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CONSOLE: NES DEVELOPER: Virgin Interactive PUBLISHER: Virgin Interactive
RELEASE DATE (NA): February 1992 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

The almighty corporation proves it isn't all bad.

Most of you fine readers are probably already aware of the variety of methods that some corporations will take to manipulate consumers into purchasing their products and utilising their services. There is the constant barrage of advertisements amidst our favourite television programs (often yielding some of the worst cinema in history -- just catch any commercial break). Sporting events, among other major attention-grabbers, are plastered with advertisements centered around the mind of the average adult male (Let there be Miller Lite!) And unapologetic product placement in movies and video games has become a staple of the entertainment industry (Oh look, Ice Cube is drinking a Coca-Cola! We must have it, for if we do not drink Coke, we can never aspire to be cool!) We can't deny it; they are everywhere. However, on occasion, the concept is taken to the extreme. Such is the case with "M.C. Kids", a game designed by some folks at the American developer Virgin Games, who ended up being responsible for many games that involved some sort of movie tie-in. This game was obviously an advertisement for the McDonalds fast food chain, but it was not just a regular game with random Big Macs strewn about. It was indeed a game ABOUT the fictional characters of the McDonalds universe (supposedly called McDonaldland). They put advertising mascots who, on their own, should be able to sell the product themselves via commercials, and place them in a video game. Now here's the unusual twist: there isn't REALLY any strong advertising in the game. There is no McDonalds products to be found whatsoever. You can't snag an order of fries or a McFlurry, so you're not really being told what you should be buying. Could it be that McDonalds actually has a game that is meant to be just a game? Is it actually possible? To answer my own question before I end up forgetting it entirely, it is indeed possible. In fact, this "corporate" game goes beyond the call of duty and is actually ends up being a decent game overall, though its flaws are not exactly hidden either.

(Okay, that didn't quite sound right.)

"M.C. Kids" (also released as "McDonaldland" in parts of Europe) places you in the role of Mick or Mack, two young boys who, for one reason or another, have been summoned by the manchild in the big red shoes himself, Mr. Ronald McDonald, for aid. And for the sake of supporting equality, Mick is white and Mack is black (and has tall hair like a rectangular prism as in a 'Funky See, Funky Do' motif). You can choose between the two characters and play as your favourite ethnicity! ...Yeah. Anyway, it appears as though that vicious Hamburglar has stolen more than just mass-produced hamburgers: he has swiped Ronald's magic bag! (He should not have left his scrotum just lying around like that!) So, being the apparently lazy character that he is, Ronald has entrusted Mick and Mack (perhaps two of the more consistent frequenters of his restaurant chain) to locate it. They shall travel across a variety of terrains, from simplistic grassy valleys to harkening puffy clouds in the sky and even to the Moon! They will also meet numerous other characters in their travels, mostly from the McDonalds fictional universe, such as Grimace the Purple Pile (living in his freaky turd house) and Birdie the Soaring Bachelorette. (There seems to be a distinct lack of Fry Kids, though. Why?!) There's a new character, CosMc, but he isn't too charming, although his name is slightly clever. But clearly, it is the Hamburglar who you must follow, and he has left a trail millions of kilometres long, ensuring that you do not find this stolen Magic Bag! However, Mick and Mack are quite well-trained in the art of platforming and shall have no trouble snatching up that sack of mystery, right? ...Well, perhaps...

...and now: ROLE CALL!

The game might, at first glance, bear a strong similarity to another game released around the same time: Super Mario Bros. 3. They may have some similar features, mainly within their two-player alternating platforming gameplay and the map screen divided into different stages over the course of numerous different worlds. But where Super Mario Bros. 3 had the ability to wear special suits and/or fly as its new gimmick, M.C. Kids takes a different approach (though not a new one to the player, provided they had been fortunate enough to play Metal Storm the previous year) with the ability to travel upside-down. Yes, if you run across a certain pulley on some platforms, you will be swept underneath that platform and can now wander upside-down. Naturally, this sounds like a thrilling experience, but it's not all daisies and daffodils. Beware: you can fall up! If there is a gap in the ceiling of the level, you can fall upwards into it and die! This may be the only game I know of in which this phenomenon occurs. It may be annoying at times, but it also feels natural in a way.

At the beginning of every "world" (or area in which the various characters resides), you will be asked to collect a certain number of Puzzle Cards (nondescript cards with the letter M on them, trying to synthesize the golden arches of McDonalds signs) within that world's levels to uncover the face of that area's dweller. You can keep track in the information box, only viewable on the map screen. Some Puzzle Cards are certainly easy to find, even for the inept explorer, but others require some ingenuity to locate and access. To make matters slightly more unusual, some cards for certain areas can be found in other worlds (particularly in Hamburglar's Hideout, where you need to find every single one of his cards, a few of which are found elsewhere). So you'll need to keep your eyes peeled at all times; you never know when one of those pesky cards will be within reach, although by the end, you'll likely be pulling some tufts of hair out from your scalp in anguish when you realize that there's no easy way to grab the last of the cards. In addition to all of these, there are also "special" cards that, when altogether collected, will allow you to access a Mysteryland (real name?) with the toughest of all levels. I'd rather not visit that region, however; anything more difficult than the lava levels of Hamburglar's Hideout are humanly impossible to complete. On occasion, you may also find secret passages and areas in some levels which you can only access by entering through a zipper door. Yes, isn't that suggestive? Well, while you're wangin' out, you might be able to improve your little golden arch collection. What's that, you ask? Well, it's simple: you are also amassing golden arches -- collect 100 and earn an extra life! So make sure you keep an eye out for as many coins, er, I mean arches, as you can.

It's also worth mentioning that every once in a while, after successfully completing a level, you will be given the option to play a bonus game to earn up to five extra lives. It involves hopping around on four switches; one switch will light up with an arrow pointing up, followed quite shortly by arrows pointing downwards on the other three. The switch you are standing on at the time will go up or down in the direction the arrow is facing. Your goal is to get as far up as possible so you can reach the zipper door at the top which shall lead to great stuff. It's a bit difficult but probably worth it in the end, especially in the later levels. After all, since there is no save function or even a simple password system (which would have been quite helpful), you'll likely need all the help you can get in the latter half of the game. ...Heyyy, waiiit a minute! Why isn't there any form of game saving?! This shouldn't be! I doubt it's THAT difficult to program a password. Every other developer could have figured that out.

And perhaps M.C. Kids really could use a saving system of some sorts, because the game gradually becomes a tough beast to overcome. Part of this stems from the unusually masochistic level design at times, but it could also be attributed to the game's controls. Although they seem to be fairly stable and responsive for the most part, players should expect their characters (both of which seem to handle exactly the same) to be a tad floaty at times. The physics are not quite as perfected as those found in Super Mario Bros. 3, so you can expect a little bit less gravity overall. This could be considered a moot point, but it could also throw off gamers a bit.

The graphics of this game are certainly not at all an eyesore, but its simplicity was overshadowed by much more impressive offerings by its competitors. The fellows at Virgin certainly could have amped it up, but it may also have been likely that the McDonalds Corporation had sprung this project at them rather quickly, giving less time to focus on visual detail. Such is apparent with all areas of graphical design, which presents itself as very simple and occasionally bordering on bland. The character sprites share this level of quality, although they are by themselves not creative at all. (The enemies are annoying, by the way, in case I forget to mention that. Prepare to be pissed off by strategically-placed gophers and charging moose.) Meanwhile, the music is more enjoyable as a whole, even though the sparse sound effects are not even worth discussing. The soundtrack for this game is upbeat and springy, quite befitting a game of this nature indeed. Granted, the total number of songs is not particularly stellar, but the general quality more than makes up for it. I am pleased in this respect, and it may be one of those classic NES soundtracks that I would actually NOT mute during a bout of play.

Ultimately, M.C. Kids, though a corporate shamble to subtly lure its young audience to partake in a meal at a McDonalds restaurant, has actually impressed me with its relatively common yet addictive platforming gameplay. I will admit that it does very little new with the genre that had not already been accomplished prior, but the game does what it does quite well, making for a rather entertaining experience. Thus, I believe that the gaming public should not shun this game simply because it is directly connected to a major multinational corporation. Instead, it should be taken for what it is: a fun and challenging platformer. Sadly, it did not perform too well overall, which is a shame because many NES gamers of the time had missed out on a quality experience. So if you find M.C. Kids at a used video game store or middle-aged man's yard sale, do not hesitate to snatch it up. Just be forewarned that you may be approached by Grimace during the gameplay. Be forewarned...

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