The winning combination of a chocolate egg and a small toy has made the Kinder Surprise a confectionary staple. In the years that followed since its conception in the mid-’70s, the sweet treat even managed to amass a following amongst toy collectors, with the most prized toys of all being the small hand-painted figurines Italian manufacturer Ferro launches periodically.
Those who grew up in the â€˜90s doubtlessly have memories of the Tiny Terrapins range, which was backed by a glitzy animated TV commercial with a catchy tune. This was a pivotal point in Kinder Surprise history, sending sales skyrocketing. Almost every animal under the sun was then duly transformed into a range of plastic figures: penguins, crocodiles, pandas, lions, dolphins and even dinosaurs â€“ just in time for the arrival of a certain â€˜90s movie.
A mainstay of the collectable figure range soon emerged in the form of the Happy Hippos (alliteration was Ferroâ€™s thing.) The blue-hued beings, fond of wearing electric pink bathing suits, were reused for several lines. They even crossed over into Star Wars territory, cosplaying as various characters to tie-in with the prequel trilogy. Their popularity eventually led them to become unofficial mascots, landing a role on the packaging of Kinderâ€™s pseudo biscuit Happy Hippo snacks.
In 2001, Austrian publisher JoWood harnessed the hippoâ€™s brand recognition for a Game Boy Color platformer. Developed by Kritzelkratz 3000 â€“ a studio mostly formed of freelancers – Das Geheimnis der Happy Hippo Insel (The Secret of Happy Hippo Island) was only released in Germany.
Although aimed at younger gamers, it wasnâ€™t entirely run of the mill â€“ the volcanic island setting allowed for fire-fighting frolics, with the gameâ€™s hero Max Mutig (Max Courageous) able to carry and spray water on blazes blocking their way. Maxâ€™s friends were on hand to teach new skills such as diving and climbing, granting access to new areas, and simplistic combat featured too â€“ Max could throw nuts at the islandâ€™s feral inhabitants. Evolution must have missed a step.
As a relatively late release (2002 saw the final games for the handheld in the west), The Secret of Happy Hippo Island boasted a good use of colour, nicely drawn intro artwork, and jaunty music evocative of the Amiga/Microcomputer days. Calling it a hidden gem is far off the mark, however â€“ it didnâ€™t provide much of a challenge, as evidenced by this YouTube playthrough lasting all of 34 minutes. If you still fancy giving it a go, youâ€™re in luck as a fan translation into English exists.
The gameâ€™s launch tied into a competition to win one of 111 limited-edition yellow Game Boy Colors, featuring artwork from the game and a bamboo-tree border around the screen. Promotional material featured early/unused box art with softer pastel colours and watercolour style art.
The Happy Hippoâ€™s voyage into video games doesnâ€™t end here. In 2007 the mammals marched onto Nintendo DS and PC for Happy Hippos: Auf Weltreise (Happy Hippos: World Tour), developed by German studio Rocket Science and published by 10tacle Studios. This globetrotting dual-screen 2D platformer had an educational slant, including colouring book mini-games. There isnâ€™t much else to say, other than the rendered visuals look a little rough on DS.
Evidence suggests plans were afoot to bring Happy Hippos: Auf Weltreise to the rest of Europe, but for reasons unknown, it never happened. Like Kinder Surprises themselves â€“ which are banned in the US, and subsequently often confiscated at US airports â€“ it seems some things simply donâ€™t travel well.
Sources: Unser Sammler Team, top image source unknown.