Over the holiday season we’ll be republishing a series of Nintendo Life articles, interviews and other features from the previous twelve months that we consider to be our Best of 2020. Hopefully, this will give you a chance to catch up on pieces you missed, or simply enjoy looking back on a year which did have some highlights — honest!
This feature was originally published in July 2020.
Last month the Philippines arm of KFC grabbed the headlines (well, our headlines at least) when it created its own KFC restaurant in Animal Crossing: New Horizons and invited its Twitter followers to visit its island, with the hope of finding Colonel Sanders and getting a voucher code for free chicken in real life.
While Nintendo obviously had nothing to do with this and the whole thing was just a marketing ploy conjured up by KFC, it’s far from the first time video games have been associated with food brands. In fact, ever since the very early days of home console gaming – we’re talking the Atari 2600 here – there have been games containing product placement for snacks. Some of these are subtle, others have entire games built around them. Here are some of our favourites.
This list is by no means complete: there are plenty of other examples. Honourable mentions go to Death Stranding and its infamous Monster Energy consumables, Pepsiman on the PlayStation, Fight Night Round 3 (which lets you unlock the terrifying Burger King mascot to accompany you to the ring) and the strange Space Invader-style Commodore 64 game Weetabix Versus the Titchies. Two games we haven’t forgotten, though, are the Chester Cheetah games for the SNES and Mega Drive, partly because even though they star the Cheetos mascot, they don’t actually mention Cheetos at any point.
That said: sit back, grab an ice cold refreshing Irn Bru™, and enjoy.
Zool – Chupa Chups
There are two examples of snack food product placement in games that many people cite all the time, so let’s start with those. Probably the most commonly mentioned (especially in Europe) is Zool, the fast-paced platformer starring a ninja from the Nth Dimension which was originally released on the Amiga before coming to a bunch of other systems including the SNES and Mega Drive.
The first world in Zool has a candy theme, and the stage is absolutely packed with cakes, candy games, gingerbread and chocolate as far as the eye can see. Deciding to turn this into a marketing opportunity, publisher Gremlin Graphics arranged a deal with Spanish lollipop company Chupa Chups and slapped its lollies and logo all over the stage,
If you owned Zool on the SNES and are a bit confused about all this, you probably lived in North America. The Chupa Chups sponsorship was removed entirely from NTSC versions of the game, whereas the European PAL SNES version still has its big garish logos proudly beaming out at you.
James Pond 2: Codename Robocod – Penguin
The other instance of snack sponsorship that regularly gets brought up is the presence of Penguin biscuits in Millennium Interactive’s much-loved platformer James Pond 2: Codename Robocod, which starred everyone’s favourite piscine protagonist as he attempts to rescue Santa Claus from the evil Dr Maybe.
For those not familiar with Penguins, they’re a brand of chocolate biscuit that have been a part of British tea-drinking culture since they were first produced in the early 1930s. For a certain generation of Brit the marketing slogan “p-p-pick up a Penguin” is widely recognised, even though most people don’t actually get what that means. In fact, most don’t know why they’re called Penguins in the first place.
Regardless, because Robocod involves finding penguins at various points, large Penguin biscuit wrappers can be found in certain stages in 90s versions of the game (they were removed for the GBA, PlayStation and DS versions released in the 2000s). It’s a pretty tenuous link, but it’s reported that Penguins outsold Kit-Kats in the UK for the first time after Robocod launched. We’re not sure we believe that, mind.
Bubba ‘n’ Stix – Bubbilicious
If you live in North America and are starting to feel a bit left out, here’s one for you. Bubba ‘n’ Stix is a puzzle-platformer that was developed by Core Design. Although Core also published the game in most regions, when it came to the Mega Drive version (or Genesis, if you will) Tengen took over publishing duties in America.
Tengen also negotiated a sponsorship deal with Bubbilicious bubble gum, with a big sticker on the cover telling people they could win a Sega CD console if they bought special packs of Bubbilicious and entered the competition on the wrapper. To make sure the deal went both ways, the game’s bonus stage included large packs of Bubbilicious which could be collected for bonus points.
If you’re sitting in the UK and scratching your head at all this, that’s because none of this happened in Europe. There was no Bibbilicious tie-in in PAL regions, and the Bubbilicious collectibles were nowhere to be found in the bonus stages. It wasn’t any great loss, though, so don’t worry.
Superfrog – Lucozade
This Team17 platformer came to the Amiga in 1993 and told the story of a handsome young prince who’s turned into a frog by a witch, who then kidnaps his girlfriend for good measure. As he sits by the side of the river feeling sorry for himself the frog spots a bottle of (famed UK energy drink) Lucozade floating downstream, so he picks it up and takes a drink and, lo and behold, becomes the heroic Superfrog.
Lucozade doesn’t just feature in the intro sequence: bottles of the stuff can be found dotted around each of the game’s levels and will restore Superfrog’s health when he picks it up. Which makes sense, given that back in the day Lucozade was traditionally what you were supposed to bring as a gift when you were visiting sick people in hospital.
A number of years later Lucozade teamed up with another British gaming icon, and this time it was a biggie: a TV ad campaign saw Lara Croft drinking the stuff, and the drink was renamed Larazade for a limited time. It never actually appeared in any Tomb Raider games, though, which is why we’re going with Superfrog instead.
Pushover – Quavers
It’s becoming pretty clear by now that Britain in the early ‘90s seemingly had some sort of obsession with putting snacks in video games, and Ocean Software’s puzzle game Pushover didn’t really do anything to change that. This time the brand in question was Quavers, the floaty crisp snack that tasted like cheesy air, and also included Quavers’ then mascot Colin Curly.
Colin’s lost his packets of Quavers down a giant anthill so it’s up to a soldier ant called G. I. Ant (hah) to enter said anthill and retrieve said curly potato puffs, which he did by knocking over a bunch of dominos in what’s actually a fiendishly difficult puzzler.
After a stint on the Amiga, Pushover came to the SNES with all the Quavers branding removed. Colin Curly, meanwhile, would go on to star in another Amiga game called One Step Beyond, which was also packed with Quavers branding. Hardly anyone seems to eat Quavers these days, and we’re putting that directly down to the lack of an HD remaster of Pushover.
Cool Spot – 7 Up
Here’s one that’s subtle (at least until you reach its bonus stage). Cool Spot is an entertaining platform game starring – get ready for this – the red dot on the 7 Up logo. Yes, slap a pair of sunglasses and some arms and legs on that dot and you have one of the funkiest mascots in town. Or something.
For the most part, Cool Spot is a fairly innocuous platformer: you have to explore the game’s numerous stages in search of your fellow Spot pals, who’ve been imprisoned in cages, presumably due to their comparative lack of coolness. It isn’t until you reach the bonus stage – where you’re trapped in a giant 7 Up bottle and have to bounce off bubbles to reach the top while spelling out its marketing slogan UNCOLA – that the tie-in reveals its true form.
The European versions of the game had all the 7 Up branding removed (starting to see a theme here?), mainly because 7 Up’s mascot in Europe was another character called Fido Dido and it was decided not to confuse things. In the bonus stages, instead of UNCOLA you had to spell out VIRGIN. Stop laughing, that’s who published it.
M.C. Kids – McDonalds
If you thought McDonald’s wasn’t going to try to get involved in this useful new way to market directly to children, we admire your naïvety, but no. M. C. Kids (known as the slightly less subtle McDonaldland in Europe) was a serviceable platformer that contained more big M’s than Mario’s hatstand.
Ronald McDonald’s magic bag has been stolen, so it’s up to two plucky young tykes called Mick and Mack to enter McDonaldland and try to get it back. Along the way they encounter other characters from the McDonald’s Cinematic Universe™ including Grimace, Birdie and the notorious Hamburglar (who’s the one responsible for stealing the bag in the first place).
Mick and Mack returned in Global Gladiators, an environmentalist Mega Drive game in which they had to use a water gun to clear up slime and various other types of toxic gunk in order to clean the world up. While collecting more golden arches, obviously.
Chase the Chuck Wagon – Purina
If you think snack tie-ins were mainly a ‘90s phenomenon, you’re in for a surprise: in the early ‘80s the humble Atari 2600 had its fair share of sponsored games too. These included strange collect ‘em up Kool-Aid Man and the extremely rare Pepsi Invaders, a Space Invaders clone created by Coca-Cola to be handed out at its 1983 sales convention.
The oddest example of the Atari 2600 era, though, is possibly Chase the Chuck Wagon. If you were an American citizen in the ‘70s and ‘80s you were probably aware of a TV commercial for Purina dog food in which a dog chases a little chuckwagon (it was referenced at the start of This Is Spinal Tap as well, and Family Guy spoofed it at one point because of course it did).
Purina commissioned game publisher Spectravision to make a game based on this commercial, and it was programmed in a mere three days, so yes, it was awful. It was a mail order game, and could only be bought if you sent in proof of purchase labels for Purina dog food products. Which sort of defeats the purpose of the game if people are already buying the stuff.
Biker Mice from Mars – Snickers
The Biker Mice From Mars game is something of a hidden gem on the SNES: it’s an isometric racing game developed by Konami and it’s packed with power-ups and all that good stuff. It’s also notorious, however, for being the only game in this list that’s a TV show tie-in with a snack tie-in included. We believe the phrase is “yo dawg, we heard you liked tie-ins”, or at least it would be if it was 2008.
In fact, not only did the Biker Mice game have a snack sponsorship – in just one region, naturally – it was also a rare case of a sponsorship that actually affected the gameplay. The PAL version of the game had Snickers branding slapped all over it, but you could also pick up a Snickers power-up which was by far the most powerful in the game: it makes you invincible, speeds you up and makes fireworks appear.
In keeping with the general theme of this article, the North American version of the game didn’t have any Snickers sponsorship. This meant that it also didn’t have the power-up, however, making it a slightly harder game as a result. Oh Snickers, you rascals.
Kaettekita Mario Bros. – Nagatanien
Finally, it may shock you to learn that not even our good pal Mario has been able to resist the clutches of snack sponsorship in the past. The culprit in question was Kaettekita Mario Bros., an enhanced port of Mario Bros. for the Famicom Disk System that made some notable improvements including new levels and the ability to change direction in mid-air (which, if you’ve played Mario Bros, you’ll know is a literal game-changer).
However, it also added advertisements in between some of the levels. Some of these ads were for other Nintendo games, most notably Super Mario Bros. 3 (which had just been released on the Famicom a month earlier). Others, however, were for food products created by Nagatanien, a Japanese company who specialised in premixed and instant food (miso soup mix, sushi toppings and the like).
What’s more, it included a special Nagatanien World mode, which adds a slot machine when you get Game Over which gives you the chance to continue playing. If players scored 100,000 or 200,000 points in this mode, they’d also be given a promotional code that they could mail in to Nintendo to try to win a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 or some playing cards. We’re not angry at you, Mario; we’re just disappointed.
Have these blatant snack sponsorships left you feeling a little peckish? Let us know which other brand deals you’ve noticed in games with a comment below…