The great Philip J. Fry once said (or will say, I guess) this about ads, “…on TV and radio. And in magazines and movies and at ball games and on buses and milk cartons and t-shirts and written in the sky.” In an information soaked society such as our own, people are bombarded by advertisements in every medium possible. Even with that sizable list, Mr. Fry missed one, videogames.
Yeah, games aren’t super imaginative these days. How many different versions of Brown Shooter Iraqi Blood Conflict 7: CockBullet can you play? At least those games take a ton of people putting hundreds of hours of work into them to get made. In the 8 and 16-bit era a team of 8 programmers could build a full game in a couple months. ET on the Atari 2600 was coded by one guy in 6 weeks. This of course made video games the perfect venue for advertising.
Major companies would churn out a game quickly because if a kid in a store sees their favorite cartoon character or cereal mascot on the cover of a game, they don’t know any better. All that kid knows is Elmo rules and videogames rule. There was even a term for it, “Advergames.” Nowadays the word mostly means a banner ad where you punch a monkey to win Ke$ha tickets or a Facebook game where players bug their friends and family to check out how fucking rad those new virtual carrots they planted are but back in the day, people got creative about it. That’s why this week’s 10 Things That Aren’t Sonic is about advertising in games.
10. Pepsiman in Fighting Vipers
When Fighting Vipers was ported from the arcades to the Sega Saturn they added a special character named Pepsiman with the power to “quench one’s thirst.” If I see a person drink a Pepsi in a movie with the can positioned so perfectly with the label pointed directly at the camera or a major scene just happens to take place near a Pepsi machine that’s the only thing in a dark alley with it’s own lighting rig, I get a little miffed.
It can take me completely out of the film, but this totally rules. I wish every game had an entire character devoted to jamming corporate poppycock and hoo-hah in my face. Imagine if Soul Calibur had the dreaded TGIF monster. He only showed up on Friday nights and Sophitia had to defeat it with a Sony brand remote and a tub of Doritos. Pepsiman even went on to star in his own game on the PS1.
9. Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool
The manual for this game contains the phrase, “As is Chester Cheetah way, is one-person play.” That sentence is basically this game in microcosm. The very fact that it exists is mind-boggling. Not only did someone think it was a good idea to make a game starring Chester Cheetah, but enough people bought it that the game got a sequel!
Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool is the prime example of the worst parts of advergaming. It was made to ape Super Mario World on the SNES. He even fights turtles for God’s sake. Much like Cheetos themselves, this game should be avoided, but sometimes you just can’t help it. At least the game won’t get your controllers all greasy and dusty.
8. McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure
In between the weird, crazy-hard games Treasure puts out, they need a way to pay the bills. Occasionally Treasure will tackle an established property like Tiny Toons or Astro Boy. Most companies would just poop these games out but Treasure is classy, they still give it their all.
McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure is a Treasure game through and through. The music is catchy, the level designs are creative and it’s weird as SHIT. After finding one quarter of a treasure map, Ronald McDonald decides to go on an adventure to hunt down the other parts. On his way he kills every single thing that crosses his path. By firing magic missiles, Ronald completely destroys the denizens of McDonaldland. He truly is an iron-fisted dictator. It’s kind of weird to play Ronald McDonald grinning ear to ear as he goes on a killing spree, but can you really blame him when his subjects look like this?
I’m sure we’ve all seen this game in a quarter bin at a flea market somewhere and totally passed it up, but I highly recommend it. McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure is one of the oddest and somewhat disturbing 16-bit games I’ve ever played. It’s like a fat kids fever dream after gorging on 6 happy meals and accidentally swallowing the toy that’s been recalled for lead paint.
7. Izzy’s Quest for the Olympic Rings
In an attempt to build excitement for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, the mascot Izzy was given his own videogame. But not even videogames can make people care about the Olympics. Especially not a game like this.
It’s uninspired platforming and level design coupled with ugly visuals make this game a big ol’ stinker. I remember playing it for hours as a kid but I couldn’t even get past the first level now. Izzy also had an animated TV special which even less people remember. The whole idea of Izzy was a big misstep. Transforming into different shapes is cool but his design was just kinda boring and blobby, I much prefer Springy.
6. The Death and Return of Superman
The death of Superman singlehandedly kicked off the comics boom of the 90’s. After tons of news coverage all over the country people knew Superman was dying and wanted a piece of it. Lines into comic shops wrapped around city blocks and nerds everywhere adorned their wimpy, noodly biceps with black armbands featuring Superman’s ‘S’ shield. Everyone bought 5 copies and kept them in plastic bags until one day they would be worth… nothing. All your holofoil variant Image issue #1s ain’t worth jack now but at the time everyone wanted in.
Naturally with a hot comic property like Superman a videogame was obvious. Batman had a few successes, as did Spider-Man and the X Men. Too bad The Death and Return of Superman turned out to be a pretty generic beat-em-up. Why is Superman walking so much? It’s cool to play as Superboy and the Cyborg Superman but the novelty wears off quick. And this is coming from an enormous Superman fanboy. I even love the The Death of Superman comic book. Not many others share that opinion.
5. Cool Spot
Pepsi isn’t the only cola to get it’s own game. In 1994 7Up’s Cool Spot starred in his own Sega Genesis game. Like the McDonald’s game, Cool Spot was made by a reputable game developer who did a great job. Virgin Interactive made the game with some people who would go on to become big deals in the gaming industry like Tommy Tallarico.
No one may remember Spot as a mascot but the game was pretty successful. It was released for the Genesis, Amiga, Sega Master System, Sega Game Gear, and Super NES. The next year it was ported to DOS and Game Boy then got a sequel in 1995.
Taking a page from comics, videogames had a few crossovers in the 90’s. After all the easiest way to get more fans isn’t making NEW ones, it’s trying to mush all your existing fans into one big ball so you only have to keep that ball happy. It’s much easier to get two existing properties with two fanbases to buy one game than build a whole new property to attract people.
It makes sense with something like Battletoads & Double Dragon. To this day when people think of those two games, they’ll immediately think of the NES versions. Though many people did play Double Dragon on the Sega Master System, so bringing the two together would instantly bring in the bucks. But something like RoboCop Versus The Terminator doesn’t seem as smart.
I bet if you looked at the people who went to see Robocop and the people who went to see Terminator, there would be a lot of overlap. Sure it still brings a lot of people to one game but wouldn’t you get more sales with two separate games? Though I guess they both did have their own games so maybe I’m the one who isn’t making sense. Or I’m just the one that’s rambling.
Plus when in the Terminator timeline was Robocop supposed to happen? In the present day we didn’t have robots yet but in the future we had Terminators. Was Robocop in between those two times? If humans could make Robocops, why did we have such trouble fighting Skynet and the Terminators? Why didn’t we just make more Robocops? I guess Skynet could have taken them over but if Murphy maintained his humanity, who’s to say other Robocops couldn’t so the same-oh dear I’ve pooped myself.
In the 90’s Sonic ruled. People liked fast things with ‘tude so other companies naturally tried to ape his success with their own creations like Awesome Possum, Bubsy and Aero the Acrobat. Unfortunately, one thing Sonic’s games had over these was… being good. 9 out of 10 of these games were complete garbage. You’d take on the role as another land mammal who ran through a jungle or other wooded area and picked up pizzas or soda cans or some such bullshit.
They weren’t all failures, though. Rocket Knight Adventures started out as one of these Sonic clones but the developers behind that game knew what made a videogame good. The guys who made Bubsy sure did not. Though how he got two sequels and a TV pilot I will never know.
Product placement in a film or television show can be jarring and seem ham-handed. But in a sports game it just enhances the realism. When you think of a football or basketball game of course your mind will conjure up thoughts of Sprite, FOX and TastyCakes.
Other than products, sports games in the 90’s tried to sell personalities. We still get a player featured on the cover of most sports games but gaming will never see another Shaq Fu or Charles Barkley’s Shut Up and Jam. Sean White Skateboarding looks pretty cool but I think this fad died along with the Tony Hawk series. At least that’s the last time I can remember a name really selling a videogame.
1. Anything based on any existing property ever
Yes, Aladdin and The Lion King are great games but they were made for a reason, to put butts in seats. Or vice versa. With a pre-existing property you have a built in audience. I love watching Donald Duck cartoons so if I see a game starring him I’ll want to play it. Naturally the next best thing to watching a movie starring Luke Skywalker is to BE Luke Skywalker! It’s a shame that this mindset is nearly extinct. If you see a game based on your favorite movie or TV show in a Gamestop the first reaction is to spin around and run as fast as you can. We need more Treasure’s in the world and less… whoever made Iron Man 2: the Game. Eff those guys.
Phew, that was a long one. Hope you guys enjoyed it! Let me know if you did in the comments or in our forum thread!