Or, to give the game its full title: Pierre le Chef is… Out To Lunch. This side-scrolling platform game is all about a French chef trying to collect ingredients for his dishes by travelling to a variety of different countries to catch them.
The 1993 Super Nintendo version is the original, with the Amiga and CD32 ports coming later, in 1994. A Game Boy version was also released in 1993.
Out to Lunch is a platform game with puzzle elements, where you have to first find Pierre’s equipment: bags of flour (to throw at food to stun it), and catch net (for catching food), and then catch the food that is wandering around each level, then dump the captured food into a cage. When you’ve dumped the required number of food items (indicated by the number in the top left of the screen) a door then opens which leads to the next level.
Although Out to Lunch looks like a cutesy kid’s game, everything about it seems designed to annoy the player and the game is far too difficult for its own good; definitely too difficult for very young kids to play. The first mystifying decision they made when designing this game was first making you collect Pierre’s equipment – on every level – before he can catch any food. Why they did this is beyond me, especially when you consider that the time limits on the levels are quite tight. You can’t really mess about when you play this game – you’ve got to be quick finding that essential equipment, then get catching. They really should’ve had Pierre start out with his flour and catch net.
The second really annoying thing about this game is that they introduce slippy, icy surfaces far too early. In platform games slippy, icy surfaces are the bane of players and cause huge annoyance when you’re trying to get around the place. In this, icy surfaces appear on the second level, and by the fifth level you’ll be tearing your hair out slipping off platforms. They should’ve introduced this gameplay element later in the game, to increase the difficulty, but instead you get it straight away. Yes, Pierre can pick up ice boots that stop him slipping around, but a) they’re not always available, and b) if they are available they’re in places that are really tricky to pick up.
Capturing food is another annoyance. The catch net’s range is very short so the best way to catch food is to first stun it, by either throwing flour bags at it, or jumping on top of it, then using the net. The problem is: stunned food only remains stunned for three to five seconds at the most, before it starts walking again, and all the capturable food is programmed to run away from Pierre when he approaches it. To make matters worse, if Pierre is carrying food and is struck by a piece of food that isn’t stunned he’ll drop all the food he’s carrying and have to re-capture it. To make matters even worse, an evil black-hat chef appears occasionally and opens the food cage door, allowing the food you dumped into the cage to start escaping, meaning that you’ve got to re-capture it again. Out to Lunch is a game that really likes to rub your nose in the dirt, and it shouldn’t have been this way. Unless you’re absolutely on-the-ball with your play you’re going to get annoyed with this game very quickly.
I remember playing Out to Lunch back in 1993 when it first came out – because at the time I worked as a writer on a Super Nintendo magazine and it came in for review – and I remember being frustrated by it then. Playing it now I’d forgotten how finicky it was and am reminded of what a wasted opportunity it was for a British Super Nintendo game. British-made SNES games were rare enough without them being squandered on games that were badly-thought out and barely playable. Mindscape developed and published Out to Lunch and it’s fair to say that they didn’t make the most of it.