Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, SIT BACK AND PREPARE FOR MARKETING.
For thousands of years, humanity has strived to conquer the world, to raise itself above the other animals, and to set foot in an endless galaxy of wonder and amazement and sexy green people of any gender - for these are modern, enlightened times! Sadly, unless you're a billionaire who wants to see if he really can see his house from space, it appears we can now but sit back and take solace in the fact that, while conquering space seems to have been put on hold, our mighty technology did successfully manage to bring us a point and click adventure based on a salami mascot.
Swings and roundabouts, eh? Meet the Peperami Animal.
Advergaming, for such is the term for this kind of thing, as created by the geniuses behind them who will one day find themselves spending eternity in a vat filled entirely of the bullshit they spouted during life, is nothing new. As far back as machines like the Atari 500, companies were being paid to whore out their talents - modest or not - and help fill impressionable childrens' eyes with this drivel. There were several games based on the Kool-Aid Man, for instance, and the infamous Domino's Pizza game Avoid The Noid. There were the puzzle games Pushover and One Step Beyond, intended to make you want a Quaver, and McDonalds' M.C Kids, Donald Land, Global Gladiators and Treasure Land Adventure with an eye on Big Macs and fries. Can you guess who was responsible for Pepsi Invaders? Can you? Probably not, because it was Coca Cola - those apparently being less litigious times. Pepsiman was a different story, appearing in his own game, and as a guest in Fighting Vipers. The list goes on.
Not everything was this blatant. For a while, product placement was the in thing. Robocod had Penguin bars, while Zool had Chupa-Chups. A number of Sierra adventure games finished every phonecall with some variant of "Thank you for using U.S. Sprint!", and would - supposedly - have had McDonalds in Space Quest 3 had the mighty golden arched ones not insist they cut out a scene of hero Roger Wilco hurling his guts out in an airlock after sampling too much of their food. That's the official story, anyway, though bear in mind it did come from the guys who claimed not to have realised the implications of the series' love interest being named Ambassador Beatrice Wankmeister.
Not all advergames are bad, of course. Super Mario Bros 2 on the NES for instance started out as an advergame. Everyone knows it was originally called Doki Doki Panic, and simply refitted with Mario, Luigi, Toad and Princess Peach, but there's another step in the story - Doki Doki Panic was originally based on a TV station's characters, and built in part to promote a specific event.
Better known in the US, if not the UK, is Chex Quest , based on some cereal they have over in the Treason Colony, which earned both fans and sequels when it was given away for free. Closer to home, Darkened Skye gave me at least much pleasure. It's not often that you get an advergame whose producer goes on the record to say her first reaction to the project was - literally - "You can fire me now, or not force me to do this", before trying to make a Skittles game without Skittles in it.
Animal on the other hand is one of the few games I've ever played that would work better as a generic side-scrolling platform game. I'm just saying, when I think of descriptions like 'crazy', 'hyper-active' and 'violent', the words that spring to mind are not - by and large - 'point and click adventure'.
And especially not this point and click adventure. Yaaaaaaaaaawn...
- Games Guide Monthly , being Wrong
"The bovver-booted Animal not only moves brilliantly but... this is surely the funniest and most anarchic point-and-click adventure in existence."
- The Daily Telegraph , being Wrong
"...its overall speed, sound effects and the animation of the central characters, which is so realistic as to be slightly disturbing."
- Campaign Interactive , being From Another ****ing Planet
The premise is that the Peperami Animal, apparently named Peperami, lives in the no-less-imaginatively named city of Snackopolis, where the frankly depressingly named mad scientist Pepereinstein has gone missing during his mayoral campaign. Yes, when I think Peperami, I too think 'detective'.
"Sources and dips close to him are at a loss for words as to the reason for his sudden disappearance," quips the manual, before 'hilariously' adding: "That's going to put a pubic hair in the butter!"
Yes, do remember that image when you consider your next snack purchase.
On the one hand, the Animal campaign was hugely successful for Peperami. I've never tried one, yet the mere name instantly evokes mental images of an angry, squitty poo with the voice of Adrian Edmondson. Why haven't I ever tried one? Because the mere name instantly evokes mental images of an angry, squitty poo with the voice of Adrian Edmondson. It's not that complicated, really.
Still! In the name of research, I decided that it wouldn't be fair to judge the awful, terrible, obviously rubbish Animal game without at least some experience of the no doubt fine, upstanding product it's based on. This then is what freshly purchased, delicious Peperami looks like in the real world.
Rewinding time to before I took that picture so that I could be surprised as I opened one fresh, the first thing that struck my attention was how pungent the first Peperami was as I slid it out of its package - even before tearing off the condom to get at its meaty, increasingly less anticipated goodness. As for the food itself, something about it almost looked... Hmm. Picture a sandworm from Dune, its entire life spent constantly being looked down on for its pathetic girth, only to ultimately end up being captured and used as the Fremen equivalent of a tricycle by a particularly nervous young girl. Done that? Good.
This looked nothing like that at all, but was about as forlorn.
Giving my salami a quick squeeze made me realise how hard it was, which was lucky, because you're not allowed to talk about any product like this without at least one obvious cock joke, and this way has far more honour than pretending to have a limp, flaccid sausage. Sniffing it, it seemed okay. It's salami. Taking a bite... the taste took a few seconds to kick in, but what really jumped out was the texture. It was crunchy , filling my mouth with lots of little bits that would prove hard to swallow even before the manky taste of the salami itself kicked in, along with the spices. I finished one mouthful and promptly washed it down with Coke and a pack of Mars Planets, wondering if the slimline design was part of a worldwide contest to make a snack that would just be as enjoyable taken rectally.
But what of the game? Honestly, only three things stand out about it, and the sheer pointlessness of its existence should go without saying. The other two are that it's spectacularly boring... and even more spectacularly unfunny. Look at a bureau in Peperami's room, and Edmondson's smarmiest voice informs you that it's "The Federal Bureau of Investigation." Is it? Other actions just go straight for pointless, random insults, like "It's a door , you fool..." and "Well, that's not very intelligent..." while Peperami stands around and stares, never so much as blinking or twitching. You know how the character in the adverts is a constantly moving dervish of manic, masochistic energy? Here, not so much.
The version I have - an original CD - also lacks any music, at least under DOSBox, which doesn't exactly help the already static backgrounds explode with life. The one good thing about the snide narrator is that Peperami himself rarely has to speak, because honestly, imagine playing through a whole adventure voiced like this. Then realise it would still be better than five seconds of Al Emmo.
The interface is beyond dreadful. You can right-click to bring up a verb list - Look At, Use, Talk, Pick Up, Attack - or shortcut keys, but if you use the shortcuts, you have to right-click out of your currently selected verb first. At best, those are detour keys, and not ones that let you do anything particularly interesting. As far as I can tell, the goal of the game is to stooge around trying to work out where the fun is, before realising that you may as well sit your arse down on a chair until Godot shows up.
As ever, any hope of stomping your problems into oblivion flies away immediately. You use the attack command a few times, but more often it's standard puzzles and very boring conversations with other snack-based characters. The funniest thing in the whole game is realising how long it is, and that presumably the creators expected people to at least pretend they gave a damn about the central mystery. Scanning a walkthrough, I've never seen more than a third of it before having a moment of self-realisation, ejecting the disk, and running downstairs to scrub away the stench with tomato juice. They say that bacon is great for turning vegetarians back onto the path of proper eating, because animals are delicious. I suspect that Animal is their counter-attack on OW OH GOD THERE WAS SOME SPICE GREASE LEFT ON MY FINGER AND I JUST RUBBED MY EYE AAAAARGH OW OWWW!
Ahem. If you do endure, your reward is to swim through lots of insulting dialogue and an even more insulting 3D shooting section that's almost, but not quite, worse than the one in Hopkins FBI. Mostly though, you get to know that you are one of the few, the very few, who can honestly claim to have finished this game - even after your eventual release from the sanitarium!
While a failure as a game, how well did Animal do as an advert? I have absolutely no idea, but I can safely say that anyone who bought a single Peperami stick as a direct result of encountering this game needs to be taken out and shot. (Don't even get me started on the kind of idiots who would quit out of Animal, then walk down to the local store at 9PM on Friday specifically to pick up three of the damn things as a direct result of playing it for an hour. They don't even deserve to live...)
Advergaming of course continues to roll on, not so much in full products, but ever more on services like Facebook - as a promotional tool for games (sometimes even with their own paid elements, like Dragon Age: Legends), as a way of boosting brands, and sometimes simply because a big company wants to do something nice for their loyal, devoted fans. Ha! No, just kidding. That never happens.