Boardgames used to made of tough stuff and there was one in particular that was really put through the wringer and came out the other end, mostly, bar a few snapped off black levers. This was Hungry Hungry Hippos, a game that involved some extreme lever punching and marble munching by the hippos, not the kids. Yep, if there was ever a game designed to warn children about the self-inflicted ailment now known as RSI (repetitive strain injury) this was it.
However, physical pain was never enough to stop children playing - especially when an element of pride and notoriety among your peers was involved. This was a challenge to the end and we'd all find out who had the strongest wrist in the neighbourhood. The weak wristed need not apply.
Hungry Hungry Hippos, produced in 1978 by Milton Bradley, consisted of a plastic moulded dish-like board with various nooks and crannies. On each of its sides nestled a plastic moulded hippo - one green, one yellow, one pink and an orange one. The most unnatural thing about these hippos (as if their colouring wasn't enough), were the black levers sticking out of their rear ends. The vital part of the game.
Once the gamesmaster had emptied the hippo food (small, round, white balls) into the centre of the board, each player then had to push frantically on his or her hippo's lever in order to make the hippo open and close its mouth as the balls of food rolled near it. The aim was to grab as many balls as possible, and they'd roll through the hippo's mouth and into a collecting trough. Sometimes you'd get frustrated when loads of balls would rush into the mouth then rush right out again before you had a chance to drop the jaw shut. Doh! Predictably enough, the person with the most balls won.
As much as Freddy from down the road might argue, there was no real element of skill involved (maybe that's why Homer from The Simpsons TV programme likes playing it so much). It's all about luck.
A game of Hungry Hungry Hippos invariably lasted, at the most, one whole minute, consisting of a blur of rainbow colours and more than a whiff of greediness. Seeing as hippos are not generously covered in most school syllabuses, a many kids of the 90s did indeed grow up believing that real-life hippopotamuses existed on a diet resembling white marbles. Just as they grew up believing monkeys lived in barrels and you could clear your room of bed bugs using a simple pair of tweezers. Perhaps the only realistic thing kids discovered about hippos from playing the game was their natural instinct for survival of the fittest. And is there any more valuable lesson than that? Maybe to take a break from RSI-inducing games every now and again? As if!