Oh boy, is THIS game weird. And funny. And original. And sick, in a way.
Never heard of it, even though you were alive when the 2600 was still in production (for those reading this that were, I mean)? I had never heard of it either until a few years ago myself -- what with it being mentioned in Atari circles on the net -- since it wasn't exactly popular when it came out, and finding a physical copy of it is very close to impossible today (even when counting e-bay/e-xpensive). After all, once you read about the elements of the game, you'll probably see why it wasn't really huge: after all, how would you even promote the thing?
This was very different from any of the other "eating" games out there, like Pac-Man and Fast Food, among many others, and here's why, courtesy of the instructions:
"Your mother has been cooking all day preparing your favorite pasta dish, but then nothing is too good for her favorite!!
Now, it's only fair that you put a smile on her face, a gleam in her eyes, and a glow in her heart. How??? How else!!! Eat! Eat - Mangia'! Mangia'! Come on it's good for you!!"
And you know, this makes me wonder who made this: was the programmer Italian, or did he HATE Italians? 'Cause once you start thinking about it, you realize it could go either way...
Since I don't speak Italian (I only mangle the English language bad enough as it is), I didn't know what "mangia" meant (it roughly translates to "edible", or "to eat"), so I was in for a bit of a surprise when I first brought it up on the emulator to find a kid sitting at a table with a dog strolling by and some lady walking back and forth, as I thought maybe a "mangia" was in regards to the name of an alien race or something. (I couldn't have been any more off, eh?)
But yeah, you're in a kitchen (from hell, and you'll see what I mean by that), and your (probably) insane mother serves you bowls of pasta, constantly walking back and forth from grabbing them offscreen to placing them at the table you're sitting at, then back again. She's a lean mean pasta makin' machine, and there's barely anything to stop her with (I suspect she suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).
You, the kid, can "only" eat 20 bowls max, and then your stomach explodes (literally! It says the kid will explode in the instructions, but trust me, it's his stomach, making this sound like a precursor to the movie Seven [which I'm not going to explain that scene if you don't know what I'm referring to]). From even the very first level, the least amount of bowls you must dispose of is over your eating total, so you must depend on the neighborhood animals to pop up from time to time so you can toss bowls of pasta in their direction in hopes of helping you get rid of all the food. (No, this isn't Cruelty to Animals, they apparently like the pasta too, and are always visiting because the kitchen smells so good...and meanwhile you're probably thinking I'm making all of this up, but I'm not! This game is NOT normal!)
Unfortunately you can only toss the bowls when momma's back is turned, or else momma will be insulted, and you'll get three more bowls added onto your total that you must discard (which that number appears at the bottom center of the screen). Only nine bowls of pasta can be stacked on the table at a time, and if momma plops a tenth one down, the table explodes and you lose a chance at clearing your plates (oh darn!). Thanks to the miracle of video games, though, the table gets instantly rebuilt, and your insane mother -- who seems to be just as sadistic as Kathy Bates' character in the Misery movie, maybe even more so -- instantly goes back to her task at creating calories out the yazoo.
This might sound easy, but it's actually not: the timing has to be just right in tossing the bowls, and you'll probably end up losing a lot of kids that couldn't stomach the pasta (pardon the pun), due to thinking you can toss that bowl at the dog -- even though you know it's too early, since momma's juuuust about to turn around -- and hope that it lands at the dog's feet. But if you're too early and it misses the dog, or mom has turned around, that bowl's wasted, and you're penalized with three more additional bowls. After all, if the bowl's already airborne when momma turns around, it won't count against you, since she has to actually SEE you throw it, so I guess she's naive enough to think that you could have, after all, dropped it by accident (in the direction of the open window/the cat, that is...ha ha).
The dog, if his timing is right, is the best as far as aiding you, since he'll stop in his tracks, which you can therefore get two to four bowls down him if you're quick enough, but cats, on the other hand, can appear in the window, and the instant you see one and toss a bowl, the cat can just as instantly disappear, which you'll be penalized then (although there's been a few times when the original cat disappeared, and a new one took it's place and ate the bowl, which, yeah, I know they were different cats since they were differently colored). Just another reason for people to hate cats, I suppose...
(Note: I just looked up the instructions, and as it turns out, there's supposedly only one cat: Frankie [which the dog's name is Sergio]. Ok, whatever!)
One thing I hate is that, even though your metabolism seems to be so fantastic where you can eat 20 bowls of pasta, there seems to be no way to burn off what you're eating, even though your onscreen kid is constantly kicking his legs, which it seems like you should be able to shrink back a size at some point: get near your eating limit, and you turn yellow; once you turn red, your stomach bulges, and if you eat two more bowls, KABOOM! It's like the movie Alien!
You can't get much more different than a game like this one. Just the look of it wasn't very common, since the only other 2600 games I can think of that showed full-screen figures of pixelated people walking around (instead of being represented as little blips on the screen) were Outlaw, Coconuts, Cosmic Creeps, the x-rated games like Custer's Revenge, Knight on the Town, etc., and Sneak 'n Peak, among a few others I'm probably forgetting. This game takes a bit of strategy, fast reflexes and luck, plus there aren't many other games where you don't even use the button on your controller: press right to grab a bowl of pasta, press up to toss it to a cat at the window, push left to eat a bowl, and pull down to toss one to what had better be "man's best friend" in order to get you out of this "digest or ELSE!" nightmare.
Another interesting part of this game is that, if you're able to balance out eating several bowls of pasta and having the animals eat their fair share (or not), after a while, momma stops bringing out bowls, so the rest of the level should be a breeze, unless you miss a throw or momma sees you toss a bowl, which will be the only time she brings out more food, to penalize you. (And by the way, mom, what'd I do to deserve THIS? Was my report card that bad?) So there must be some limit to how many bowls she can bring out (my guess is that she ran out of them).
The graphics aren't that great, as there's a neat light fixture overhead, and you can tell what the dog and the (hopefully sanitarium-bound) mom is, but the cats look like weird faces in the window and there's a photo of a guy with a giant blue moustache on the wall (o...k). Not the greatest of graphics, but this IS the 2600, after all (and on another note, I don't know why the animals are, at times, pink and green, although the latter could be because they're getting ill from all the food...). The controls respond pretty well too, although unfortunately there's a weird noise that occurs a lot during the game, which I don't even know what it is; at first I thought it was signaling that an animal was about to appear, but at times the noise would sound and none of my furry friends (or not) would show up, and it doesn't sound like a kettle whistling or anything...whatever it is, it's annoying. However, there's a delightful tune in between levels and lives that'll go through your head for hours, as music for a 2600 game is a bit rare. I thought this was a bit of fun too, being kind of like the 2600 game Ram It, where it can get pretty intense, and you need luck to get your way out of a level fairly often.
This game would've been perfect if it came out before Donkey Kong, since, with Mario being the bad guy in Donkey Kong Jr., some have said that Mario was the bad guy all along. So, since Mangia is in regards to an Italian family, and Mario's Italian...well, let's just say that, if this game came out first, Mario's momma could be the woman in Mangia, since she drove him crazy by forcing him to eat all the time, so he flipped and took out his revenge on poor Donkey Kong for (supposedly) no apparent reason...ha ha.
Anyway, in closing, I think it'd be nice if there was a *fourth* element to help you out in this mangia of madness, like...well, even though she's pixelated, momma ain't too bad-looking, which dad could...uh, surprise her by arriving home early from work, which they could go offscreen and...uh, get *busy* for a few minutes, if you know what I mean, leaving me in peace to fling the blasted pasta to my heart's content (and to my stomach's relief).
Then I could have a fifth element to give me an advantage on this gastronomical game of grotesque-ness: a baby brother or sister to help me eat all the damn food, since I don't even get anything to wash all this stuff down with, thanks to my demented mother.
Just where IS dad anyway? I definitely could use a father figure here for help. 7/10