It feels like we cannot get away from advertising. Billboards by roads or during sporting events, commercial breaks during television shows and in-between music on the radio, and you probably saw an advert before you watched this very video. It’s these adverts that help pay for the entertainment we consume, or even the public services that are a part of our daily lives.
Games are no different, and while we’re now used to seeing ad hoardings in FIFA or sponsored items like the Energizer batteries in Alan Wake, it may surprise you to learn that things were a lot less subtle and realistic in retro games.
Want proof? Here are five games that are so unashamed in their blunt approach to product placement, you’ll wonder how they were allowed in the first place.
#5 Zool (Chupa Chups)
When it comes to platforming mascots, Zool is arguably rather forgettable. Wrongly referred to as an ant in the video games press, this gremlin ninja from the Nth dimension was the Amiga’s answer to Sonic and Mario, becoming a popular hero on that system before being ported to the SNES, Mega Drive, Game Boy, PC and more.
What instantly draws your attention with Zool is the bright and colourful graphics, that were impressive stuff in 1992, but what players quickly noticed was the head-scratching amount of product placement from Chupa Chups, the maker of lollipops. We are talking logos at the beginning of the game and we are talking levels littered with the company’s logo as well as the product itself. No attempt was made to make this sponsorship fit in with the game itself, so looking at the game now, it just looks incredibly odd.
The game itself did well critically and commercially, earning itself a sequel – Which also featured just as much Chupa Chups branding as before.
This one’s a double-entry, sort of. It all starts with the Japanese SEGA Saturn port of Fighting Vipers. Not only does this game feature a fair bit of advertising for the soft drink Pepsi, but if you play the game and lose to Picky with a perfect, this happens:
This is Pepsiman, an actual mascot of the Pepsi brand in Japan. He’s a playable fighter, had a kickarse theme and looks pretty damn creepy, not to mention he’s in a tonne of hilariously bad Japanese television adverts for the drink.
Oh, and he has his own game.
Yes, Pepsiman starred in a Japan-exclusive game for the original PlayStation in 1999 and stars the title character, whom you control with the goal of delivering ice cool Pepsi to people that really need to drink. I am not making any of this up.
Think about it for a moment, this is a low budget game that was sold to the Japanese for money, which just happens to be a giant advertisement for a soft drink. Pepsi have got some balls, I can tell you. Big, metallic ones.
#3 Biker Mice From Mars (Snickers)
The Biker Mice From Mars was a flash in the pan cartoon series and toy line that tried to be popular in the way that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did years earlier, and failed miserably. However, they did manage to get their own video game, and to be absolutely fair – It’s not a bad one.
Rather than a shallow platformer or scrolling brawler, this is an isometric racing game from Konami that plays very similarly to Rock ‘n’ Roll Racing, and for what it is, it’s pretty good.
But why is it evil? Let’s take a few steps back and look at the differences between the European version of the game, and the one experienced by the rest of the world. Notice anything glaringly obvious?
Yes, product placement – For Snickers, to be exact. The chocolate bar formerly known as Marathon has a massive hold on the European version of Biker Mice From Mars, and it extends well beyond ad posters while racing. The character select screen brazenly takes place on a giant Snickers logo, you can buy Snickers bars in the game’s shop, and the in-between race taunts feature images of the Biker Mice with Snickers bars while repeating the chocolate bar’s slogans.
All this, in a game licensed from a kids cartoon.
#2 Tonnes of McDonalds games
Another bumper entry, courtesy of everyone’s favourite purveyors of Fast Food – McDonalds. Before the world realised that feeding our kids too many Happy Meals was bad for you, the company with the golden arches not only sponsored games, they had entire games based around the company and its mascot, Ronald McDonald.
First up, there was Donaldland, a Japanese-only Famicom release that saw you play as the clown prince of fast food as he rescues the fast food abominations he calls his friends.
M.C. Kids, known as McDonaldland in Europe was released on various consoles from 1992 and 1993, and was a so-so platform game that featured two human children, Mick and Mack as they strived to complete every level, collecting as much McDonalds paraphernalia as possible, with the ultimate goal of retrieving Ronald McDonald’s magic bag from the Hamburglar.
Meanwhile on the Mega Drive/Genesis, Master System, Game Gear & Amiga, Mick & Mack: Global Gladiators once again starred the two M.D. Kids in a game that had a strangely environmental theme that asked players to save the world from toxic goo-slinging monsters, while once again having to collect as many McDonalds logos as possible to unlock the end of each level.
Finally, there’s McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure for the Mega Drive/Genesis, the second game created by the developers of Gunstar Heroes, Treasure.
Most of these games aren’t absolutely terrible, but there is something not right about games based entirely around fast food mascots.
But there was one more McDonalds game, that ties very neatly into my final entry.
#1 Spot: The Cool Adventure/McDonaldland GB
Let me tell you the tale of two games. One is yet another McDonalds-themed game, the Game Boy port of McDonaldLand, as previously mentioned in Number 2’s entry. As you can imagine, it’s like the NES version of McDonaldLand, only smaller in physical size. This game was only released in Europe.
The other game is Spot: The Cool Adventure, a game only released in North America. This next bit requires a test – Can you spot the differences between these two screenshots of two supposedly different games?
Yes, these games are exactly the same, save for different corporate branding in each one. Here is a game not evil enough to subject children to just one corporation’s unhealthy food product, but two of them. What you are looking at is the single most evil piece of game code ever created, and has probably done more damage to children than a hundred Mortal Kombats.
And there you have it, some of the most ridiculous examples of product placement ever committed to a videogame. Obviously, none of us could ever possibly be affected by such blatant advertising.
I hope you enjoyed this video as much as I enjoy this refreshing cola beverage before I tuck into this hunger satisfying peanut and chocolate bar.