On a nigh daily basis, I drive into Atlantic City (no longer the highest unemployment rate in the country: those people died of starvation!) via the fabulous Atlantic City Expressway, a strip of roadway paved with the tears of broken dreams. Atlantic City, for those of you that are blissfully unaware, is basically the East Coast’s Las Vegas. I draw the comparison not only because of a heavy emphasis on gambling, stripping, and general debauchery, but also because much of the history of the town is centered on various criminals, to the point that there are random statues around town memorializing so-and-so who founded what-and-what but spent the last years of his life in jail for such-and-such. Combine this with the fact that it’s difficult to cruise so much as a block in this city without passing a pawn shop or porno palace (or both, Dave’s Dildos for Dollars is pretty popular), and you might start to get the impression that Atlantic City is a den of depravity.
But everyone, from the humble smut peddler to whoever is running Trump-not-Trump Taj Mahal, has to make bank, and advertising is the way to do it. Radio, TV, Internet, that’s all fine, but my main exposure to local businesses is through the parade of billboards that I zoom past on the Atlantic City Expressway. I prefaced this article with that little screed on the lack of morals of Atlantic City because if you think you’re driving into a Mormon retreat, you will be divorced of that notion shortly after your third billboard with a “tastefully” nude woman advertising a burlesque show (and, to be clear, that isn’t a turn of phrase, we’ve got actual, honest-to-God “burlesque shows”. It’s like a damn Clint Eastwood flick). I would estimate that, whether they’re advertising sex directly or not, about half the billboards are based almost exclusively on the premise that your wang (don’t have a wang? Meh) will be pleased with Atlantic City (“Come to Generic Beach Bar, our lady customers are sluts!”), and the other half are based on appealing to man’s other baser desires: money and steak. It’s… an oddly specific roadway of ads, particularly when you consider a healthy portion of people keeping Atlantic City financially solvent (or close) are (and this isn’t a stereotype, it’s the actual demographics) elderly Asian women. But, sure Atlantic City, keep hammering that tasteless horny white male demographic. That really seems to be working out for you.
Amongst these billboards for the best ways to satisfy your (assuming you’re a white male, age 25-40 or so) creepiest desires is one, and only one, billboard that “advertises” public service messages. It’s an electronic billboard, so it can advertise anything in rapid succession, and it flips between ads for sports events or television shows, but it also displays important messages about stopping child trafficking, prostitution, and underage drinking.
And, in a weird way, it might be worst billboard on the expressway.
Advertising is something of the great equalizer of modern society. Even if you’ve “cut the cord” on cable or adblock every site you find, you’re still constantly bombarded by advertising if you choose to leave your home for greater than five minutes. There mere act of buying groceries, even if you ignore the weekly circular, is now a cold, calculated attempt to get you to buy everything in the store, complete with fresh, green items enticing you at the entrance, and bread and dairy way the hell at the other end of the store so you may be tempted by delicious Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows ™ in the intervening aisles; and you’ll experience this all with a piped in intercom system either playing the greatest hits of yesterday and today (available on iTunes) or a friendly salesvoice just telling you what to buy. That’s a mere, what, hour of your week? Advertising is gonna getcha, whether you know it or not.
This is a problem, because, let’s face it, it’s bad for humanity. No, I’m not one to claim advertising will turn us into mindless pod people that are simply awaiting our next instruction to consume Butterfingers™ now; no, what I’m talking about is the thick layer of cynicism and distrust that is inadvertently created by a world of advertising. How many people do you know that claim advertising “doesn’t work on me,” yet wear any number of branded items? Oh, that doesn’t count, I just bought these randomly… at a humongous retail store or online retailer. But that’s just a side effect of the disease, the most overt symptoms are people that see any kind of advertising, whether it be on television, internet, or olde tyme radio, and naturally assume they’re being tricked into buying something they don’t want. Okay, yes, that’s all advertising is, when you get down to it, but it creates an innate feeling of “everybody is out to get me,” which is simply not a good thing when people that need people are the most productive members of society (like, we’re talking almost literal definition of society).
So let’s revisit that billboard. Amongst a string of (occasionally literally) naked attempts to appeal to primal desires is a billboard that is plainly asking you to be a good person. Report child abuse. Stop teenagers from underage drinking. Stop drunk driving. These are all worthwhile, noble pursuits… heck, they’re barely even that “noble”, they’re just how you be a good human being. We need more good humans! They’re in short supply around here! But there’s a problem when the “be a good person” billboard is stuck between every other appeal to a lizard brain that desires only sex and chocolate (that’s what lizards eat, right?). I don’t want to generalize (this is a lie), but the person that starkly tracks the naked breasts billboard is not someone that was worried about drunk driving to begin with, and the person that thinks everything is a scam is going to lump the good message in with all the bad, and assume it’s some kind of trick just the same as the lottery billboards. Give your dreams a chance? Bah! Save a child’s life? Double bah!
I’ve always considered it a point in video gaming’s favor that it is a medium primarily not dominated by advertising. Yes, before you flood the comments with examples of Mutant Turtles shilling for Pizza Hut or how Smash Bros reminds you to buy buy buy every time a new costume is coded, I am aware that advertising and video games are already well and truly connected; but what I’m lauding the medium for is the fact that it is not so entrenched in the advertising world as its other entertainment brothers. Television was brought to you by cool, smooth Death Stick Cigarettes ™ since its birth, and movie theatres make more money hawking products at the preview crowds than actually selling tickets. Comparatively, video games are downright quaint when they’re only shilling a season pass that works with the game that already holds your interest.
Which makes it all the more obvious when a game is so totally soaked in corporate sponsorship.
Zool 2 is a not completely terrible Sonic the Hedgehog clone. Specifically, it’s very reminiscent of Sonic & Knuckles, as you have two different heroes (Zool and Zooz) who each have different techniques for overcoming the same obstacles. Actually, that’s kind of inaccurate, the two control very similarly, but their weapons affect different distinct blocks throughout the stages, so it’s possible to take different paths. It’s less the difference between Sonic and Knuckles, and more the difference between Sonic and, I don’t know, some lazy, darker color swap of Sonic. Regardless, this is yet another video game that learned the wrong lessons from Sonic, and while it’s always fun to dash around at top speed, it loses something when you have a very limited life bar, and enemies don’t spawn quickly/obviously enough to be avoided. So creep along like an old lady, because you’ll be in the grave if you’ve actually gotta go fast.
But, as you can likely guess this far into the article, that unpleasantness isn’t what caught my eye. What’s more interesting to me is that Zool 2 is covered from head to toe with ads for Chupa Chups lollipops.
Chupa Chups (is that… plural? Should I be… oh, nevermind) is a company that is no stranger to interesting advertising avenues. Supposedly, it was CC’s founder that first recommended that its candies be placed near the cash register, so “little hands” could grab for the treats and badger their parents well into the 21st century. The Chupa Chups logo was designed by Salvador Dalí, and Madonna was a spokeswoman at one time. The current advertising for Chupa Chups lollipops is a play on anti-smoking campaigns with the phrase, “Stop smoking, start sucking”. I… want to say that there had to be a better way to phrase that, but it certainly gets your attention.
So it likely seemed like a good idea to sponsor an “up and coming” video game character like Zool. History has forgotten Zool, but at the time, he had not only video games across every platform, but also a pair of YA novels. Zool was poised to be the next great video game mascot, and we’d all be begging for Zool to join Smash Bros in a few years (“What’s Smash Bros?” “A N64 game.” “What’s a N64?”). Chupa Chups hitched its wagon to the franchise, presumably to get in on the ground floor of this star’s ascent, and must have provided a lot of cheddar for Zool 2.
I presume this because the Chupa Chups logo is everywhere in this game. It’s right there as the game first boots, it’s a scrolling background behind all the text, and it’s a large pickup item that should be discovered and claimed in every level. I assume some of the smaller collectibles are Chupa Chup lollipops, but they’re not nearly as prominent as the logo that is freaking everywhere. You will never forget the company that ponied up for this game.
Which is why it’s kind of funny when advertising mixes with video games. I mean, really, any executive can sit down and watch a movie or read a book and confirm that, yes, their sponsorship has gone to something good, and their product is well represented. Video games, however, are wildly subjective because they have to be “played”, and, depending on your experience, you, the player, can get a very different impression than what the designers intended. I literally have no idea what the creators were thinking, in, say, Mega Man X7, but I can safely say that just typing the words “Flame Hyenard” causes a PTSD, reflexive twitch in myself that is unlikely to ever go away. Similarly, if I see the “Now Loading” screen from Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 ever again, it will be far, far too soon.
Zool 2 is a forgettable and not wholly enjoyable video game. It’s probably somewhere around Bubsy in the pantheon of “generally regrettable mascot games” of the era. But good job, Chupa Chups, now every time I see one of your lollipops, I’m going to think of this not at all fun experience. Zool 2 left a bad taste in my mouth, and I rather hope your product doesn’t similarly cause the bile to flow.
So, like the one good billboard on the Atlantic City Expressway, keep advertising out of video games. Yes, it might work, and your product might wind up wrapped into a good experience, but it’s a lot more likely that your pride and joy will get sucked into a void of crass commercialism and anti-fun, and it’ll come off as yet another awkward con in a world filled with them.
Because that’s how they get you.
FGC #80 Zool 2
- System: Atari Jaguar for the review, but also available on the Amiga and DOS. That’s a murderer’s row of forgotten platforms.
- Number of Players: 2 player alternating. No, you can’t have two ninja save the world at the same time. They don’t play well together.
- Go Ninja Go: Zool (and Zooz) has one acrobatic ability over his platforming brethren: he can perform triangle jumps off flat walls. Couple this with Ryu of Ninja Gaiden, and I’m forced to conclude that Space Bounty Hunter Samus Aran is also a ninja. And Mario, depending on the game.
- Just play the gig, man: Also forgot to mention: the soundtrack is primarily composed of fart noises, as if everything was slapped together by a sixth grader with a Casio keyboard.
- Favorite Chupa Chups Lollipop flavor: Cherry. Wait… where are these questions coming from?
- Did you know? Zool’s female counterpart is named Zooz. Replace the Z’s in that name with B’s. Classy.
- Would I play again: Even if I was hungering for some white, hot Atari Jaguar action, this wouldn’t be the game I’d play. Hell, if I really wanted to satisfy the Zool 2 itch, I’d hit Bubsy, and you know that’s a bad sign.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Toki: Going Ape Spit for the Sega Genesis. Oh, what lovely punnery. Come on, do the monkey with me! Please look forward to it!