Back in 1992 Virgin Games released McKids for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game was basically just an advertisement for McDonald’s restaurants with most of the gameplay elements revolving around imagery from the franchise. One thing I never understood is that the game is actually titled M. C. Kids. I’ve never eaten an M. C. Nugget or an M. C. Flurry so what’s with the periods? It makes it look like M. C. is an abbreviation. Maybe the game was endorsed by M. C. Hammer? At any rate, this did cause some confusion for me back when this game was released as I thought it was actually called Emmm Ceee Kids instead of just McKids.
McKids starts with the gamer being able to choose his race on the title screen. The default is the white kid with a baseball cap or you can jump to hit the moon icon and be the black kid with the 1990’s flat top haircut. Each character plays identically. I’ve always found this to be a humorous option in the game. After selecting your character the game player is treated to a cutscene which explains the plot. The two controllable characters Mick and Mack are having a sleep over and are reading a book about Ronald McDonald and his magic bag. Despite how it sounds I assure you this is certainly family friendly. In the story the Hamburglar arrives and steals the magic bag from Ronald. Ronald then asks Mick and Mack for help retrieving the bag. The object of the game is to proceed level by level collecting puzzle piece cards and then finding the end goal of each stage. Each level is selected via a map screen.
Gameplay itself is heavily influenced by Super Mario Bros. 3 which is not a bad thing. If you are going to emulate a game, you may as well emulate one of the best on the console. One aspect missing from the title is the imaginative powerups of Mario 3. The only weapons available to the player are blocks scattered throughout the level which you can pick up and hurl at onscreen enemies. This means no flying, fireball throwing, or turning into a statue.
An interesting gameplay dynamic that blew my socks off when I first played this title is the reverse gravity. There are some gears at the end of platforms that rotate your character sprite 180 degrees. The top of the screen effectively becomes the floor giving the level an entirely different dynamic. When gravity is reversed there are new items and enemies to encounter at the top of the screen which were previously inaccessible. Another unique feature are blocks scattered throughout the stages that bounce your player character all the way back to the beginning of the level. Although this is certainly a punishment, the feat is achieved by rotating your character sprite end over end and propelling him backwards at high speed. At the time it was a great visual effect that left my friends and I in awe. Some levels also contain secret areas that are accessed by using a zipper found in the stage. The zipper looks like it is attached to the screen’s backdrop and is very similar to the locks and keys found in Super Mario World for the SNES.
McDonaldland consists of 7 different worlds. The first world is Ronald’s Playplace, followed by Birdie’s Treehouse, Grimace’s Highlands, Professor’s Workshop, CosMc’s Retreat, Hamburglar’s Hideout, and Ronald’s Puzzleworld. Of course all of these worlds are based on McDonald’s mascots which were prominently featured on Happy Meal box artwork and TV spots aired during cartoons. They were all household names back in the day.
Although McKids isn’t groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, it is better than a game based on McDonald’s had any right to be. I first played it in 1992 at a friend’s house and had so much fun that I told my mom about Emmm Ceee Kids. Unfortunately I never did pick this game up during it’s initial run nor did I end up with a copy in the late 1990’s when I began acquiring retro games in large quantities. In fact, to this day I don’t own a released version of the game. Interestingly enough however I do have this game on a cartridge. Recently I purchased a lot of NES games that contained an interesting looking cartridge with cutouts and exposed chips. It happened to be a prototype cartridge of McKids. When I tested it to confirm it’s contents it played great which resulted in my “test” turning into a several hour McKids gaming session.
Back in the NES days it wasn’t uncommon to see licensed games that revolved around the food industry. In addition to McKids there was Spot featuring the 7-Up mascot, Yo! Noid starring the Domino’s Pizza mascot, and The California Raisins in The Grape Escape. If you think these types of games are non-existent today you would be incorrect. Although games based on food licenses are far less common these days, they aren’t completely extinct. Only a few years ago a series of games were released for the Xbox 360 based on the Burger King franchise.