Food Fight is an endless series of levels. The player, Charley Chuck, starts each level on the right edge of the screen. The object of the game is simple -- cross the screen and eat the giant ice cream cone at the left edge of the screen before it melts away. The controls are equally simple -- a joystick (which moves the player) and a single button. But naturally, things are not quite that easy. The screen is scattered with holes, and from those holes emerge chefs with murderous intent. The player must avoid being touched by the chefs and falling down the holes. To assist the player, the screen also contains several piles of food. When the player touches a pile, he automatically picks up a piece of food; pressing the button throws the food in the direction the player is facing. If the food hits a chef, the chef is splattered and knocked off the screen (though he will quickly respawn from a hole).
Different types of food have different ballistic properties. Tomatoes and bananas are the rifles of the food-fighting world -- they work at long range, but require accuracy. Peas act as shotguns -- they cover a wider arc, but have short range. Pies fall in between these extremes. Holding onto a last piece of food as the player eats the cone is a good strategy, as the player then begins the next level with that food still in hand.
In the first level, only two chefs appear, and those chefs can only harm the player by actually reaching him. But in later levels, four chefs appear, and now the chefs can fire back -- they will pick up food from piles and throw it as well. This makes things much more difficult for the player, though a skillful player can sometimes manipulate one chef into picking off another, or trick a chef into falling down a hole. (As in the Pac-Man franchise, the four chefs employ slightly different strategies; for example, one chef will try to block the player's escape by staying halfway between the player and the cone.)
The player defeats each level by reaching the cone in time. Points are scored for eating the cone, for plonking chefs with food (the points increase as the player hits more chefs on each level, giving the player an incentive to stay and take risks rather than just diving for the cone), and for unused food. A life is lost if the player is caught by a chef, hit by thrown food, falls down a hole, or takes too much time and allows the cone to completely melt away. Each time a life is lost, the level resets from the beginning.
Every fifth level features giant slices of watermelon taking the place of normal food piles on the board. Watermelons are nature's perfect weapon -- they never run out, so a player standing on a watermelon pile can throw infinite watermelon slices at the enemy. This makes watermelon levels great for racking up points, though the player must still be careful not to let time run out (and of course, all this infinite food is available to the chefs as well).
A notable feature of Food Fight was " instant replay". Every few levels -- especially if the player had a particularly narrow escape -- the game would immediately play back the entire level, complete with bouncy theme music carefully composed so that it would reach its climax just as the player reached the cone.
Food Fight was originally released as an arcade cabinet. It was very unusual in that it featured a "49-way joystick", a primitive analog stick that could detect three different levels of upward, downward, leftward, and rightward movement. This allowed the player some fairly precise control over the aiming of edible weaponry. Although the Atari name can be found attached to the game it was actually developed by General Computer Corporation. GCC was a small video game company that was known for making mod-kits to existing arcade games. Atari sued GCC for the non-licensed mods but would later drop the suit and hire GCC to develop two games for their arcade division and multiple Atari 2600 and 5200 games.
The game was later ported to the Atari 7800. This is a quite faithful port, though it suffers from slowdown at times. It includes the instant replay feature, though with an interesting bug -- occasionally a piece of food that barely missed the player during the actual play of the level will hit the player during the replay. When this occurs, the game will go through the death animation, deduct a life, then display a quick apology ("OOPPS MISSED"[sic] or "ALMOST MADE IT"), award an extra life, and go on to the next level. If the player then immediately ends the game, this instant replay will be repeatedly displayed during the attract mode, sometimes with the food hitting the player, sometimes with it missing as expected.
The game was also released for the Atari XE, though that version suffers from slowdown as well. The game was apparently prototyped for the Atari ST, but never released.
The arcade version of Food Fight was released for Game Room, with the Xbox 360 controller's analog stick emulating the original 49-way controller. This release supports ranked mode and challenges.