Consumer culture is a mixed blessing. We have cool gadgets, free network TV and junk food available at every whim. This utopia comes with a hefty price tag, though, and it’s not just free will or individuality or whatever the hippies like to argue – it’s awful videogames. Capitalism is alright most of the time and gamers understand that their precious platforms ain’t a charity – it’s all about supply and demand, which is why historically, the number of games touting established licenses practically merits its own genre. Pimping a movie tie-in, cartoon or sports star can be ridiculously lucrative and really, there’s nothing wrong with the practice as long as the games accomplish the prime directive: being awesome and fun. Unfortunately the lust for money has pushed many developers into releasing less-than-stellar games in the name of branding over the years. The quality of these games ranges from simply uninspired to straight up unplayable — smacking gamers with IPs like a canoe paddle to the parietal lobe. Read on to examine the ten corporate games most worthy of snob scorn and hippie hostilities.
10) Cool Spot
The better of 7-Up’s two videogames on the Sega Genesis (Fido Dido was just too…relaxing), Cool Spot gave kids everywhere the illusion that pointing your hand like a gun and making fizzy sounds was enough to defeat hermit crabs and other menaces. CS is actually a pretty good time for younger gamers. There’s action without gore, clean graphics (for the time) and cooperative play with a second controller. Still, with an almost oppressive amount of 7-Up ads on every stage, the fundamental enjoyment of the game gets distracted by needless shilling that steers players straight to a Sprite.
9) Avoid The Noid / Yo! Noid
Yes, Domino’s pizza-ruining spokesthing somehow managed to star in two videogames. Two! Each game represents a separate aspect of the Noid’s multifaceted personality: annoying and annoying. In the DOS program Avoid The Noid, he’s (as the British would say) a right bastard preventing pizza deliveries. In the NES’s Yo! Noid, he’s a pogo-sticking red dude who is somehow the lesser of two Noid evils. If Yo! Noid seems somehow acceptable, it’s because it’s actually a port of one of Capcom’s Japanese side-scrollers with repurposed graphics. This makes Yo! Noid perhaps the only likeable Noid appearance in pop culture history. Thanks Capcom!
8) Chex Quest
Let’s see… Humanoid cereal pieces are being eaten by globs from another dimension on an off-world outpost and the only way to save them is by returning said globs to their home using modified weaponry. Naturally, this is a one-person (or humanoid Chex cereal piece) job, right? Admittedly, this zany plot is just as logical as the original Doom‘s, but this modified PC shooter lacks any of the adrenaline its predecessor accomplished. Yes, theoretically the monsters want to eat the Chex people, but so do the gamers. Perhaps the protagonist roles should have been reversed…
7) Chester Cheetah: Too Cool To Fool
Before Chester’s recent commercial upgrade to the puffed snack equivalent to a devil on one’s shoulder, he was basically the equivalent of a Looney Tunes character. As such, he was fully exploited by the folks at Frito-Lay and thrown into a truly awful videogame on the Super Nintendo. The controls are sticky, the sound effects and music are irksome and the color palate and animation are like a Lisa Frank grinding on a bag of puffs. There is one arguably awesome detail saving this game from complete ridicule, however. When Chester goes into his “invincible mode,” he rocks out Van Halen style like he’s hot for teecha. That’ll redeem anybody.
6) Mc Kids / Mick and Mack: Global Gladiators
After decades of releasing crappy Happy Meal toys, McDonald’s standards for videogame releases were apparently just as low. In Mc Kids for the NES, two wobbly little dudes must cooperate through side-scrolling worlds chock full of harmlessness to um…save Ronald and friends? It’s kind of hard to tell, honestly. Especially when the two controllable characters distract players by starring into the void with their cold, dead, black eyes. The Genesis’ Mick and Mack, by contrast, is a much darker and dangerous game. In fact, it’s even borderline fun…as long as players turn the volume off. While jumping through garbage dumps and toxic wastelands, somehow killing mutants with water pistols, Mick and Mack manage to chirp some of the most annoying sound bytes of any title, which is saying a lot. Both games are lackluster fare made worse by pointless branding. Seriously, all that button mashing must have induced about three McNugget cravings to the half-dozen or so kids who paid money to play these games.
5) Coca-Cola Kid
The spiritual successor to 1979’s Pepsi Invaders (a rare port of Space Invaders where a Coca-Cola ship blasts the word Pepsi rather than aliens), the Coca-Cola Kid (not to be confused with the 1985 romantic comedy of the same name) for the Sega Master System follows the exploits of a young martial artist who acts a lot like Mega Man X only with more flying kicks. He lives in a world full of Japanese thug stereotypes, phone booths and Coca-Cola advertisements, which is apparently why he feels he must destroy everything in his path. Teenagers hate being manipulated, man.
4) Captain Crunch’s Crunchling Adventure
Remember when CD Rom games were really just atrocious ploys to get kids to accidentally install AOL and rack up insane per-minute charges? Yeah, those were the days. This particular PC atrocity stars not the fair captain, but rather a Fraggle-looking annoyance called a “crunchling.” The crunchling did two things: went on missions to save Captain Crunch and looked at Gatorade billboards. The hardest part was dealing with godawful framerate, tiring music and some of the most irritating sound effects created by science. Five minutes of it lead many children to the conclusion that Captain Crunch should fend for himself. After all, any dude who can make a cereal with the texture of broken glass is a capable fellow.
3) Sneak King
For just under $4 (and an artery-damaging value meal purchase), Burger King customers who were also Xbox 360 owners could snag the opportunity to stalk a neighborhood full of unsuspecting meat cravers as part of BK’s 2006 promotion. Basically, players became BK’s creepy, mime-like mascot and sneakily served up burgers. The game isn’t very sophisticated, but the price is right to opt into a gargantuan viral marketing ploy. The Subservient Chicken probably pays a visit as well. There were a few BK titles released on the Xbox, but this one is probably the most blatant venture in advergaming.
2) Kool-Aid Man
Long before the bro-tastic Dane Cook and Family Guy ran the big man’s signature devastation into the ground, the Atari 2600 was harnessing the high-fructose power of Kool-Aid to uh…move around and hit colored lines? I’m sure the kids from the Atari generation knew what was going on in this game, or at least had imaginations capable of creating excuses for the gameplay. For now though, just appreciate the licensed food mascot goodness. This game was practically a pioneer in the genre and deserves to be in a museum, let alone a snarky list.
Pepsiman shone like a star in Japan as Pepsi’s resident superhero spokedude during the ’90s. His power to quench thirsts produced multiple tie-ins including action figures and even a female accomplice. Toward the end of his reign as the king of cola, a less than awesome obstacle course videogame was released for the PlayStation, pushing Pepsiman through extreme circumstances on his quest to refresh others – just like in his numerous television commercials. The result is a game with cheap laughs, a lot of noise and very little substance. That’s alright though, because unlike a lot of other soda mascots, Pepsiman seems okay with that, which resonates throughout the mostly fun gameplay. Pepsiman also made a strikingly different gaming appearance in Sega Saturn’s Fighting Vipers, where instead of refreshing people, he beat them senselessly. Thanks to Pepsiman, every gamer’s thirst, and ability to withstand branding, is effectively demolished.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.