Commercialization in games is a controversial subject. As the medium has attracted more mainstream appeal, it is inevitable that it’ll be considered as a potential marketing vehicle. Nowadays, we bemoan the fact that endless product placement appears in AAA titles, but it’s hardly a new occurrence. Back in 1992, McDonald’s – considered by many to be the de facto face of unrestrained consumerism – lent its likeness to several video games, the best of which is arguably M.C. Kids.
Being a platformer originally for the NES released in the wake of Super Mario Bros. 3, many dismissed it as a lacklustre attempt to wedge in on the Italian plumber’s turf. Indeed, there are superficial similarities, such as a world map and collecting coins, albeit in the guise of the McDonald’s “M”. However, those who looked past its branding and apparent unoriginality quickly found a surprisingly playable chunk of platforming goodness.
The game casts players in the role of either Mick or Mack, a couple of friends who have been tasked with retrieving Ronald McDonald’s magic bag from a kleptomaniac named Hamburglar. Along the way they meet several of Ronald’s friends – mostly one-time promotional characters from the 1980s – who inexplicably ask them to acquire a number of cards hidden within the game’s many stages. Collecting a prerequisite number of cards will unlock new worlds, and if you go the extra mile and collect more than is required, you’ll be rewarded with shortcuts and bonuses.
There were some pretty interesting mechanics for the time, such as the ability to reverse gravity and walk upside-down, exploring a level’s ceiling for potential power-ups and cards. Another slick gimmick was the ability to use a box to increase your weight, thereby allowing springs to boost your character even higher. The levels themselves are fairly imaginative, including sky fortresses (full of bottomless pits), ice caverns (which are of course slippery as hell), sailing ships, the interior of a volcano (with, surprise, lava) and even the moon, where gravity is low and every jump sends our hapless heroes flying up like rockets.
Despite some slightly floaty controls, it is an underrated classic that any aficionado of old-school platformers should experience. It’s challenging, the worlds have great designs and the soundtrack is one of the most irritatingly catchy examples of the chiptune form to date.
Snagging yourself a copy in this day and age is gonna be something of a mission though. It has yet to appear in any recent classic channels or collections, so you’re limited to searching for second-hand carts. Those of the strictly PC persuasion will find a shinier, 256-colour DOS version re-titled as McDonaldland, though this particular iteration lacks the awesome music despite the superior visuals. Whatever version you get, you’ll be sure to enjoy this shameless bit of advertising and you’ll probably feel slightly dirty for it. Don’t worry, we won’t tell a soul…