Muppet Video Games: Proud Past and Hopeful Future

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Abigail Maughan – Recently, a real rabbit hole of a Muppet Wiki browsing session led to me watching a walkthrough of the 1996 CD-ROM game of Muppet Treasure Island, which I hadn’t really known existed. The game is largely a point-and-click retelling of the movie, but all of the live-action Muppet footage was shot new especially for the game. Gameplay consists of mini-game after mini-game, such as memorizing pirate tunes on a keyboard and steering the Hispaniola through rocks. Between these mini-games, the player mostly clicks on barrels and watches Muppets pop out and dance.

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My first thought upon finishing the playthrough was “Gee, I never again want to play a video game that doesn’t feature Pops!” My next thought was that it was silly and fun and I enjoyed seeing it. It was so silly and fun and enjoyable that I started to wonder why there aren’t a lot more Muppet video games.

I checked Muppet Wiki and learned that I was super wrong because there ARE, in fact, a lot more Muppet video games. Starting with the Commodore 64 and Atari 2600 in the ‘80s, there’s been a steady trickle of digital Muppet antics since then on a number of different platforms, primarily on Game Boy, CD-ROM, and PlayStation. Some have plots, some have educational value, some have Muppet performers doing voices, and some don’t. The variety is impressive. The problem is that most of them came out about at least 15 years ago.

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The actual cover art for Muppets Puzzle Party…

It seems that in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, a magical time when Robin and Pepe could headline a PlayStation game, you could not swing a dead cat without hitting a Muppet video game. There was Muppets Inside, in which the Muppets get stuck in your computer. There was the James Bond spoof Spy Muppets: License to Croak. There was Muppet RaceMania, in which the Muppets race each other (maniacally, I assume). There was Muppets Party Cruise, Muppet Puzzle Party, Muppet Pinball Mayhem, and Mindset favorite Muppet Monster Adventure.  

Muppet video games generally tend to be either a stream of arcade mini-games or rhythm-based mobile phone games. Whenever there is a plot or framing device, it’s often about putting on a show, which makes sense because that’s the plot of most Muppet stories anyway. Games with more pronounced stories and adventures also exist, whether or not they’re about putting on a show, but they are fewer. This is definitely an area where the Muppets have some untapped potential.

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Production of Muppet games has slowed since the early 2000s, but, admittedly, Disney has attempted to dabble in this medium with Muppets in recent years. This is proven with the My Muppets Show app (I still mourn my lost army of Snowths), two (two?) different note-tapping apps starring Animal, and the 2014 PS Vita-exclusive The Muppets Movie Adventures. The latter’s premise of hopping through different movie genres puts attention on plot in the form of a number of short stories, and it’s a good reminder of the possibilities that Muppets can have in the interactive format. However, its release on only one system severely limits the game’s audience.  

The Muppet creators have been experimenting with every possible facet of entertainment these last few years, from the Outside Lands live concert to the Phantom of the Opera book. What have they got to lose by experimenting a little more in video game form with a broader potential audience? Video game storytelling has evolved a lot since Muppets Party Cruise.

Whether spies, monsters, movie-hopping, or sure, even putting on a show again, the stories of the video games in the past have allowed a higher capacity for fantastical scenarios than a movie or TV show might have. This could be to the Muppets’ advantage in this medium if it were explored more. There are so many directions that could be taken for a potentially classic Muppets experience. I want to see a Planet Koozebane survival horror game. I want to see a Muppets puppeteering simulator. Heck, I want to see a video game of Uncle Deadly’s Phantom of the Opera. Far-fetched ideas, sure, but if anyone can pull off something like that, the Muppets can. Perhaps with no Muppet movie or TV show at the moment, the time is right for the the revival of the Muppet video game in an era when video games have never been more elaborate or appreciated. There’s no end to what the Muppets could do digitally!

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