The 5 Least Subtle Product Placements in Gaming History
Most people see video games as a source of entertainment. Others see them as a forum for competition. Still other visionaries see them for what they truly are -- a golden opportunity to shamelessly peddle wares to a captive audience. We've highlighted some particularly shameless instances of advertainment before, but far from being dissuaded by their examples, these folks stepped up to the plate, rolled up their sleeves, and said, "That's not how you whore out your integrity -- this is how you whore out your integrity."
Doritos, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and AXE Body Spray in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker designer Hideo Kojima, on a self-proclaimed mission to "surprise players," littered the world of Solid Snake with the most blatant product placement this side of a grocery store shelf -- Mountain Dew, Pepsi NEX, Doritos, and even AXE Body Spray made appearances in the otherwise "serious" and "philosophical" series. So Kojima technically did surprise players, much like getting caught in bed with half a sorority is a great way to surprise your wife.
They weren't just there for window dressing, either. The game's designers (and the products' PR departments) wanted to make damn sure you associated these endorsements with peak health of both body and mind. To that end, they turned chips and soda into power-ups that could restore your health and psyche, the latter being the game's measurement of how quickly your body can naturally heal itself. So they're essentially saying you will die if you don't rabidly consume those chips and soft drinks, but they don't stop there: Should you actually die with Doritos or soda in your inventory, they will bring you back to life. As far as Peace Walker is concerned, junk food is the new Jesus Christ.
That one bag can feed 5,000 mercenaries.
Then there's AXE Body Spray, which improves your psyche gauge by making you smell better. That's how they reconciled including a product that wasn't even around in the '70s (when Peace Walker takes place). Pretty thin justification -- but not as thin as you'll look in this slimming black AXE T-shirt!
Perfect for repelling any female enemies.
Unfortunately for diehard capitalists in the Sweet Land of Liberty, by the time Peace Walker made it to the states, all licenses had expired. The idea of replacing everything with more logical military items like first-aid kits and MRES never occurred to the developers, so they just palette-swapped the chips and soda to generic store brand products. And all the other soldiers made fun of Snake for drinking Alpine Mist until he had to eat his lunch alone in the band room.
Chupa Chups Lollipops in Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension
Few realizations are more depressing than the point when you first understand that, to bring your dreams to fruition, you may have to sell out to Big Corporate. This must be how Amiga felt when they made Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension. Their game was supposed to be competition for Mario and Sonic, a side-scrolling adventure perfect for kids who could identify with neither plumber nor rodent.
The problem was, Amiga didn't have Mario or Sonic money and could not afford to finish the game on their own. That's when they approached lollipop conglomerate Chupa Chups for a sponsorship deal and the two sides forged an agreement that would subtly promote Chupa Chups in-game, while leaving the integrity of the experience intact.
"There is no Zool, only Chupa Chups."
Chupa Chups ejaculated their logo and product all over the unsuspecting platformer, leaving the poor game sticky and ashamed. But Chupa Chups did not care -- even if it made zero sense in context, their product was first and foremost. The entire first world (the Sweet Zone) became nothing but a giant commercial -- every few screens, you'd find the Chupa Chups logo glaring loudly in the background, 10 times larger than Zool and utterly dominating the entire design of the level. Players were understandably put off by the punch-in-the-face advertising, and Sonic and Mario, the two video game mascot superpowers, continued their bloody and terrible war unopposed. Well, except for Bonk. But fuck Bonk.
The Ford Simulator Series
Cars are possibly the easiest and least obtrusive product placement in gaming: It adds realism to your game to show genuine makes and models while you execute handbrake turns and take bitchin' jumps. That Jaguar drove like a dream in those Gran Turismo races -- maybe you should check one out for real! That's the obvious route, anyway. But then you have the path less taken -- the Ford Simulator series, perfect for people who can't drive 55, but only because they never really wanted to in the first place.
Beat it on hard to upgrade to rust undercoating.
Originally released by Ford as a promotion for its 1988 models, Ford Simulator consisted of little more than the player sanely test-driving Ford cars. Realism is all well and good in auto games, but this was 1988, when gaming had like 20 pixels to work with, total. The player couldn't get a genuine sense of the car's looks from the simulator, much less its handling or its power, because you didn't race the Fords in this game. You didn't perform stunts with them. You didn't run over old ladies with them. There were real and immediate consequences for any tomfoolery:
Like GTA for Mormons.
You simply pressed the gas button until you didn't press it anymore. You ostensibly needed to "race" to your destination, but if you crashed or sped, you were out, so gameplay was mostly adhering to the speed limit and staying within the lines. Thrills around every corner! Too bad this is the highway. To be fair, though, there were various mini-games you could play to break up the monotony of driving sensible cars in a sensible way. You could fill up your gas tank:
If you time it just right, you unlock a windshield cleaning mini-game.
You could stop at the local mini mart to buy a map:
"You've always been this car's owner. I should know, sir. I've always been here."
And that was it.
Back to sane and sober driving, please! Oh, and don't think Ford Simulator was a one-and-done deal. Nope -- they released a new one every year for six years.
A Psychedelic Sci-Fi Shooter Starring the Toyota Yaris
One of the most basic rules of advertising is to know your audience and build ads that cater to their interests. Toyota did just that in 2007 with Yaris, the absolute perfect video game tie-in for the burgeoning demographic of minivan-driving soccer mom acid freaks with violent tendencies.
The most ridiculous thing here is a Yaris actually breaking 65.
Check out the gun stuck to the Yaris' roof (standard option?), observe the UFOs, the giant 8-balls, the winged MP3 players ... truly, this was a game designed by a developer who looked around at the crap on his desk and thought, "Eh, this'll do."
But hey, if the game itself is good, who cares how absurd the premise is, right? Unfortunately, the game turned out to be completely awful, with horrid controls that attempted to cross-breed a traditional stick shooter with a legitimate driving sim, and failed miserably on both counts. This was your track:
"It was inspired by only the finest of Guy Fieri shirts."
Without those hokey flames (the animations don't move at all; they just stand there like cardboard cutouts), this would be one of the most boring levels of all time. A gray track on a white background, populated by living knickknacks and an affordable hatchback. On the other hand, perhaps the developers just really wanted to make the Toyota Yaris the most exciting thing on the screen.
Obviously, the only way to manage that was to make everything else as boring as possible.
Pizza Hut and Colonel Sanders in Phantasy Star Portable 2
2009 marked the 40th anniversary of Kentucky Fried Chicken opening in Japan, and Yum! Brands (the company that owns it) felt the need to celebrate. They did so by taking one of the most iconic RPG series of all time, Phantasy Star, and turning it into the fever dream of a hungry Walmart patron. For the Japanese version of Phantasy Star Portable 2, Yum and Sega made both KFC and Pizza Hut (which Yum also owns) an integral part of a fantastical world, billions of light-years away from our own. All of a sudden, players could exchange their worthless swords and shields for far more powerful fare, like pizza pans and pizza boxes.
"The Noid avoids me."
There were also numerous Pizza Hut chains strategically placed in the most dangerous enemy-filled sections of the galaxy. You could buy various pizzas and coffee at these locations, all of which worked to restore health and energy. Because that's what comes to mind when you think of health, energy, and high quality coffee: Pizza Hut.
"Pepperoni latte, extra shot of espresso, heavy foam, and cheese."
When it came to hawking KFC, though, Yum would not be satisfied with some measly magical boxes and a couple of life-giving chain stores. The Colonel deserves better. The Colonel will not be denied. The Colonel will accept nothing less than total dominance. The Colonel will be an ass-kicking playable character with a supernatural cane, or he will be nothing.
Yes indeed, Colonel Sanders was a full-blown partner who aided you in your efforts to save the universe. Not a mystical old man who gives you a quest. Not a friendly shopkeeper or comic relief. Colonel Sanders was a warrior. He ran right out onto the battlefield with you, handing out Double beat-Downs left and right. Here's one of his special moves, the laser cane:
Yes, that's an Old South octogenarian, in a seersucker suit, battling intergalactic monsters,
with a weaponized walking stick, on the set of Lost. Just go with it.
And because you came here to see it, even if you didn't know it at the time, even if you were just drawn to this article by some mysterious implacable pull that you couldn't quite explain -- here's Colonel Sanders pimp-slapping the holy hell out of a giant bug thing. Thanks, Japan!
"That was Original Recipe. Now get my damn money or I'll give you Extra Crispy."
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Related Reading: Product placement gets even more painful. Check out this Survivor cast pretending to enjoy an Adam Sandler movie. But at least that isn't as cringe-worthy as this Craftsman tool ad featuring the Justice League. Oh, we've got more shameless shilling to show off. Click here.