By Katie . July 10, 2006 . 10:17am
Welcome back, reader, and thanks for joining Gamevertisements, volume 2 – The Badvertisements, title adjusted just so I could type ‘badvertisements’ without being TOO redundant. I really can’t believe you’ve returned for this second exposé of gaming’s growing corporate underbelly. I thought I’d run through all my best material in the first instalment, but that might serve as an unintended boon – with all the praise lavished and gone, all we’ve got left is mud to sling, and some rather deserving targets.
These games aren’t particularly trash-worthy, lurking in the nebulous eye of the storm sweeping our interactive entertainment landscape. They come out intact, but beaten and battered, as monuments to corporate ruin, plastered with marketing debris.
Need for Speed Underground 2 – EA Games & As many brands as they could muster (Multiplatform , 2004)
In the quarter century since the checkered flag fell and put the likes of Pole Position, Outrun, and Hang-On behind the wheel of arcade gaming, street- and formula-racing games have sped into top gear where realism is concerned. Gone are the days of scrolling backdrops and stationary Ferraris
from whence negligent drivers would be flung skyward, as colliding with any object equated with skidding out and exploding… but some things never change. Thus, the digital open road has always been prime real estate for one of real life’s inescapable truths – billboards.
We’ve long accepted the distraction with neutrality as an army of logos for a single game producer or some obscure gas company, or possibly a Good Year blimp here and there, all whizzed by at the same break-neck speed. But that was then, and this is now, when, with graphical acuity and a mindedness for all things monetary, the right developer can make their property more
effectively ad-laden than anything reality can dish out.
Introducing Need for Speed Underground 2. In the game’s defense, I haven’t played it; in my own defense, the premise has never compelled me to do so. But even players with inextreme prejudice for the hiphop-themed, fast and shiny set have acknowledged the irony of NFSU2′s deficient production values, as yet another case of cleaning-crew-turned-voice-actors and pasty-programmers-turned-urban-dramaturgists crops up in game that’s more bought out than a finished Monopoly board. EA Games can afford better, but can get away with so much less, and the notion that even the third-rate soundtrack is advertised throughout makes it all the more grating a prospect. Major corporate friendlies include – but are probably not limited to – Cingular, Old Spice, ING, and Burger King, with the inkblot-esque cellphone logo inescapably stamped on the upper left quadrant of the screen. It’s for "realism", since racers can send text messages (or S.M.S., to be more brand-conscious) – because that’s a GREAT idea when you’re drifting around those hairpin turns. Awesome.
Let’s ditch that whole ‘realism’ bit – it’s all for the ‘bling’. Need For Speed 2 Undgerground might have done better to clean itself up a little and work on its game after getting out of bed, rather than invite so many unscrupulous fellows into it.
My Award: Most Likely To Make People Phone The Bank to Get Deodorized Hamburgers.
Real Awards: Probably some editor’s choice in a really slow month.
Honorable Mention: Need for Speed dates from 1993… well, someone check me on that. But no matter the year, the series remains a long-running and well-established franchise with merits that probably supercede the recent sellout trends.
WiPeOut PuRE (JPN) – SCEE & Coca Cola (PSP, 2005)
My familiarity with WipeOut is self-evidenced by the assuredly improper capitalization of the title itself – that is to say, it’s relegated to second-hand experiences and my own passing knowledge of the blessed thing. But that isn’t so limiting, as anyone who wasn’t living in a sound-proofed,
windowless bomb shelter had to know about the futuristic formula racer that paired off F-Zero with Destruction Derby hot on the heels of the huge Playstation launch in 1995, and a lot of those people played it. Over its 4 or so iterations, some of which sat better than others, the series has become gospel to a loyal throng of Sony speed freaks.
The latest, PuRE for PSP, is by their accounts a great game, and I don’t doubt the veracity of their claims for a second. With stylish graphics and acclaimed musical scores, its pedigree has never plumbed the depths of mediocrity for very long, but, with the attention to design, presentation,
and playability finally on the rebound, a new threat to our eyesight has emerged from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Coca Cola Japan has partnered with the forces responsible for the publishing in that country to produce some of the most garish, uninspired, and blatantly obvious advertising possible, in the guise of skins and other ‘content’ downloadable via their website. It’s all optional, for which PSP gamers should thank their not-so-good-fortune, but I will bet my bottom dollar that this paves the way for persisting ads for the ads themselves, that won’t go away until one finally succumbs to wallpapering their in-game environments, vehicles, or clothes with disproportionate, retina-wrenchingly bland gobs of red.
Awards: Gamespy’s Editor’s Choice (US Version)
My Awards: Content Most Likely to See Zero Downloads, Ever.
Honorable Mention: If anyone dares lay a finger on F-Zero next, heads will roll.
Zool - Gremlin Graphics & Chupa Chups (Amiga and Various Ports, 1992)
I can’t pick on racers all day, so here’s something new to pick on – a Sonic clone. In the heyday of 16-bit, many of them infuriated me equally, and apparently there were more than we would have fathomed. But first off, since I can hear a bunch of you scratching your heads as to just what these
‘Amiga’ and ‘Zool’ doohickeys are, an explanation to save you one short day’s internetting – because therein lies the only real records left of either entity.
It seems that the Amiga was the successor to the Commodore 64, fashioned in the same integrated style where monitor, keyboard and CPU all shared a mutual casing, with additional software often relegated to an external 5 1/4" floppy drive. It was also a comparative graphical powerhouse given the technology of the day, making the machine a viable game development platform and considerable (non-Nintendo and non-Sega) market presence from ’85 to ’94, when the big C finally folded.
While PC gamers were meeting shameless impersonations of Sega’s blue blur in the likes of Jazz Jackrabbit, Amiga apparently had its own much-hyped contender to the speed-thrill throne – Zool, an interdimensional ninja with glo-stick swords, his name engraved on the soles of his shoes, a game bursting with attitude, and one other thing: advertisements.
The main venue? A veritable candyland called ‘Sweet World’ that would have never flown in any self-respecting Sonic game gone by, where confectionary ads are, to my absolute knowledge, nonexistent. Sure, other games have been swathed in caramel lakes and candy cane hillsides, but not the ones that were supposed to be ‘edgey’. And to break the reverie, to dash the imagination by suggesting there’s an interdimensional lollipop trade? That just sucks, pun intended.
Seems to me the mags that gloated about Sega and Nintendo’s child psychologists having had no part in making Zool should have waited to see if Gremlin’s own marketing specialists would pull through. Though avidly-hyped and critically-praised (the unanimity of which reviews begs to wonder if the mags had monetary incentives), Zool failed to gain sonic-speed after launch. While side-by-side screenshot comparison with the Genesis mascot’s could easily reveal its technical
inferiorities – the six graduated shades of sky blue that formed backdrops, for example – it can’t be said for sure why Zool seems to have retreated into a dimension of obscurity where Sonic and Mario live on. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the same reason why I haven’t seen a Chupa Chup in a long while.
My Award: Game to which I-Ninja Probably Owes His Existence
Real Awards: See above link.
Honorable Mention: A follow-up, Zool 2, was released shortly following the first title, and seemingly curtailed the brief career of the "Ninja from the Nth Dimension."
That’s all for this time. I hope no one was horribly offended. And if you were, just wait until part 3!
Thanks for looking and check out Gamevertisments Volume 1: What Worked.