They know my weakness
It looks like McDonald’s is trying to go viral with a new advergame. Normally I’d have no part in this, but they know my weakness. Grimace’s Birthday was developed for the Game Boy Color hardware. Well played, Mcdonald’s.
Developed by Krool Toys, you can play Grimace’s Birthday right from your browser on a site made to look like it was created before the dotcom bubble burst. However, enterprising people on the internet have been able to pull the ROM file from the site, and, as it turns out, it does actually run on official hardware through the use of an Everdrive or similar device.
Perhaps more surprising is that Grimace’s Birthday is actually good. I suppose this is less surprising if you know who is behind the Krool Toys moniker. It’s actually Brian Taylor (Pearacidic) on programming duties and Tom Lockwood (Gumpyfunction) on art and design. Both are indie developers well versed in the Game Boy’s hardware. Tom Lockwood, in particular, did a fangame of the “Dinner with Andre” gag from the Simpsons on Game Boy.
So, when you have that in mind, it’s actually no surprise that Grimace’s Birthday is rather quality. It’s short, which seems expected given the subject matter, but despite that, it manages to cram in a bunch of well-executed variety.
You play as Grimace, the purple slab of mystery meat. As the title implies, it’s his birthday, but a few notable figures didn’t show up. Not taking any excuses, Grimace sets out to round them up.
You start off on a skateboard, which includes mechanics for grinding on rails to get to higher levels. There’s an incentive to grab all the purple shakes in the level (pureed Grimace?), but they’re mostly for score. Your only solid objective is to reach the end of the level. The next set of levels has Grimace on foot, which has to be hell for his knees. There are enemies that harrow the purple mountain, and a bubble power-up that lets him float.
And then there’s a mini-game that you get to choose, and that’s it. It’s over.
It’s natural that Grimace’s Birthday is so short. McDonald’s isn’t selling the title, so you’re getting what you paid for. The really tragic part here is that the mechanics don’t really get the opportunity to shine.
Beyond that we have the aesthetic of the game, which it executes well. From the early-’00s-looking site to the fact that Grimace and his food-related pals all talk like Gen-Zs, the whole thing feels infectiously pulled off. I give McDonald’s a lot of flak for food that tastes like delicious but unconvincing facsimiles and its contribution to the downfall of human existence, but I have a strong affection for kitsch.
It kind of disgusts me that I have nostalgia for insidious advertising. The whole McDonaldLand concept was a way to indoctrinate children into a loyal devotion to the brand. The company largely dropped Ronald and his pals when fingers began to point around the obesity epidemic. And yet, I kind of miss it because it was fun. I hate that.
But that’s what Grimace’s Birthday is. It offers a fun application of the characters in a solid product made to draw attention to the brand. Kudos to the devs for their execution. Would I buy this if it was sold on a cartridge? Yes. But that shame is all mine.