Back when video games were still considered kids' toys and the phrase "triple-A" hadn't entered the gaming lexicon, it was common for developers to make games based on contracted product licenses. No industry embraced this practice harder than junk food manufacturers, all of which were eager to convince 12-year-olds that soda, chips, and 4,000-calorie burgers should be a part of their everyday diet.
Making games that featured snack food mascots was a cheap method of advertising. The funny thing is, some of these games were actually good, despite the fact that they were little more than promotional tools. Though this isn't an exhaustive list by any means, join us as we take a look at the brands that attempted to make playing with virtual food fun.
Kool-Aid Man (1983 - Atari 2600, Intellivision)
Mattel--one of the world's biggest toy companies--developed one of the world's first ever games made specifically to promote a food product. Kool-Aid Man (a game which could be obtained for free by sending in 125 proof of purchase points) released in 1983 for the Atari 2600 and, later, the Intellivision. It featured Kool-Aid's already popular mascot: An anthropomorphic pitcher of punch, with an obsession for destroying property and pulling off sweet tricks on his (its?) skateboard. The goal of the game? To quench the thirst of rotund creatures cleverly called "Thirsties."
Basically, you hopped around as a giant bowl of fruit juice and slammed Kool-Aid Man's body into Thirsties that were attempting to drink water instead of Kool-Aid. The gameplay was pretty telling of Kraft Foods' ultimate goal, as it warned kids of the dangers of drinking water instead of sugary, cavity-causing drinks. Those "dangers" mostly just included getting crushed to death under the weight of a talking pitcher that would scream "Ohhhh yeaaaaah!" while it extinguished the life from a Thirsties' young, innocent eyes. What a terrifying thought.
Pepsi Invaders (1983 - Atari 2600)
Coca-Cola and Pepsi have been competitors ever since the two soda giants were founded in the late 1800s and early 1900s, respectively. But their rivalry has never been more fierce than during the Cola Wars of the 1980s. It was during this time that Coca-Cola commissioned the development of a game called Pepsi Invaders--also known as "Coke Wins"--which was essentially a hacked version of Space Invaders for the Atari 2600. Only 125 copies of the game were ever made, and they were handed out to the sales executives that attended Coca-Cola's 1983 sales convention.
The game tasked players with destroying incoming aliens in the form of hostile, world-ending letters that just happened to spell "Pepsi" across each row. Though players had unlimited lives with which to do so, they were given a three-minute time limit to blast those horrible, horrible letters from the heavens. That'll teach those red-white-and-blue bastards who they're messing with.
Donald Land (1988 - Famicom)
McDonald's first foray into the world of video game marketing occurred in the form of Donald Land, a straightforward platformer that never released outside of Japan. Controlling Ronald McDonald (known as Donald McDonald in the game), players had to bring peace to his magical kingdom by saving the burger-addicted clown's kidnapped companions and trouncing feral animals. Which was accomplished by throwing soap bubbles and explosive apple bombs. Which literally makes zero sense.
Avoid the Noid (1989 - Commodore 64, DOS)
Okay, this one requires a tiny bit of backstory. In the late '80s, Domino's Pizza frequently boasted about its guarantee to always deliver a pizza in 30 minutes or less. To further demonstrate its promise, commercials aired featuring a claymation marketing character called the Noid, a bunny-human-hybrid creature that was a manifestation of all the challenges (or annoyances, thus "a Noid") that came with delivering a pizza in such a short amount of time. And so, it was deemed, a video game would be a fitting way to bolster pizza consumers' understanding of how hard it was to deliver pizzas while they were still hot.
Thus Avoid the Noid was born, a game that put players in the shoes of a pizza delivery boy who had to safely carry hot cheese pies through Noid-infested apartment buildings and deliver them unto the hungry customer. Though the game was actually pretty fun to play, it's safe to say that it exaggerated the challenges that come with pizza delivery. We doubt delivery workers usually have to worry about trap doors, pizza-destroying rabbits packing heat-seeking missile launchers, or being driven insane by digitized variations of classical music. Usually.
Yo! Noid (1990 - NES)
The Noid's video game follow-up, Yo! Noid, was originally released in Japan as a game called Masked Ninja Hanamaru. That game featured a ninja-in-training tasked with investigating a series of kidnappings. Of kids. During the game's Western localization, Domino's Pizza contracted Capcom to replace the ninja character with the Noid and its story with a new kid-friendly tale (preferably with fewer child abductions). This new story saw the previously evil pizza-devouring mascot become the hero as he set out to save New York City from his super-evil twin, Mr. Green.
Yo! Noid was a pretty cool action platformer game (seeing as its mechanics were identical to those of Masked Ninja Hanamaru). The Noid used his deadly yo-yo--which was quite the departure from Hanamaru's vicious hawk--to defeat enemies, and could obtain magical screen-clearing attacks via power-ups. Plus, pizza lovers were delighted to find a coupon for $1 off a Domino's pizza on the back of the game's instruction manual. Radical!
Spot: The Video Game (1990 - Amiga, Atari ST, DOS, Game Boy, NES)
The marketing executives behind 7 Up soda weren't the first to try luring in a younger audience by making a video game based on a brand's mascot. Unfortunately, their first attempt resulted in Spot: The Video Game, a pretty boring virtual recreation of the obscure strategy game Reversi. Because, you know, that's what all the kiddies were into.
Honestly, we're not entirely sure about the logic on this one, aside from the fact that Spot--the sunglasses-wearing mascot of 7 Up fame--was basically an anthropomorphic Checkers piece. The developers tried to spice the game up by giving him hip animations as he moved across the board, and the game did offer four-player local multiplayer, a pretty novel feature at the time. Too bad it was kind of boring in practice. Nothing says "Drink our edgy soda!" quite like a weird version of checkers that no one knows how to play.
M.C. Kids / Global Gladiators (1992 - NES, Game Boy, Commodor 64, Amiga, Atari ST, DOS)
M.C. Kids became a cult classic in the years following its release, as it developed a reputation as a challenging platform game rife with tons of hidden secrets. It also introduced Mick and Mack, the titular M.C. Kids, who would later go on to star in Global Gladiators, another promotional side-scrolling action game licensed by McDonalds.
But McDonalds officials weren't too happy with the game, citing difficulty as a major barrier that prevented the fast-food chain's target audience--kids--from enjoying it. You see, the children were supposed to feel like heroes that could accomplish anything if only they ingested burgers that contained 30+ grams of fat per serving. Instead, all they found were pitfalls and migraine-inducing graphics. Alas, the McDonalds allotted a minimal promotional budget to M.C. Kids post-release, dooming the game's sales from the start. Tragic.
Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool / Wild Wild Quest (1992 - SNES, Sega Genesis)
The late '80s and early '90s spawned all kinds of "hip" and "cool" snack food mascots, and few are as immediately recognizable as Chester Cheetah. Cheetos' famous feline (who was the second mascot of the Cheetos brand, coming after the Cheetos Mouse of the '70s) spouted all sorts of sly slogans in an attempt to convince kids that rhyming about crunchy snack foods was awesome.
Good 'ol Chester burst into the gaming scene with 1992's Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool, a painfully slow sidescrolling platformer. Funny thing is, Chester's rhyming obsession made it into the instruction manual, which, thanks to poor translation, contained awesome gems like "As is Chester Cheetah way, is one-person play." A sequel entitled Chester Cheetah: Wild Wild Quest was released later in the same year, and though it was a bit quicker in pace compared to its predecessor, it was still... dangerously cheesy. Get it? GET IT?
Cool Spot (1993 - Sega Genesis, SNES, Game Gear, Amiga, Game Boy, DOS )
Not content to let its circular mascot be associated with virtual board games forever, 7 Up took another stab at advergames in 1993 with Cool Spot, a surprisingly good sidescrolling platformer. In it, Cool Spot had to save his friends from imprisonment while finding collectibles scattered throughout each level. He could also shoot 7 Up from the palms of his hands, disintegrating underwear-laden crabs from beneath their shells with the soda's unbearably high sugar content.
But Cool Spot deserves credit for more than just its decent platforming; it also featured awesome music, impressive character animations, and a bit of 7 Up history in its bonus levels. Here, you were tasked with collecting a series of letters, which would spell "Uncola" once they were all found. This was a reference to 7 Up's marketing campaign in the late '60s and early '70s, when the soda was called the "Uncola" in an attempt to appeal to rebellious teenagers. A follow-up sequel, Spot Goes to Hollywood, was released in 1995, and was far more difficult thanks to its 3D orientation, isometric perspective, and clunky controls. Uncoola.