Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Ever Happened to Mick and Mack?

In the world of video games, there has, since the very first "generation" of consoles back in the 1970s, been games based on licensed properties: movies, comics, cartoons, toys, etc. And in the world of licensed properties, there has, not prolifically, but at least noticeably, existed a sub-genre known to some as "Advergames", a word obviously conjoining Advertisement and Games. The point of these "Advergames", most obviously, is to help sell product to kids, or more appropriately, kids' parents, through the help of a "cool" video game, which kids naturally love to play. The most successful or popular forms of these games, are the ones that can cash in on an existing promotional brand mascot, for two reasons.

The first and most readily apparent, and the very reason companies create marketing mascots in the first place, is to help with "brand recognition", and so slapping that character (usually a cartoon character) on the game already makes perfect sense. But beyond even that, ever since the rise in the 1980s of games like Pac-Man and Super Mario Bros., everyone and their uncle, most especially by the early '90s, wanted to have their very OWN mascot based gaming franchise, because "that's where the money was". And to a point, they have been right. After all, look at Mario, look at Sonic the Hedgehog, or Bomberman, or Crash Bandicoot. All successful, long-running franchises that have each made millions of dollars. Naturally, everyone wants a piece of that pie, and many tried.




Ahhhhh, 80s advertising....



So obviously then, the second point of having a brand mascot be a game character, is to try and cash in on that same success. It's a "win/win" situation, from a marketing perspective. However, not all of them have been all that successful. There have been several prominent cases of real world product mascots being used as video game subject matter. You've got  "The Noid", an '80s Domino's Pizza mascot, though much like the Trix cereal rabbit, he was featured in commercials in which people had to keep the pizza away from him, hence the "Avoid the Noid" catchphrase. Now granted, the fact that this was done using Claymation (a form of stop-motion animation), was a damn cool thing for me as a kid, let alone that it was PIZZA we're talking about. He got not one but two of his own games. The first of which was a more obscure PC game called, appropriately enough, "Avoid the Noid". But the more infamous example, was an NES game published by Japanese company Capcom, called "Yo! Noid". It in itself was actually a decent platformer (run 'n jump) game, though it was actually a graphic re-design, for the most part, of a Japanese game called "Kamen no Ninja Hanamaru", or "Masked Ninja Hanamaru", which as far as I can gather wasn't a licensed property.

There were other famous examples, such as 7-Up's "Cool Spot" character (something else that was cool to me as a kid), who received his own set of games: "Spot: The Video Game", which was an odd checkers style puzzle game, "Cool Spot", the best known entry which was a side-scrolling platformer, and lastly "Spot Goes to Hollywood", an overhead isometric platformer. Then there were a couple of games featuring the famous Cheetos "Chester Cheetah" mascot, namely "Too Cool to Fool" and "Wild Wild Quest", both of which were also side-scrollers. Even Kool-Aid's "Kool-Aid Man" mascot had a game in the early 80s on Atari 2600 and Intellivision. And of course, there were the horribly cheesy (and cheaply made) Burger King games for XBox in more recent years, most especially the hilariously-named "Sneak King".



High Five, Motherfucker!!



But with all that aside, we're here today to talk about one company specifically: McDonald's. McDonald's had various games at one point, mostly in the early 90s, the first of which actually coming out in Japan only for the Nintendo Famicom in 1988, called "Donaldland". I do believe that's supposed to be "McDonaldland", but whatever. It was a rather average platformer in which you play a rather squat Ronald McDonald  (called "Donald McDonald...don't ask), and have to save Ronald's brainwashed pals from some made up evil Ronald clown named "Gumon". So...yeah. There were a couple of other games that starred Ronald McDonald, namely "McDonald's Treasureland Adventure" on Genesis and "McDonald in Magicland" on Game Gear. But as the title of this article implies, McDonald's cooked up two brand new, "real world" mascots just for use in video games, a couple of young (theoretically McDonald's consuming) kids named Mick and Mac. Mick is the black kid with the "Fresh Prince" hairdo, and Mack is the white kid with the baseball cap.




Hey kid, want some BURGERS???



The first and arguably better known of the two games these kids starred in, was called "M.C. Kids", which is supposed to stand for "McDonald's Club Kids". The McDonald's Club was a real thing that kids could sign up for while eating their deliciously HEALTHY kid's meals on a regular basis, so I assume half of the appeal that McDonald's imagined kids might have for these games, is that they could ostensibly imagine that they were in fact the kids running around magical McDonaldland. Which I admit, as a little kid, I probably thought the idea was pretty cool too. But this isn't about me.

Ohhhhh no. This article is about one of my best friends, in fact my oldest friend (of 20+ years), Harold. Harold loved the ever-living shit out of video games as a kid, just as much as I did. In fact the first time I ever really heard of a Nintendo or saw Super Mario Bros., was at his house when his family first got an NES. Harold's favorite genre of game was and has remained all these years, the mascot-based platformer. So when M.C. Kids came out in 1992, Harold was all over that shit like a fat kid at...well, McDonald's. He was the first one to rent it, I having never even heard of it, and naturally he told me all about it. In fact, I clearly remember what I think was his 12th birthday, because his mom had rented him M.C. Kids, and lo and behold, one of his other friends managed to snag him a shiny brand new copy of his very own as a gift (a fact that nearly caused him to have childhood, calorie-induced heart failure I'm sure).




Ohhh What a Feelin', When We're Dancin' on the Ceilin......




So the nuts and bolts of M.C. Kids, is that, as you can clearly see, it's a side-scrolling platformer game, which unabashedly borrows many elements right out of Super Mario Bros. It has a Super Mario Bros. 3/World style map for each game world. It has a Super Mario Bros. 2 style "grab and throw" mechanic, which like Mario 2 is the only real means of defeating enemies. You have to reach an end-level goal, much like SMB1, 3 and 4 (World). You even collect golden McDonald's arches (in place of coins), which if you collect enough of, will bring you extra lives. But it did bring a couple of unique elements to the table as well.

One of them, as seen in the picture above, was specific platforms that had little flippers at the end, and if you ran full speed off the end, you would ZIP around and suddenly find yourself wandering the level upside-down. Of course, one of the hazards this created, was that now the open sky was treated like a "pit", so if you "fell" upwards off of a platform, you'd die just the same.  The other somewhat original concept, was that in each level there was a hidden "card" with the letter M on it, and each time you found one of these cards, you opened up a picture in the upper-right corner of the map screen, which featured one of the famous McDonald's mascot characters, such as Ronald, Grimace, Birdie the Early Bird, etc. Collecting enough of these cards would allow you to advance to the next world. But (SPOILERS!!!), if you collect them ALL throughout the entire game, it opens up a secret (and rather fucked up) world you can play after beating the game. The secret "Puzzle World" is really just a bonus, just meant to mess around in, but it was still a cool idea.




The game's final boss, Ronald's renegade...magic BAG?



 The plot to the game is rather simple. Mick and Mack are best friends, hanging out in the backyard in a tent at night, reading about "McDonaldland", the magical place where Ronald and all his friends live. Well, while they're reading, BOOM, they're magically transported there in person, because it seems ol' Ronald needs their help. He has this magic bag, see, and that dastardly (and constantly hungry) Hamburgler, has taken off with it, no doubt because he thought it could give him an endless supply of high-fat goodness. So Ronald gets the kids (because he can't handle it himself), to go off traversing this wild, magical kingdom, finding magic card pieces to open the way to the "Mt. Doom" type volcano where that fiend took off to. Later on, however, they discover that poor, misunderstood Hamburglar (anyone remember when he was temporarily renamed the "Cheeseburglar"?),  didn't get his precious burgers like he thought he would. He couldn't control the magic bag, which has gone evil and is now going to DESTROY THE WORLD...or something. So after traveling all over Ronald's Green Earth, and even the MOON, collecting all these damn cards, the final battle, after surviving a harrowing volcanic hell, comes down to two kids (taking 2-player turns, ala Mario), doing battle against said evil bag. How does one destroy an evil magic bag, you ask? Why, by throwing giant balls of VOLCANIC ASH, of course!!! Duh.

Now all kidding aside, if I can give you some "Real Talk" for a moment, M.C. Kids, at it's core, isn't a bad game, as I'm sure many of you who've heard of it might be led to assume. In spite of the nefarious purpose of its very existence, to get kids to become obese eating tons and tons of McDonald's "high quality" fare, it is, fundamentally speaking, a very solid platformer game. In fact I'd even go so far as to call it fun. The graphics are bright and well drawn, the music is upbeat and actually one of the better NES soundtracks out there (and that's saying something as there are many good ones). All in all, it's a fun, albeit odd as hell little game. And to this day, it's one of my friend Harold's absolute favorites. I'm sure it's in his "Fav. Five".

One last little bit about M.C. Kids before moving on. When you beat a level, the two kids would be seen on a screen running past each other, leaping up and high-fiving just like on the cover box-art. I have to admit to you here and now, that when we would beat a level, Harold, myself and whoever else, would in fact high-five each other just as they did. But in my defense, it was all that guy Harold's fault.



We're gonna BUST UP SOME POLLUTION......or something.



Now earlier, I mentioned that Mick and Mack did in fact star in two games (three if you count a Game Boy game called "McDonaldland" which was basically the exact same as M.C. Kids), so I suppose I have to talk about it. The other game, which as I was apparently not aware, came out later in the exact same year (1992), was called "Mick and Mack as the Global Gladiators". It's funny, looking at the American box-art for both games, if you consider that they came out in the same year, how these kids went from pudgy little kids wearing matching outfits because, you know, they're SUPER BEST FRIENDS, to growing up into hip, 90s-cool teenagers just, what, half a year later?

Regardless, the "story" of Global Gladiators, is that Ronald once again needs Mick and Mac's help (can this guy do ANYTHING?), and this time, it's to help him fight pollution and clean up the planet. Now I'm not entirely sure, nor does it even remotely matter, whether or not the game is supposed to be taking place in McDonaldland, or the "Real World", but for posterity's sake, I'm going to guess it's the real world. The game was really going for that "save the planet" deal, which is awesome, and great morals to teach kids (And something I very strongly personally support). The game even had bonus levels where you have to knock falling trash into recycle bins.



Eat Slime! You...SLIME, you!


The only real problem here, is that for a game that is supposed to be getting kids to care about pollution and recycling, it sure doesn't really DO much of that. The point of the game, is to run around (using the same engine as Cool Spot, also a Virgin developed game), using "very 90s" super-soker type guns, shooting what I can only describe as bright orange slime (or perhaps an old favorite of mine, Orange Slice soda?), at a not-so-varied variety of enemies. You still run, jump, and collect arches for points and lives, but other than starring Mick and Mack, the game really bears no resemblance at all to M.C. Kids, and thus I'd hesitate to even call it a true sequel. You don't do any real "cleaning up the planet" through the game's four (yes four) worlds, in fact most of what you do is exactly what you see above, shooting slime to kill green slime monsters, and finding machines through the levels that produce said slime, and totally trashing them.




What the...............



Other than that? Not much. The final boss is a giant ice-face monster thing in the wall, that you have to fight while avoiding ice bats the whole while. No I'm not making that up, you can see it yourself in the picture above! What that ice-face monster thing has to do with the slime and pollution killing the planet? You got me there. Now, I clearly remember ol' Harold calling me up one day, and telling me ALL about this AMAZING game he had just played in Kaybee Toys in the mall. He told me all about how the graphics were just jaw-dropping, the gameplay was fast and fluid, and the game even featured (in his own words) "REAL MUSIC". I mean egads!!! The way he made it sound, it was the best thing since Cool Spot, a game he also loved the shit out of for unknown reasons.

Now I'll grant you, he was onto something with M.C. Kids. Like I said, it's a good game, and silly as it may well be, I do still think fondly on it looking back. But Global Gladiators? Let me put it to you lightly: it's a half-baked mess. Seeing that it came out in the same year as M.C. Kids, it obviously had less than a year's development time, perhaps even just a few months, and it's very obvious that the game just doesn't have much to it. It's what we in the business refer to as a "Quick Cash-In". Now in his defense, while he fawned over it's godliness back then, Harold now realizes that, well, ol' "Double G" just ain't that good of a game after all. Though he DOES also to this day still maintain that the Super Nintendo version of the game, which you can find a beta of online if you look hard enough, would have actually added a lot more to the game, and it would have been amazing. We'll never know though, because it was cancelled, most likely due to the fact that the Genesis version sucked ass. The only thing of any real note when it comes to Global Gladiators, is that it was designed by David Perry, a guy who would go on to found Shiny Entertainment, and who would become the creator of the 90s semi-icon, Earthworm Jim. True Fact: Earthworm Jim = MUCH better game than Global Gladiators. Though still suspiciously similar in certain ways.




Whatever became of Mick and Mac? Only this man knows for sure.....



Now, whatever became of old Mick and Mack, after their failed ecological exploit? Who knows! Went to college? Got married (perhaps even to wives)? Got extraordinarily fat off of their solid McDonald's diet and now have extremely poor health? Or are they keeping in good shape, waiting in the shadows for that one chance to return to McDonaldland and kick some seriously epic ass once more? We'll probably never know, because the chances of McDonald's ever dusting these two off and hiring a new developer to make another game starring them is probably about as good as the chances of seeing a McDonald's/Burger King collaboration. But whatever happened to these two, wherever they are out there today, at least they can rest secure in the knowledge that they did feature in at least one good, albeit obscure, "Advergame".

And that's honestly good enough for anybody, isn't it?







5 comments:

  1. I never really played too many of these Advergames. The exception is Cool Spot for Gameboy, because my brother had a Gameboy and that was one of the only games he had. I do remember renting Yo Noid one time, mostly because I liked the Noid commercials because of the claymation, which I always have thought is cool. I have played Mckids before, but not very much. I also vaguely remember a California Raisins game, also something I only liked for the cool claymation commercials. The thing is none of these really made me want the products. I hate 7Up, and Raisins. I don't care for McDonalds (only if they had something in the Happy Meal I wanted, I freaked out on the Super Mario Bros. 3 toys), I prefer Wendy's any day. And I always thought Dominos tasted like cardboard with Ketchup, the recent new recipe is actually good, but they need to bring back the Noid.

    My main memory of any kind of advertising in a game was the Pizza Hut ads in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game, since it was one of my favorite games. It even had a Pizza Hut coupon that came with the game. I did find the product placement in Pikmin 2 was really cool, probably the best in any game ever.

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    1. Pikmin is indeed fucking awesome, and I've been salivating at the concept of Pikmin 3 for what seems like a decade. I really hope the final product lives up to my hopes and dreams.

      Yeah, funny note on Cool Spot for Game Boy, it plays just like M.C. Kids for a reason, because it was a re-skinning of that "McDonaldland" GB game I mentioned. Hence the reason Spot picks up blocks and throws them at things. Still, it makes it a better playing experience, in my opinion, than the SNES/Genesis game, which I always felt, while the Spot character was cool, that the gameplay and levels were just very....lacking. Big surprise.

      And yes, I freaked on the SMB3 toys too...in fact to this day I'm still pissed that I never got to get the Mario and Goomba ones, only the Koopa and Luigi.....*sigh*

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  2. I have this game for the NES. Pretty damn bizarre! Also gets a little harder later on in the game

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    1. Yes, the last world especially, as well as the Moon, are rather difficult. Thanks for commenting!

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