By Katie . April 24, 2006 . 12:18pm
We on our big island of the Americas North and South may have plenty of space, but in all the world, we’re the most familiar with crowding of a different sort – advertising. The gelatinous land mass has been imprinted with McDonald’s arches and Wal-Mart smilies as far as the eye can see, an insatiable eye which has since turned to stamp its trademark on the world and succeeding more with each passing day, albeit less than at home. Actually, that may no longer exactly ring true – having spread out from here to Japan, homeland of most video game ventures, that country’s closely-trailing commercial culture is finding its way into software at a pace to match the U.S.A’s.
Well, that’s not the news, either – licensed games date from before even the NES days, and the fledgling forays into in-game advertising landed not far behind. Here, we’ll take a look at the footprints, and crash sites, of advertising throughout gaming history – the good, the bad, and the laughably bad. In proving or disproving the games’ worth, each will be awarded a smarmy comment from me, with any actual awards and related advertising efforts from within the industry receiving due mention.
We’ll start with…
Cool Spot – Virgin, 7UP (SNES/Genesis, 1993; Game Gear, Game Boy & DOS, 1994)
For some reason, one of the most actively marketed soda pops in times of open indulgence and carb-counting alike has been 7up. Is there something, as this game would purport, ‘Cool’-er about the then-dubbed ‘Uncola’ than the rest of the swirly-logo’ed, fizzy drinks food group? At the time, parent company Pepsicola was more or less deriding the first half of its namesake, a tactic from which, as evidenced in more solitarily-sassy, current-day campaigns like ‘Make 7 Up Yours’, it’s been since learned that we do not make fun of ourselves, but rather the nameless masses.
But at the time, at that rather inspired time of emerging mascot celebrity in both games and television, one needed a face to put to the brand name, a spokesperson for all the wild renegade ideals of clear soft drinks with simulated ‘limon’ flavor, and to compete with the rival children of cool. 7up had theirs, an ingeniously simple fellow who peeled right off the label and into prime time like he’d always been there, and always would be – none other than their very own Spot.
What sets Spot apart is that he became a product that didn’t reallllly need 7up. His finger-snappin’, shades-wearin’, that’s-cool-daddio swagger won our hearts with the character of a standalone … well, character. This was in no small part due to efforts like Virgin’s Cool Spot, a platformer collectathon of lengthy, well-conceived, and challenging proportions, that felt less like the big 7up ad than it veritably was and more like some effervescent dream. In puritanical platforming of the highest order, Spot must free one of his captured clone cohorts hidden in each toweringly-tiered stage, all while racing against the clock, shooting soda bubbles at pesky crustaceans, and collecting red Spot-coins to fill a ‘Cool’-o-meter and eventually gain lives. During his travels over a sandy beach, through a rusty pier, inside the walls of a house, deep in a dinghy and more, those adept at controlling the corporate mascot will also encounter bonus rounds inside giant bottles of 7up, where they’ll bounce off carbonation bubbles to glory (i.e. continues), serenaded by one of the most rockin’ video game tunes ever.
By this point, 7up almost seemed to be paying to be in Spot’s game. The two were so integral to one another, anyway, that there was not the faintest hint of a manufactured bone in Cool Spot’s body. I love you, Spot.
Awards: "Best Cartridge Music of the Year", 1993, Sega
"Best Sound", 1993, Electronic Games Magazine
My Award: Best Game Ever with Most Inextricably-Linked Advertising That Could Still Paradoxically Be Removed for Europe.
Honorable Mention: The puzzle game for NES, 1990′s Spot, was a learning process for a 6-year-old without a manual, but a fun rental nonetheless. Fido Dido, Europe’s answer to Spot, received his own Genny game in 1993 (which was available to the Americas as well, with the reverse advertisement removal that Cool Spot got in Europe). Spot Goes to Hollywood (Genesis, 1995, Saturn, 1996,and Playstation, 1997) seems to have been the swan song of the campaign, but it just goes to show how long the Little Red Guy held out, even when we were forgetting him.
Super Monkey Ball 1&2 – Sega, DOLE (Gamecube, 2001 & 2002)
SMB falls under the ‘Good’ heading by nature of the game wrapped up in the big banana peel… not because it’s well-wrapped. Monkey Ball was an upright arcade cabinet game in Japan that attained such popularity, a console version of the racer-puzzler crossbreed starring cinnamon-bun-eared simians would be a surefire moneymaker. But not profitable enough, it was strangely felt, as Sega and development house Amusement Vision struck up a real bank-breaking deal with Dole. Yes, Dole, whose mass-marketing efforts extend no further than banana stickers and possibly in-store pineapple standees.
What stood to be gained from every banana, large and small, in a game comical enough to begin with, being comically adorned with a Dole sticker? Could we possibly take, for example, Granny Smith apple advertising with any less incredulousness? With no other promotional tie-ins, and thus, at an assuredly non-fortuitous yield to the fruit company, this venture had to have been intended primarily for a good laugh. A passably-appropriate use of advertising that nonetheless smacked of selling out, the indomitable Dole machine still rolls on today, sans Sega, letting the nutritional value of fruit sell its product and, hopefully, staying out of the launch-title limelight.
Awards: Assuredly a lot, cause this game rocks.
My Awards: Most Prominent Case of In-Game Advertising that can go Totally Unnoticed After 5 Minutes; Most Branded In-Game Items for Little-to-No-Profit
Honorable Mention: To my knowledge, no one has been crazy enough to advertise anything from the produce aisle since this game. The ads were even removed for the 2005 compilation, Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, for all three current-gen platforms.
McKids a.k.a. McDonald Land – Virgin and McDonalds (NES, 1992)
Virgin Interactive makes the list again with a more tumultuous title, a bittersweet memory not befitting the tasty associations of a Happy Meal tie-in… a game, it could be said, that entered the common fond recollection in SPITE of backing from a megalomaniacal corporate entity.
An action-adventure featuring two suspiciously-slim youths in the land of Grimace, Frykids, and naturally, Ronald himself on the trail of that Magic Bag-thieving Hamburglar, McKids was to receive a month-long ad blitz on the child-size mulch bags at McDonald’s restaurants, but it seems Virgin had the contract pulled right out from under them when the final product didn’t impress Mickey Dee’s execs. According to one designer’s website, the only fathomable reason this could happen, when the engine included such well-oiled parts as interacting with movable and destructible blocks, objectives like card-gathering that awarded new worlds, and two player mechanics, was the poor aesthetic factor…
…but let’s be real here. Even McDonald’s would have had to know what hardware they were working with, and that, in the late NES era, this game looked better than the lion’s share of the library that preceded it. People do like McKids, but my critical thinking meter is picking up more than faint readings of nostalgia in their gushings. And to read that Virgin staffer’s link, one would wonder why the genius behind the gem that saw fewer sales than artificial vomit cleaner would be so myopic as to claim that Mario 64 lifted from it by virtue of one commonly-used idea (which, to elaborate on the poorly-formulated rant, consists of levels being selectable depending on objectives achieved… wow, they should really sue!)
Even though the game itself is average to good, crying all these years later because it couldn’t sell on its own merits but needed the Golden Arches up its rear makes me question its inclusion in the ‘Good’ heading. I’ll leave it here, but with a message to Mr. Greggman: When a lot of projects don’t get a whit of funding to begin with, the likes of which begat Doom, for example, you hardly have reason to weep for not having 30 million free ads. Get over it
My Award: Game That Didn’t Copy From Mario but Gave Shigeru Miyamoto A 64-Bit Vision
Honorable Mention: Mick & Mack: Global Gladiators (Genesis, Game Gear, 1992), and many more McNuggets of gaming that I’ve simply digested so much of, I just don’t feel like writing about anymore.
The strength-sapping exercise thus ended on a low note, we conclude this week’s edition of Gamevertisements, Volume 1. Please tune in again next time, as little by little we move forward unto more atrocities!