The 6 Most Absurd Product Placements in Video Game History
You can complain about product placement in games these days, but it was bound to happen. However, on certain magical occasions, companies have decided that it's not enough to have your character drive past a Pepsi logo. No, they want an entire game devoted to peddling their brand.
This typically results in a confounding jumble of nonsense based loosely on an idea that was never meant to sustain anything beyond a 28-second television commercial. Like ...
Captain Novolin, the Insulin Game
Novo Nordisk, maker of the Novolin brand of insulin, produced a Super Nintendo game back in 1992 called Captain Novolin featuring a superhero possessing the formidable powers of Type 1 diabetes.
"Congratulations! You ate 412 pieces of toast for breakfast!"
The titular captain sprints through the city during various mealtimes wearing a blue bodysuit and wrap-around sunglasses, leaping heavily into the air to crush sugary foods beneath his crimson boot heels. Somehow, this was meant to teach children about living with diabetes, despite the fact that every single activity we described in the previous paragraph is something a child with diabetes should never do.
In between each level is a blood sugar mini game:
The controller that stabbed your finger between levels never really caught on, though.
This was followed by trivia questions about diabetes posed to you by a half-melted wax sculpture of Alfonso Ribeiro in a lab coat:
Wait, no "bowl of sugar" option?
To win, you had to battle your way through eight levels of doughnut and ice cream monsters to rescue the mayor (who is also diabetic) from the clutches of Blubberman, a hideously obese man in a floating wheelchair who throws pies at you. Then you have to feed the mayor the correct snack or watch him succumb to hypoglycemia and die:
It's basically the same as the plot from the Mark Wahlberg movie Shooter.
This game wasn't bundled with the insulin or given away to children at clinics -- Novo Nordisk charged people 60 goddamn dollars to bring home this "learning tool" for their sickly children. We feel that's a bit steep for families already paying the high cost of their children's treatment, especially considering that Captain Novolin is little more than a vaguely interactive commercial telling kids what foods to avoid (and more importantly, which brand of insulin will make them superheroes).
Kids shouldn't need a video game to tell them not to eat flying face-doughnuts.
And from here, we go to insulin's mortal enemy ...
Pepsiman, the aggressively enthusiastic and fringe-psychotic mascot of Pepsi in Japan, was given his own video game adventure on the original PlayStation back in 1999, because the combination of money, drugs, and deadlines occasionally results in company executives making decisions too quickly.
"Or I will fucking destroy you."
As you can imagine would happen in a game starring a soda-based superhero, Pepsiman involves the eponymous hero running in a perpetual headlong sprint, frantically collecting cans of precious life-giving Pepsi. What you do not expect is that the main enemies trying to kill you are Pepsi trucks ...
"Not good enough. Fill the entire screen with Pepsi logos."
... and giant cans of Pepsi that periodically try to crush you to death.
Pepsiman is literally running from himself.
Behind this complex metaphor for the human struggle with destructive vices is Pepsiman's bizarre quasi-surf-rock theme, which plays on an endless loop throughout every level. It's just one of many things Pepsiman does to make sure you never forget what game you are playing:
"I'm prone to blackouts and periods of confusion. Luckily, the thoughtful makers of Pepsiman went that extra mile."
Perhaps most baffling of all is the series of videos that introduce each level, which feature an overweight American man carrying an armload of Pepsi cans and various bags of junk as provisions for his journey into diabetes.
"Actor? Fuck that, I can just get my uncle to do it for a 12-pack of Milwaukee's Best."
Wait, weren't we supposed to be disappearing into a fantasy world where loving Pepsi makes us adventurous superheroes? Instead they give us this brutal, unvarnished look into the reality of their customer base. That's not how it works, guys -- you don't introduce a porn video with a clip of a fat guy jerking off in the dark. And why is he American? This game was exclusive to Japan -- it would've been much easier for the developers to just cast a Japanese person. Instead they wedge this guy into the game, and he doesn't even speak Japanese -- they had to subtitle it all. It's like they really, really wanted this guy in the game, at all costs.
He's like a cross between Ernest P. Worrell and Larry the Cable guy.
Taco Bell: Tasty Temple Challenge
Back in 2000, Taco Bell gave away a free computer game called Tasty Temple Challenge in its kids' meals. It was essentially a Doom clone -- a ripoff of a superior product with Mexican food elements chaotically tossed in, which to be honest is a perfect representation of the Taco Bell business model.
Press "POWER OFF" to save your afternoon.
You play an adventurer named Baja Bill, exploring a perilous stone temple full of vicious monsters. To keep yourself alive, you have to eat Taco Bell menu items off of the ground, because apparently somebody went into the haunted mummy castle before you and left them there. In order to defeat the monsters, you squirt them with packets of Taco Bell hot sauce (also found on the ground) that burn them alive, reducing them to piles of smoldering ash. Essentially, you use one of the very products the game is supposed to be advertising to immolate godless creatures in the suffocating darkness of an ancient crypt.
It's basically the same thing that happens to your shit when you eat at Taco Bell.
Also note that statistically you are far, far more likely to die from eating Taco Bell food you find on the floor of a public building than from any of the creatures featured in the game.
Once you make it through the temple, you face off against a green piece of confused racism in the form of a vaguely Aztec/Mayan/Incan mummy.
Deicide is the price we pay for Doritos Locos Tacos.
If you manage to defeat him, Baja Bill flings open a wooden cage to release an imprisoned Taco Bell Grande Meal, and the game informs you that you've won, presenting you with a helpful tally of all your Tasty Temple Challenge accomplishments to stack up against all of the priceless memories you could have created instead of wasting your time playing this goddamn game.
No, Baja Bill. No, we don't.
Darkened Skye, the Skittles Game
Darkened Skye follows the adventures of a young sorceress named Skye as she wanders the land collecting magic Skittles to do battle with the villainous Lord Necroth and restore the Great Rainbow, because for some inexplicable reason a roomful of adults decided that this was a bulletproof investment of both time and money that would guarantee their continued employment for years to come.
Loosely based on Skittles' "Taste the Rainbow" ad campaign, the game has players sprint around fighting monsters and gathering up different-colored Skittles while a gargoyle delivers painfully unfunny observations. A Skittle meter displays how much Skittle energy you have for each color of the candy, which determines what kind of magic you can perform. But here's the best part: Notice that it's impossible to tell from the game's title that it has any connection to Skittles, and that Skittles neither are mentioned nor appear anywhere on the cover.
"Ah, finally a game I can buy that has nothing to do with corporate interference."
Yes, despite the embarrassingly ridiculous "candy magic" system, the makers of Darkened Skye deliberately tried to minimize the presence of Skittles in the game. While this is admittedly a good rule of thumb for game design in general, it maybe wasn't the best plan for the only game in history created for the explicit purpose of advertising Skittles. Seriously, check it out:
Oh, wait, we see it now. There's a Ski- no. No, there isn't.
What the hell does any of that have to do with fruit-flavored candy? We combed the Internet for some Skittle-laden screenshots, and this is the best we could come up with:
Now that's a fucking Skittle.
The only way you'd be able to tell that this was anything other than a generic bargain-bin game would be if you happened to read the small print on the back and noticed the Skittles trademark, which, given the candy's absence from any of the art or descriptions, would probably just confuse you into placing it gently back down for the rest of eternity:
Bottom left. That's all you get.
Despite being produced in a direct partnership with M&M/Mars specifically to promote the Skittles brand, Darkened Skye somehow managed to be worse at selling Skittles than it is at being a game (and it is a terrible, terrible game).
Chase the Chuck Wagon by Purina Dog Chow
In case you thought product tie-in advergames were a new invention of a crass and commercialized gaming culture, let's go old school. Chase the Chuck Wagon blazed onto video game consoles back in the early 1980s to place joyously eager players in the role of a dog that chased a miniature covered wagon, which was the basis for a series of pet food commercials that were made when half of the Marx brothers were still alive.
Without a doubt, the first thought that tore screaming through your mind after watching that clip was why in the hell is this not a video game? Indeed, being able to experience that dog's undeniably exciting pursuit of the Indian in the Cupboard's Oregon Trail-mobile as it claymations its way across the dining room floor would be at the very top of every child's Christmas list. Luckily, Purina (owner of the Chuck Wagon brand) produced Chase the Chuck Wagon for the Atari 2600 in 1983, to the delight of an entire nation.
"No, it'll be fine. These mindless fucking idiots will buy absolutely anything in video game form."
The game itself was technically free, but to get it, you had to buy an assload of Chuck Wagon and mail Purina the proof-of-purchase tab on each box. However, contrary to the advertising campaign that birthed it and the one and only promise made by the game's title, you don't actually chase any chuck wagons. The chuck wagon in question just sits there at the top of the screen like a Life Alert subscriber waiting for the ambulance to show up. Your job as the player is to move a vaguely dog-shaped block through the most terrible maze ever drawn by non-blind human beings to reach the chuck wagon, avoiding dog catchers that will detonate your canine body with a single touch.
The exact way they do it in real life.
There are also random bones and things that phase through the walls like poltergeists to try and throw you off the chase (though we must once again point out that it isn't much of a "chase" when the object of your pursuit is stationary). Make it through all that, and you're rewarded with another fucking maze. At least the dog in the ad got to eat something after his hero's trial. The game should be called Find the Chuck Wagon (and Don't Explode), which admittedly would've made an amazing commercial.
King Games by Burger King
Burger King released three different Xbox 360 games featuring their glazed-face King mascot that you could buy for an extra $4 with any value meal. Surprisingly, the games caught on and managed to sell as many copies as Gears of War the year they were released, because apparently people couldn't get enough of the mute hijinks of a faux-plastic monarch who looked like he escaped from a Primus video.
Sneak King has you guide the King on a Solid Snake series of missions, hiding in bushes and trash cans scattered throughout suburbia with the ultimate goal of ambushing people with delicious Burger King menu items, all while trying to ignore the fact that commanding a flamboyantly dressed bearded man as he spies on an entire neighborhood blurs the line between food ninja and sexual predator to the point of non-distinction.
"Time to slip somebody a Whopper."
You actually get more points for waiting until the last possible moment to present the food to your targets before they pass out from hunger, which is a bizarre device to begin with but is made even worse by the fact that the game is meant to be promoting a restaurant. This seems to suggest that only people teetering on the maddening brink of starvation would be happy to see the King and his terrible food.
"Hey, you didn't have to eat a dead raccoon! High-five!"
The other Burger King games inexplicably took the main concepts of Mario Kart (item-based car battles and straightforward racing) and split them into two different games -- Big Bumpin' and PocketBike Racing, respectively. Burger King used the rest of its mascot roster (which admittedly isn't a very deep bench) to fill out the cast of playable racers in both games, along with the baffling addition of Brooke Burke, because what the hell do you care, you got this game with a chicken sandwich at 1 o'clock in the morning.
A thousand years from now, this is all that will remain of our culture.
Lance leads a double life on Twitter here. He can also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more regrettable video games, check out The 20 Worst NES Games of All Time and The 7 Dumbest Video Game Innovations That Actually Exist.
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