If you’ve seen Jurassic World, you know what a tyrannosaurus-sized disaster product placement can be. It happens all the time, even in video games. And sometimes companies don’t even try to cover up their efforts to spread brand awareness like the bubonic plague.
But it’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world. Sometimes it turn out alright. Here are some of the games that defy the odds and manage to be pretty fun, even though they’re obvious attempts by filthy, greedy corporations to move product.
And you’re just a cog in their machine, man.
6. A BUG IN YOUR SYSTEM
’Beetle Adventure Racing’
Imagine the fastest, most badass, suped-up race car you can possibly fathom, then multiply that by ten, then throw all of that out the window and picture a Volkswagon Beetle instead. There is no reason in the world that this tiny, weirdly-shaped go-kart of a car should be hitting the race track. Except that the year before the release of this game, Volkswagon introduced their New Beetle, and the hip, new car needed a chill, cool way to get the word out to all the youngsters looking to get behind the wheel. And there’s nothing chiller than video games, as we all know.
It was an obvious marketing ploy, but here’s the thing: Beetle Adventure Racing is really, really awesome. You blast through tracks with a ton of great secret passages and shortcuts past crashed alien spaceships, dinosaurs, and all sorts of obstacles. There’s speed boosts, in-game cheats, customizable cars, and basically everything that makes for an awesome racing game. There’s even a battle mode where you can fire rockets or plant bombs to smash all your friends. I would have been tempted to buy one of these funky little cars if I hadn’t been 12 when the game came out. My allowance wasn’t that great.
5. VIDEO GAMES FOR BREAKFAST
If you ate Chex cereal in the 90s, this game might have fallen into your breakfast as you were pouring a bowl. In fact, it’s known as the first video game to come in a box of cereal. And they may have jumped the shark with this one, as all other cereal box prizes afterwards were kind of lame before tapering off completely. But Chex Quest was a godsend for kids like me who wanted to play Doom, but weren’t allowed to have violent video games.
Chex Quest was a complete ripoff of Doom, but instead of a beefy guy chasing bleeding un-dead monsters with guns, it featured a weird Chex man chasing booger monsters with teleportation rays. And it featured cut scenes. That’s right, a game that came free in a cereal box featured freaking cut scenes. You can’t even say anything bad about this game unless you want to say something bad about Doom because it was Doom. And my parents let me have it on the computer because there’s nothing violent about teleporting boogers. Though their disgusting cries haunt my dreams to this day.
4. DRINKING GAME
Maybe you played Root Beer Tapper, but that wasn’t the original version of this game. The original Tapper was not subtle at all about what it was selling you. Beer. Namely Budweiser, as the logo was featured on a huge banner at the back of your virtual bar. Also, the logo was emblazoned on the tap-shaped controls, just to make extra sure you were getting the full video game experience of pouring yourself a cold one. Even the Budweiser theme song was used in the game. Tapper was hugely successful and is considered a classic. It even showed up in the movie Wreck-It Ralph.
The ornate arcade cabinets were originally made for bars. No surprise there. But the game was so popular that there was demand for it to start showing up in arcades for kids. Since Tapper was considered to be a means of advertising alcohol to minors, it was replaced and reprogrammed as Root Beer Tapper. This is the version that ended up getting ported to home consoles so kids could play the game with references to safe, corn-syrup drenched, sugar-infused, caffeine filled root beer or Mountain Dew instead of nasty, evil alcohol. Thus, a generation was saved.
3. MAKES YOU A NOID
After years of Domino’s Pizza telling you to “avoid the Noid,” they finally gave kids what they never wanted, the ability to be the Noid. The Noid was maybe a guy in a red, skin-tight bunny costume. Or maybe he was actually a bunny. It’s hard to say. But one thing was for sure, he hated pizza. Domino’s in their infinite wisdom, knew video games were all the rage. But they didn’t want to invest the serious time and dough– which is a thing you find in pizza so you get the joke– that it would take to make a new video game featuring their only marketable character.
Instead, they took a Japanese game about a masked ninja and replaced the ninja with the Noid. Then they changed the plot to be about the mayor of New York calling the Noid to fight his evil doppelganger, Mr. Green, promising him pizza as a reward. Which makes no sense, as the Noid is a bad guy in the commercials and just messed pizza up, but whatever. The game wasn’t the worst for an older platformer, though it got frustrating in the way a lot of old games did. Put it this way, it wasn’t any worse than a lot of the garbage being cranked out in that era, and that’s saying a lot for a game that was meant to be an advertisement. And the instruction manual had a coupon for a one-dollar pizza, so it couldn’t be a total bummer.
2. BROOKE BURKE AND BURGERS ON BIKES
Remember when Burger King went off the deep end with their creepy, insane mascots? Waking up next to The King haunted all of our dreams for a while. Well if you couldn’t get enough of these deranged lunatics in your nightmares, you could find them in a series of three video games that the fast food chain put out in one of the weirder marketing efforts out there. PocketBike Racer was probably the most popular of these titles, and it’s pretty unusual.
Indeed, if one were to describe the game to you, you might think that person was relating a fever dream they had after overdosing on Ambien. In the game, you rode on tiny motor bikes. The creepy, large-headed, plastic-faced King was there, along with a guy in a Whopper Jr. fat suit, a few BK employees, Jolly, a giant chicken, and Brooke Burke. I told you it sounds like a weird dream. You could select different racing modes, bikes, and courses, but it wouldn’t help you make sense out of any of this. The controls weren’t great and the races were frustrating as hell, but it’s worthy of a chuckle for its pure insanity.
1. IT JUST KEEPS BUILDING
The LEGO series
LEGO has created a weird money-sucking vortex of toys, movies, and video games, each feeding and building off of one another until LEGO conquers the world. There are, of course, LEGO playsets that everyone is familiar with, some inspired by famous film series like Star Wars or Harry Potter. Then there are video games of LEGO versions of those films. And now there’s The LEGO Movie based on the idea of throwing all those LEGO sets into a big heap, which is what any self-respecting LEGO builder does, and going nuts. Which led to The LEGO Movie playset and The LEGO Movie video game.
In true LEGO fashion, each piece builds off of the others. The movies market the toys, which market the games, which market the movies and so on. But here’s the thing. LEGO knocks them all out of the park. The toys are great. I don’t know a kid who didn’t play with LEGO at least once. Most had a bunch of them. The LEGO Movie was a huge hit. And The LEGO series of video games are a lot of fun. They have a great sense of humor in their retelling of some of the most popular movies of all time. The violence is minimal, so kids can play them, but they manage to appeal to adults, as well. LEGO has made it’s own marketing a form of entertainment, and it’s awesome. In fact, one might say everything is awesome!
Mike Clark is a Chicago-based writer and video game/comedy/dog enthusiast. He will defend to the death the idea that blowing in a Nintendo 64 cartridge will make it work better despite scientific evidence to the contrary. Tweet your best hate @MikeClarKent.
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