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Game designer and author Scott Rogers takes a look at how fast food brands like McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King have embraced the video game space over the years.
Food has always appeared in video games – whether as power-ups like the fruits and pretzels in Ms. Pac-Man to appearing as enemies and obstacles in Burger Time and Root Beer Tapper.
In 1982’s Fast Food, players were a pair of chomping teeth that devoured burgers, hot dogs and ice cream while avoiding deadly purple pickles.
As video games grew in popularity through the late Seventies and Eighties, it was only a matter of time before fast food companies would take notice and want to get involved.
Here Comes the Noid
The first fast-food tie-in video game was 1989’s Avoid the Noid featuring the Domino’s mascot. In this computer game created by Blue Sky software, the player is a pizza delivery boy who runs, rolls and summersaults his way up a building infested with pizza-destroying Noids.
More well-known is 1990’s Yo! Noid which was actually a reskin of another title: Kamen no Ninja Hanamaru, a ninja-themed platform game developed by the Japanese publisher Capcom. When Capcom got the rights to make a Domino’s Pizza themed game, they merely changed the art of the game’s main character, enemies and background to sell it to American audiences. Ironically, pizza barely appears in Yo! Noid at all!
Food, Folks and Fun
The American fast food chain McDonald’s was already an institution by the time the video game industry started. In 1990, McDonald’s launched a Happy Meal campaign based on Nintendo’s smash-hit game Super Mario 3. A commercial from their “Food, Folks and Fun” campaign featured Ronald McDonald and friends playing a computer game. It was only a matter of time before McDonald’s would make a game of their own.
The first official McDonald’s Game was 1992’s MC Kids. In it, the eponymous kids – Mack and Mick – arrive in McDonaldland to help find Ronald McDonald’s magical bag which has been stolen by the Hamburglar. They collect “golden arches” and encounter several McDonaldland-themed characters. The game was developed in eight months by Virgin Games and was released on almost every platform of the day, including the Game Boy, NES, Amiga and Commodore 64.
The Genesis version of MC Kids, titled Global Gladiators, was designed by future industry super-stars David Perry and Bill Anderson, with music by Tommy Tallarico. The game has a strong pro-environmental theme that aligned with McDonald’s 1990 partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund. Despite its fast-food tie-in theme, Global Gladiators is considered one of the best platform games of the era.
1993’s McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure let players assume the role of McDonald’s mascot Ronald McDonald – who could shoot magic stars and a grappling hook out from his hands as he searched for a missing treasure.
The game is most notable for being developed by the insanely talented Japanese company Treasure; who would go on to create classics such as Gunstar Heroes, Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga. When developing the game, Treasure president Masato Maegawa maintained that Treasure Land Adventure had to remain faithful to the McDonald’s licence and that Ronald be treated with the same respect as they would treat a classic character like Mickey Mouse.
Yo Quiero Videogames
In the early 2000s, Taco Bell released a trio of computer games as a prize for their kid’s meals.
Taco Bell Tasty Temple Challenge was a first-person-shooter, where players were as intrepid Indiana Jones-esque adventurer named Baja Bill who squirts hot sauce into the faces of cobras and scorpions.
Elsewhere, Jumping Bean Jamboree was a Breakout-clone where you bounced a bean to break blocks while in Moon Eater, you were an astronaut who jumps craters and blasts UFOs as you collect bells on the surface of the moon. Hey, it was a kid’s video game, it didn’t need to make sense!
In more recent years, Taco Bell has catered to gamers and the gaming lifestyle through their various promotions featuring Halo Infinite and XBOX. Is it just a matter of time before Halo players can power-up with a cheesy gordita crunch or squirt a packet of fire sauce at a Covenant Trooper?
Games Your Way
In 2006, a trio of tasty Burger King branded games came out for Microsoft XBOX and the XBOX Live Arcade. Developed by Blitz Arcade, these games were considered to be of such high quality that they were also given a physical release.
Pocketbike Racer was a racing game where players rode miniature motorcycles. The game stars E! personality Brooke Burke who also portrayed the “top bun” of the Whopperettes for Burger King’s 2006 Super Bowl commercial.
Big Bumpin’ contained a variety of bumper car games like Last Man Standing, Bumpin’ Hockey, Shock Ball and Power Surge! You competed as and against zany mascots including the King, a chicken, an anthropomorphic hamburger and, again, Brooke Burke.
While Big Bumpin’ was the highest rated of the Burger King games, in my humble opinion, Sneak King was the best. It was a bizarre stealth game where you played as the King who creepily approached NPCs to present them with… a delicious Whopper. It is a truly bizarre game that has become a cult classic.
Game developer Blitz worked intensely with Burger King’s marketing team to make sure that their characters and products were portrayed in a positive light. The team managed to make three playable games in just seven months!
Two million copies of the games were created and thanks to the promotion, Burger King saw a 40% increase in sales during that quarter. The game sold at Burger Kings for just $3.99 a piece. Considering an average video game cost $49.99 back then, it was a great deal for some pretty good games.
Finger Lickin’ Fun
I’d be remiss not to mention the surprise game of 2019, I Love You, Colonel Sanders; a dating sim developed by Psyop and available for free on the Steam platform. In it, a student at a culinary school attempts to win the heart of the hunky Colonel through a combination of romance and recipes. While not particularly well-rated, it did what it needed to do – get gamers to pay attention to KFC’s brand.
Browser-based “advergames” show up from time to time but most recently, fast food marketeers have found a new audience in tabletop gamers.
Arby’s twitter account often references popular board games and Ravensburger’s Taco Bell Party Pack Card Game and Wendy’s Feast of Legends role-playing game bring brands to tabletop gamers in a brand new and clever way.
As long as gamers hunger for fun as well as fast-food, there will be an opportunity for brands to promote themselves!
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