GameSpite Journal 12: Global Gladiators

Licensed games carry a number of stigmas, and sometimes they’re deserved. In the case of Global Gladiators, Virgin found itself backed into a corner; they needed to continue using the McDonald’s license they’d obtained for NES platformer M.C. Kids, which incidentally nobody bought. Clearly the House of Ronald was not the license to print money they hoped it could be (though some Happy Meal representation would have helped). On a console represented by a blue hedgehog with ’tude, a fast food clown and his menagerie of friends didn’t stand a chance. Rather than exploit the license and appeal to its fans, Virgin struck a new direction, turning their McDonald’s franchise into a completely new series—for better or worse.

Game designer Dave Perry wanted to create a game engine, and he knew what it took to compete with Sonic: Speed, action, and platforming. Global Gladiators represented his chance to refine these ideas into usable code, which could then be reiterated into a never-ending deluge of platforming greatness. He seized the opportunity and ran with it. Mick and Mack, the returning heroes of the franchise, sped up and down along inclined platforms, blasting enemies at high speed and jumping great distances. It seemed simple enough, but Virgin’s engineers tweaked every element to ensure it felt unique and sort of fun just to move around in the world.

With the basics out of the way, it came time to design the game itself: The settings, enemies, and themes. Given their decision to avoid playing McDonald’s straight, Virgin searched for something—anything—that could help the game stand out. Fortunately in the early ’90s, one theme always lurked nearby: Environmentalism! Thus, Mick and Mack explored worlds of sludge and polluted cities, blasting goo monsters with super soakers (the ’90s!), and separating paper, glass, and plastic to recycle between stages—culminating in a climactic battle with a… glacier? Bad form, Gladiators. The sole tip of the hat to McDonald’s outside the opening and closing cinematics are the games “coins”: Tiny spinning M’s that can be collected throughout.

Unsurprisingly, Global Gladiators failed to make waves with its nonexistent license presence, simple gameplay, and pandering themes (despite rad comics in EGM and GamePro). Instead, it stands as a kind of moral lesson in how not to create a successful licensed title. Batman (NES) rocked out inspired gameplay while pretty much ignoring Tim Burton’s film. Konami’s Tiny Toons spread the fanservice thick, featuring every popular character from the show. DuckTales managed to do both. It’s possible to find success with all kinds of licensed formulas, but Virgin discovered that “bland everything” is not the way to go. It should be noted Global Gladiators also marked the debut of Tommy Tallarico’s wailing guitar solos, but in a world where the Genesis sound chip sounded like “beep boop” to most people, that just wasn’t enough.

Article by Tomm Hulett

GameSpite Journal 12: Global Gladiators

3 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 12: Global Gladiators

  1. Yes, while this game was one of many unnecessary licensed games to come out in the 16bit era, I think it recieved more scorn than deserved becasue it is McDonald’s branded. Had it been an original IP, I think it would be considered an average platformer. Virgin studios did go on to develop a great many B+ and solid A licenced games including Cool Spot. As for McDonald’s, the Treasure developed McDonald’s Treasure Land was a suberb title that has gotten little attention over the years. It has the unique “scarf” mechanic and a very neat stylized graphic approach not unlike Dynamite Heady.

  2. Chicago Frank speaks true; GG isn’t that bad, and Treasureland Adventure far outshines everything as McDonald’s-based games go. But with Treasure at the helm of that one, what would you expect?

    Frankly, as licensed games go, I love the idea of exploring McDonaldland. They had such a neat thing going in the commercials, almost like a fast-food based version of Mario’s world. Too bad McDonaldland has been all but completely wiped off the map.

    Heck, if I were a game designer, that would be a license I’d love to try, just for the sheer amount of possibilities. Remember McChangeables? There’s potential there.

  3. It’s not just that McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure is a better game, but also that it actually lets you play as Ronald McDonald. The hell with Mick and Mack, Ronald should’ve been the playable character from the start. Being in control of the junk food selling clown is way more appealing than a couple of nondescript kids in a platformer with a few token McDonald’s shout outs.

    As for environmentalism, that message only works in games when they are like a drugged up Japanese fever dream. See Capcom’s E.C.O. Fighters (Fight a fat rich guy’s environmental damage by blowing up hundreds upon thousands of ships and spacecraft whose remains will do way more damage to the environment than any of his actual pollution) and Taito’s Growl (Fight poaching by beating up and murdering hundreds of women and British kids and killing a masked magician with claws that has a centipede monster inside him).

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