loathe how janky it feels here. 2/10

This has an atmosphere to it all right, awful. Sheer, concentrated, awful. It takes a lot of effort to make something this awful. 1/10

It's okay. Nothing special. Not a lot of animation going on. Sometimes it's an eyesore. 2/10

Oh, right, I was killing pumpkins because they stole all the candles. Eh. 1/10

Actively malicious. Every sound is made by a dude's voice or is a stolen sample, while all the songs are 5 second or so loops. The death sounds in particular are agonizingly annoying in how long they go on. 0/10

That's 13...somehow.

This game kind of makes me philosophical. There are many games in the world I want to play and many games that by all rights, are worth far more of my time than this. Yet, somehow, I've found myself coming back to this game despite it not being very good or to be nice a joke game. It's not just a retro review thing, arguably everyone has a game they continue to play or come back to despite the crap factor. It's a weird thing, because say, someone right now who's making something like this, but good, is likely getting ignored or at the very most has a few thousand players.

On the other hand, those modern games are just as likely to have people, who, when playing an older game would criticize it without fear of criticism back, will treat newer games with kids gloves. Either because of that fear of return criticism or simply because they don't want to be mean to the indie devs. The latter of which isn't necessarily wrong, but art kind of needs fair criticism to grow. A lot of Youtube reviews these days feel like glorified advertisements for these games.

There's no real easy answer to that question, which is probably why old punching bags like these keep getting brought up. It's always going to be fair game to make fun of a thirty year old game.

Next up, Strike Base. An action/strategy game involving an intergalactic war. It's going to be interesting.


  1. Holy carp! I played this game back in the day, and found it... Fun enough to spend a bit of time on while clearly aware that it was trash (To this day, I sometimes reflect on the phrase "I'm cool cat bad"). Discovered cheat codes by hexdumping the binary and was a little proud of that. I've never seen anyone else play it or even acknowledge that it existed - usually when I bring it up, people assume I am talking about the DooM cheat codes and stop listening to me.

    1. That's actually really cool, so they're in there as plain text? Why am I not surprised?
      I suspect if they did know about the game they would be in as much disbelief anyway.