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Retro Gaming Review #1: The Advergaming Edition
by Scrooge McSuck

- In hoping what will become a trend for me, I'll be doing up video game columns where I, in short, play through a few games and review them. In the style of fairness, with any game choices, I will make a serious attempt at playing and beating them, and in most cases, they will be games I have in my personal collection.

In almost all cases, all the games I will be reviewing will be from either the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Sega Master System (SMS, or just Sega), and the Sega Genesis. I might throw in the occasional Gameboy game, or in a rare instance, something from the PlayStation's or Nintendo 64 era, but most games on those are too deep to make into a multiple game column, so don't expect too many of those.

As mentioned earlier, with every game, I will make a serious attempt at playing them. After 30-minutes, if I haven't accomplished jack shit, or beaten it in some games cases, I will throw in the towel because after that long, without any advancement, I'm not going to keep wasting my time.

With all of that out of the way, let's get into my idea for the debut edition of these reviews. As much as we all know about Movies to Video Games, what about "Blatantly Horrible Advertisement Through Video Games?" I'm not talking about the TMNT games having Pizza Hut logo's thrown around in the backgrounds, I mean an entire video game dedicated to the sole purpose of advertising a company's merchandise. In the following reviews, I will be digging into the shelves of the NES collection. Note: These games are NOT part of my personal collection, but the idea behind this review was a concept I thought would be a great way to get my feet wet, so there's your bullshit excuse of the day.

Game #1: M.C. Kids (also known as McDonald Land)
Developer: Virgin Interactive
North American Release Date: February 1992
Console: Nintendo Entertainment System

McDonald Land

Plot: Ronald was showing off his Magic Bag at a picnic in the Meadow, when all of a sudden the Hamburglar appears and steals it. Ronald McDonald needs "us" to help get it back. Search the levels of his clubhouse and retrieve at least four of the puzzle cards. If you come back to his house with four cards, he will show you how to get to Birdie's house!

After the introduction, you're on a stage select map of Ronald's Clubhouse, and there are a total of six levels you can select from, in no particular order for the most part (think: Super Mario Bros. 3). As the message said, you have to collect at least FOUR puzzle cards to advance (one in each level, of course). Seconds into playing this game, quite a few things are obvious, and become even more so after playing through all six levels from Ronald's Clubhouse (World 1, in more advanced gamers level system)

  1. The difficulty level was clearly set for a younger audience. Despite being a platform game, there's not a whole lot of ways to die falling off of stuff. There might be one "bottomless pit" per level, at the most. Enemies can only be destroyed when you throw blocks at them, but blocks are so plentiful throughout the entire level that there should be no problem not dying, despite having three hearts worth of energy. Also, levels are incredibly short, so you really have to go out of your way to get hurt.
  2. The graphics are incredible sub-par, during a time when the NES should've been able to produce far better graphics than this. Everything is just bland. Your character is a block of blue and black with a face, enemies are barely animated and in some cases are smiling like you should be cuddling with them, backgrounds are limited to trees and sky, and nothing stands out. Clearly an example of a rush job during production, as everything is OK, but far from memorable.
  3. The sound is annoyingly repetetive. Generic music. Can't really say much else, and that's not a good thing.
  4. The controls, while not terrible, aren't as crisp as they should be, either. For the most part, you can keep control of your character without much trouble, but you'll occasionally meet frustration when you over-shoot a small platform in the sky and go crashing down, having to start from the beginning again.
Anyway, it took me roughly 15 minutes to play through the entire world, with some additional time spent because I'm in the middle of watching the Top Chef: D.C. marathon on Bravo at the same time. After collecting the necessary four puzzle pieces and beating all the levels (I decided against collecting all 6, just to save myself 4-5 minutes), we return to Ronald's house, where we might get a Happy Meal and a cool little toy for our troubles. Nope, we get nothing but an overly excited clown.

"Wow! You have found enough of my puzzle cards! Hurry on to Birdie's Treehouse. Hamburglar was last seen there with my Bag of Magic!" And so, Mick and Mack took off to the tall treehouser where Birdie The Early Bird lives...

"Hamburglar has run off to Grimace's World! If you can find five of my puzzle pieces, I can show you the way!"

And from there, you have another "World map" with six levels, and you can take paths that don't restrict you to 1-2-3-4-5-6, but is a little more less giving on going where you want like in Ronald's Funhouse. The difficulty level is only slightly higher with the addition of more gaping pit falls, but still, the only "challenge" is finding ways to collect the hidden puzzle cards in each level. I'm a little disappointed in myself for not pushing forward more to get to Grimace's World (as well as the Professor's Workshop and Hamburglar's Hideout, to name a few), but there are a total of 7 Worlds, with anywhere between 4 and 7 levels in each, and there's just no way in hell I'm playing a child's game for a few hours, just to see an 8-bit version of the Hamburglar. Sorry.

Overall, I wouldn't recommend this for adult gamers, other than to just get a nostalgia kick, thanks to a laughably low difficult setting and just for the fact enemies are woodland creatures SMILING at you, looking for a good time. However, for young children, I wouldn't mind saying this game is an okay play through for them. It's harmless, has decent controls, doesn't look like a pile of puke, and has the charm that children love, based primarily on familiar characters from the fast food world of McDonald's. With that out of the way, let's see what we have to play next...

Game #2: Yo! Noid
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: November 1990
Console: Nintendo Entertainment System


The Noid. The Noid starred in his own video game*. For those of you unfamiliar with the character, the Noid was a mascot of sorts for Domino's Pizza throughout the 80's. A red-suited villain done in the style of claymation, the Noid's goal was to ruin Domino's pizza's, but was thwarted on all of his attempts. For those too young to remember the character, you might have seen him in VERY brief cameo appearances in an episode or two of the Simpsons. Anyway, I guess Domino's thought this character was popular enough that financing a video game with him starring as the protagonist was a wonderful idea and would no doubt come up with an interesting storyline to throw him into.

After starting the game up, I have no idea what the backstory or plot to this game is, because they just throw you right into the first level once you press start. Let's get the story straight from the Instruction Manual's print...

"What noive! Somebody's wrecking New York City! Or maybe it's a whole gang! Wherever you go, hooligans jump out and knock you down. Can you imagine the noive!

For instance, try strolling on the warf, and get flapped by a fish. Or go skateboarding in Central Park --- you'll get shredded by dive bombers. And with loonies everywhere, what a time for a brownout in the Bronx!

This is what the NOID is up against, and more! In fact, it looks like his duplicate Mr. Green is causing all the antics. That's double trouble!

But the NOID'S got plenty of ammo --- supernatural powers, incredible inventions, and a whiz-bang yo-yo. He just needs a pizza every now and then to keep him going!"
(Note: the back pages of the manual include an advertisement for Chip N' Dale Rescue Rangers, a far superior game, as well as a $1.00 off coupon for Domino's Pizza. Expires on 12-31-92)

Well that explains everything, doesn't it? The city has fallen into shambles, so the Noid is going to help make things right. I should note the terrible stereotype of how New Yorkers talk (more is clearly obvious on the back of the box the game comes in) in the printed messages, but at least there's no terrible japanese-to-english translations like "A Winner is You" anywhere.

Gameplay - Basically, your typical side scrolling game released by Capcom, where you advance from level-to-level thanks to a World Map (that you have no control over, by the way. It's automated). You run, jump, and avoid enemies until you reach the final confrontations, which is where I'm going to focus my attention to right now. At the end of all the levels, your Noid goes up against a rival Noid in a Pizza Eating Contest. The most intriguing part of this "contest" is that it's competed in a card game format. For example, Enemy-Noid draws a 3, you draw a 5, so you eat 2 pizza's. First one to fill his bar wins. And this happens at the end of every level, and becomes very tedious at times, too.

As the introduction states, you have additonal gadgets and inventions, such as the HyperBoard (goofy skateboard), Pizza Crusher (goofy pogo stick) and Ornithopter (goofy hand-controled 'Copter) to get you through select levels, but the controls are just too jumpy at times, and enemy sprites placed horribly, that any fun from these special levels is completely zapped.

Graphics - If there's one thing I can compliment about this game, is its graphics. Capcom was well known for releasing graphically superior games for the NES, and this one doesn't fall short from that. All the characters are detailed and clearly visible, each level has it's own unique feel, and even the world map has a nice little charm to it, even if you'll be looking at it a lot from losing so many damn lives. The only disappointment is the boss "Fights" which are just card games against a black screen and the Noids making either an exciting face or horribly disgusted face.

Difficulty - When you're dealing with a side scroller, you'll be facing a lot of enemies, so you'll want to have an equalizer to combat this problem. Naturally, the only weapon you have is a Yo-Yo with very short range, and you can't jump on enemies, like in almost every other side scroller. Some enemies are too strong to hit and run by, and other's will frustrate you with attacks during horrible timely jumping from platform to platform.

Then there's the health meter. You have none. Yes, if you get hit ONCE, you lose the level and have to restart from the beginning, and if you lose all of your lives, you only have three continues to restart from the level you left off at. Basically, that means 16 hits and you're dead, unless you come across a bunch of extra lives (good luck on that one).

If all of that wasn't enough of a pain in the ass for you, there's an even more frustrating aspect to this game. Sprite precision is laughable. I have died too many times jumping onto a platform floating on water, but "drowning" even though there's still plenty of platform still peaking out from above the water. This is an unusual problem I've come across, and don't think I've seen in any other games before or since. Thanks for making things harder than it needs to be, Capcom.

Overall, this game is a real stinker. While there's the positive of pretty good graphics, everything else fails horribly. The plot is laughable, the controls frustrating, long and tedious boss "fights", and the completely unfair balance of difficulty against you just makes this the kind of game you want to throw against the wall after 15-minutes of playing. Wherever this game came from can go back to wherever that is and stay there...

Which reminds me, I marked a previous comment with an asterisk. Yo! Noid suffers from a mild case of Super Mario Bros. 2. Originally, Yo! Noid was a Famicom game released under the title of Kamen no Ninja Hanamaru. While not as blatantly rehashed like Mario 2/Doki Doki Panic was, thAnks to character sprites and backgrounds changing to correspond with the "New York City" setting, the remaining format of the game, all of it's mechanics and controls, and the final boss card battle system all carried over from the original game to the Yo Noid version. Definitely not the most interesting story, but at least Capcom didn't bother making a totally original game for the Noid.

Game #3: Spot: The Video Game
Developer: Arcadia Systems
Release Date: September 1990
Console: Nintendo Entertainment System

7-Up Spot

This is definitely one of the more under-the-radar games starring an advertisement character. In this case, it's Spot, of 7-Up commercial fame. Now I know we've done McDonald's and somehow squeezed a game out of the fucking Noid that made zero sense, and now we've got a bunch of dots from 7-Up to make a game into. I can't imagine how this is going to try and be worth anything. Then I played the game. I must say, it is one of the more unique games I played from the vast collection released for the NES.

The best way to describe this one is that it's an acid-trip version of checkers. During the initial game of two players, you have red and blue teams, and each team has two checker pieces set up on the board. You can either win by completely eliminating all the other players spots, or by filling up the entire board with spots, and having more than your opponent after the final move is made. When you move a piece, several things can happen.

  1. If you move from one spot to a spot next to you, you get to keep the original spot, as well as the new spot created from the space move.
  2. If you do the same move and end up next to a spot or group of spots occupied by the other player, their spots in immediate contact with you will change color to your spots.
  3. You can move multiple spaces with your spot, but this will now leave the original starting position open, which can end up hurting you in the long run, but also helps get the big scores of changing spot colors.
For each move a spot makes, there's many different animations to liven things up. I don't know an exact total, but I think I noticed at least 20 different animations during the course of a 10-minute game. While not the greatest graphics in the world, the 7-Up spots were not exactly CGI heaven, and as long as it looks like it should, then everything is fine with me.

The difficulty level is fair, I guess. I don't play a lot of these kind of games, but when the computer is making moves I would make, then I'd say that there's a chance I might actually lose. In fact, I lost several times. Third times a charm though, as I pulled out the miracle comeback, and the victory screen congratulates.... YELLOW for winning? Umm... the colors are clearly red and blue, with a green background. Where did the Yellow come from? WHERE?! Oh well, can't be perfect, right?

As much praise as I've given the game so far, there are some flaws. There's a minimal amount of music and sound effects, and what is there is very generic in repetetive. Also, while the controls are very simple, the fact an entire game is played just by pointing and clicking kind of makes things a bit of a bore after a while. I'm sure with multiplayer this game will have a longer shelf life, but as a solo player operation, after about an hour or so, there's really not much left to this game, even if you can remove spaces from the game board, depending on how much you want to fuck with the default settings. One more problem that is more based on instinct is that I'm sure this game was marked up to hell thanks to the 7-Up license added to it. Imagine a generic checkers game with pieces moving in weird paterns. Then imagine adding a licensed companies name to it, and tell me the price isn't going to be jacked up to the price of a higher-quality game.

On top of that, there's no "Levels" if you end up winning the board. Instead, there's a "Edit Board" feature, which allows you to manipulate the board any way you want, if by any way means "remove spaces". That just seems a little lazy, adding nothing to the depth of the game and adding a feature that forces the gamer to do it instead. This isn't like Excitebike, where you can create awesome race tracks. You basically make a checker board missing spaces, and that's it. You're done. Now go and play another game, and do it again when you're done.

Overall, a fun time killer, but nothing more than that. The initial uniqueness of gameplay and the entertaining animations clashes heavily with the lack of additonal features other than one board to play with and short attention span for single player modes. Honestly, after thinking it all through, I'd have to say the game in the end comes across as underwhelming compared to what could've been done with just a few more tweaks.

Special Note: For those interesting in more games along these lines, McDonald's, 7-Up, Domino's, Burger King, Kool-Aid and Cheetos (among many others) have released many more games in the nature of Advergaming, that are too many to list here, ranging from game systems such as the Atari, all the way up to the X-Box.

Final Thoughts: Much like anything, video games know no bias. Of the three featured here, one ended up being a surprisingly good little charm, another, while a little on the lame side, could be found entertaining for other age groups, and one just flat out sucked. I'm sure for the right price, I would still buy copies of all three games, but I don't think I plan on playing at the least, two of them, ever again. I'm not going to make promises of making this the usual formula, but I'm going to try my best to keep things going in a form where three games can be grouped under one proper umbrella, depending on category or whatever reasons I decide to make up. Maybe next time I'll do something like "all certain sports" or "Disney cartoons turned games", you never know with me.