In the 1980s, every department store had separate aisles for boys and girls toys. The aisles may not have been specifically labeled as such, but everyone (especially kids) knew which was which. I remember wandering up and down the toy aisles in my local Walmart as a kid. The aisle with Star Wars, G.I. Joe, and He-Man figures was decorated in blue. The next aisle, the one with Barbie and Cabbage Patch Dolls, was all pink. This division of the sexes eventually made its way to the video game market, and in 1983, Santa brought my sister a video game “made for girls,” Parker Brothers’ Strawberry Shortcake: Musical Match-Ups.
So the funny thing is, growing up, my sister and I shared a lot of our toys. She built things with my LEGO bricks and played with my Star Wars toys, and I, in return, used her puppets when putting on puppet shows and took my 12″ Star Wars to visit her Barbie Dream House on more than one occasion.
Our toy-crossover was fueled by the fact that until I was a teenager, our family owned one color television and one VCR, both of which were located in our living room. My sister and I each had a couple of blank VHS tapes that we would record things on. Mine had specials about the making of Return of the Jedi, a copy of Pete’s Dragon, and the making of Thriller. Hers had recordings of Annie, The Water Babies, The Last Unicorn, and Strawberry Shortcake specials. Time sharing was alive and well in my household, which is why, to this day, I can sing every song from Annie. Also on occasion, when people ask me who do I think I am, I’ll respond with “The Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak,” followed by “ha-cha-cha-cha-cha, cha-cha-cha-cha-cha.”
(Maybe you had to watch those specials a thousand times to get that joke. Lord knows I did.)
Back to Christmas morning, 1983. That same year, Santa left me my own Parker Brothers Atari 2600 game: The Empire Strikes Back. TESB is a fun if simple game that involves destroying approaching AT-ATs over and over until you fail and die. If you were good enough you could theoretically play forever, unless you lived in my house and had to share the Atari 2600 with your sister. Each of us got the television for an hour at a time, which meant after we spent an hour saving the Rebel Base on Hoth from AT-ATs for an hour, the next hour would be spent playing Strawberry Shortcake: Musical Match-Ups.
Like a lot of Atari 2600 games, Strawberry Shortcake contains six different variations that are all very similar. The game contains five characters from Strawberryland (Strawberry Shortcake, Blueberry Muffin, Lime Chiffon, Huckleberry Pie, and the Purple Pieman), each of which has been split into thirds (head, torso, legs). The goal of the game is always to reassemble the characters. In one variation, the game gives you the character’s name. In another, players must assemble the correct character based on their theme music. A third variation has players racing the setting sun to unscramble as many characters as possible. All the variations are slightly different, but are mostly the same. As my father once famously said, “Pong can play a lot of games, as long as they’re all Pong.”
Surprisingly, Strawberry Shortcake: Musical Match-Ups has a pretty strong musical component. Not only does each character have his or her own theme song, but the songs have been split into thirds, with each segment associated with one third of the character’s body. If you put Strawberry Shortcake’s head on top of Purple Pieman’s torso and mix them with Huckleberry Pie’s legs, you’ll get the first third of Strawberry Shortcake’s theme, the middle section from the Pieman’s theme, and the last third of Huckleberry’s. For a system that was infamously difficult to program music on, the ditties aren’t bad. They’re also quite memorable. More than 35 years later, I can still hear them in my head.
Video games have come a long way since those days, and while some games are still specifically marketed toward boys and girls, the best games are marketed to everybody. My sister loved Strawberry Shortcake: Musical Match-Ups, but could also stomp anyone I ever met in Tetris. (And, for what it’s worth, I am the reigning Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Sweet 16: Licensed to Drive champion in this house).
Strawberry Shortcake: Musical Match-Ups isn’t a difficult game to pick up and play, so if you’re looking for a fun retro title to share with a kid over the holidays, you could do worse than showing them this one. Take it from me, The Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak. Ha-cha-cha-cha-cha, cha-cha-cha-cha-cha!