With the ongoing successes in the fast food wars, McDonalds wanted to take that extra step to blow away the competition. The plan was simple…
M.C. Kids (1991)
1 or 2 Player
Saturday Morning television was a lot different back when I was a kid. I’ve talked a little bit in past reviews about how most 80’s-90’s children’s Saturday morning programming were just 22-minute ads with an additional 2-3 commercial breaks for a toy line for what you were currently watching. Quite simply, Saturday Morning TV was just toy companies screaming “BUY ME!!!” for 5 hours straight before your dad wanted to watch televised golf or bowling.
Between this visual song and dance for He-man, She-Ra, and GI Joe, action figure juggernauts would take a break and make room for ads either for breakfast cereal or for McDonalds’ Happy Meals. Both were awesome for the same two reasons: each offered a tasty meal that would make any kid go into a diabetic coma and after coming down from your sugar rush you got a new “free” toy to play with.
I remember as kid running down the cereal aisle, looking for that box of Captain Crunch that I pined for just to get that orange 3-inch bobbing submarine. I didn’t care that I hated Captain Crunch, how it hurt the roof of my mouth when I ate it or that the nautical vehicle was probably made out of most toxic plastic known to man (which was mixed in with edible children’s cereal. Way to go Quaker Oats!) All I know is that I NEEDED IT. The same was for McDonalds’ happy meals.
Yeah you could have gone to Burger King for a sh*tty paper crown but why would you do that when you could get a sugarburger with a side of greasy salt sticks, a coke (need I say more), and a “free” toy? …well the toys weren’t actually free but in a child’s eye’s it was a new toy that you didn’t have to spend your allowance on or bug your parents to get. And why did we want this crap that broke within hours of playing with it? Because of that scary clown that lived in a LSD haze of taking birds and cheeseburger people told us to, that’s why.
Surprisingly this corporate battle of “who has the better toys wins” didn’t just end with complementary pieces of plastic. With the première of the 80’s most iconic destroyer of bedtimes and homework, The Nintendo Entertainment System was the most logical step to advertise to the masses and was used as the ultimate fast food marketing tool. With companies marketing their bobbles on the newest and most popular medium since the invention of the radio, how could things possibly go wrong…?
THE HISTORY OF THE GAME
With the ongoing successes in the fast food wars, McDonalds wanted to take that extra step to blow away the competition. The plan was simple: to sell their McGame at all of their billions of fast-food locations. This ensured extra revenue for the company, a good way to advertise their brand, and keep the Gospel of Ronald McDonald fresh in the minds of millions. McDonalds was so confident with this gameplan that the multi-billion dollar burger company decided NOT TO ADVERTISE THE GAME WITH ANY TELEVISON ADS OF ANY KIND. Instead McDonald’s course of action was to create a whole Happy Meal toy line. It’s easy math, selling one million M.C. Kids themed Happy Meals, a day for 30 days. In theory McDonalds would be reaching 30 million families with no extra advertising (cost). Well that kinda made sense but for some reason or another the whole Happy Meal idea was scrapped…
Huh? What the Fuh?!?!?!?! Now for the life of me the Rube looked all over the Interweb trying to find any information why Das Master Plan for fast-food domination was never put in effect. The only thing that I can think of is that maybe it broke some federal trade law about marketing NES games at fast food joints (The Rube’s theory, not fact). All I know is that because the game was sold at stores, not at McDonald’s locations, had zero marketing help from McDonalds (except for one convoluted magazine ad paid for by its developer, Virgin Games) this game title was a complete flop. This makes the Rube kinda sad since overall it’s a pretty good game (Yes, really! We’ll get to that in a moment), especially for a game was made in only six weeks with only two programmers and one graphic artist.
After the title screen, choosing one or two players, and which member of Kid n’ Play that you want to be, the story opens with two brothers from another mother doing some poor man’s camping in the backyard. And for some unholy reason instead of “reading” a copy of their dad’s Playboy magazine, they’re chilling with another book with pictures. This one is about Ronald McDonald and a Magic Bag. The story goes like this:
Ronald was showing off his Magic Bag at a Picnic in the Meadow, when all of a Sudden…
Wait, what? What magic bag? Where the *@&! did this magic bag come from? I’ve never seen Mr. McDonald with a magic bag… and in a Meadow, like a park? Yeah, I know other people in the park that are willing to show off their Magic Bags to children too… Ok let’s burn that mental picture in a dumpster and get back to it’s gameplay… So at this point I’m guessing that the kids started to tell each other a What If? Story and instead of finishing the book, the boys start on their unhealthy fan-fiction adventure to retrieve Ronald’s Magic Bag form the evil clutches of America’s most wanted, the Hamburglar.
The object of M.C. Kids is quite simple. You go from sub-level to sub-level looking for hidden M Puzzle Cards. When you find enough (each world goal is different), you’ll be able to progress to the next land and so forth. It’s not brain surgery but remember that this game was intended for younger children.
SUPER MARIO… MCDONALD?
You first start with a map of… Hey! WTF? This map looks kinda fishy to me. Really Virgin Games, you think that you could get away with making a game kinda-sorta look like a COMPLETE RIP-OFF OF SUPER MARIO BROS. 3? REALLY?!?!?! At this point I should really turn off my NES, go outside, and find something else constructive to do with my time (maybe in a park?) but the review must continue… Anywho, You start you side-scrolling romp with Level 1-1. The controls are pretty basic with the only thing to figure out is that you press Down + B Button to pick up blocks and press B again to throw it at an enemy. The only thing that is confusing is the Player’s info in the top left corner.
M is for all the M’s (Mario Coins, opps! sorry wrong game) that you collect. Succeed in getting 100 M’s, you get to play a Mini game for more lives. L is for your current amount of lives, which goes up if you find the hundreds of 1UP Red Blocks throughout the game. Below that is your health meter that ONLY STARTS YOU WITH 3 OF 4 HEARTS? Why would any game start a player with a ¾ empty life meter? To make matters worse, when you finish a level with one heart, you continue to the next level with the same pathetic single heart. Also to my knowledge there’s no way to replenish that meter while in gameplay. Thanks a lot Virgin Games.
Overall the levels truly remind you of Super Mario Bros. 3 but with a twist. Quickly you find out in sub-level 1-1 that part of the level needs to be completed while playing your character upside down, which feels like a complete game changer and you start to feel that you’re playing a fresh new game. After running around upside down and throwing blocks at baddies, the Mario stigma fades away and start to have a lot of fun exploring each level for that hidden M card block. Some levels are straightforward but most will have you pulling out your hair until you find that block, and that’s a good thing. The constant changes of upbeat music adds to the fun as you dodge baddies, ride mini tug boats, and throw snowballs. Even the cutscenes to each new world helps suck the player deeper into the simple storyline and makes this game even a little bit more enjoyable then it’s plumber competitor but M.C. Kids does have it’s drawbacks.
WHAT WENT WRONG…
First, there are no Mini-Boss levels to beat before moving on to the next world. After doing the research about this game, I understand that this was probably a time constraint issue instead of a design flaw but without Mini-Bosses, the game feels somewhat empty and incomplete. The second drawback is that sometimes you have to take a total leap of faith while jumping off a cliff, ledge, or waterfall to find the necessary secret passage holds that level’s M Card. Yeah, extra lives are a dime a dozen in M.C. Kids but what’s the fun in playing the same level over and over because you closed your eyes, crossed your fingers and jumped off a cliff in hopes of find a hidden cliff that turns out not to be there. It’ll get to a point that you’ll want to kick your tv in while looking for those elusive M Cards.
Speaking about searching for M Cards, this brings me to it’s forth drawback. After completing a Sub-Level, the M on the map turns from stripes/mock chrome to solid white. I understand that this shows the player that he or she has completed that level but it doesn’t keep track if you have found the M Card in that level or not. This becomes a big hassle when you can’t find an M Card on a hard level, decide to try a newer (and hopefully easier) level, and then trying to remember which Sub-Level still has a remaining M Card. It becomes nerve-racking when you have to replay three or four Sub-levels over and over again just to realize that you already found that level’s M Card. This happened to me while playing in Grimace’s world, which almost made me turn off the game in a huff and yell into my Frustration Pillow for 20 minutes.
The last downer with M.C. Kids is that even with 1UP’s found all over the place, you cannot quit to get a Big Mac and continue. I know that is meant to be a simple game for children but with no internal battery or bible verse long passcode to enter, you either have the choice and go old school and leave your NES turned on while at school/work or turn it off and restart the whole game. To me this is M.C. Kids biggest issue since it’s a 33 level adventure game. Sometimes it’s nice to take a break, go outside, and smoke a magic bag before continuing onto your own adventure.
OUT OF 5
Despite all of it’s faults, I would still recommend M.C. Kids. Yeah, at first it might feel like a riff-off but after giving it a try, you be amazed how much fun you had playing a game that was meant to be served with a side order of French fries.
+ Pretty good for a Mario ripoff
+ Decent graphics and gameplay
+ Interesting storyline
– No challenging boss fights
– Some levels are frustrating
– No “save” function