I know, I know: it sounds bad. A licensed platformer based on a fast-food franchise, and not even a franchise with a cool mascot like Colonel Sanders or Pasty Pete, the eight-foot tall sentient Cornish pasty who promotes Greggs. Don't despair just yet, though - a glimmer of hope breaks free of the clown-spawned darkness! You see, while this game undeniably boils down to McDonald's: the Platforming Videogame, it wasn't developed by the usual peddlers of slapdash marketing tie-ins. Without an Ocean Software or LJN in sight, McDonald's Treasure Land Adventure was developed by cult favourites Treasure.
I don't think Treasure ever made a bad game. If they did, I've never played it. Dare I dream that MTLA might actually turn out to be... good? I haven't been this excited about a McDonald's product since I got a back-flipping toy Goomba in my Happy Meal when I was a kid.
Of course, Ronald needs a motivation for all this platforming nonsense and as it turns out, his impetus is greed.
Ronald finds part of a treasure map in the woods. Every time I found paper in the woods it turned out to be discarded pornography, but this is the Magical Forest and apparently fragments of treasure maps are more magical than waterlogged copies of Razzle. While that's patently not true to a thirteen-year-old boy, it's a good enough way to start an adventure, I suppose.
The plot of this McDonald's game is simply to amass more material wealth. No tacked-on, faux-moralistic ideas like celebrating the power of friendship or protecting the environment - Ronald just gotta get paid, maybe even finding enough treasure to buy his freedom from McDonald's Corp. and spend his retirement doing what he loves best: abducting children and mailing them back to their parents piece-by-piece. Well, he is a clown, after all.
Here we are in the Magical Forest, and already this looks promising. The graphics are clean and sharp, with an interesting art style pitched somewhere between other Treasures games like Gunstar Heroes and Sonic the Hedgehog. It looks, in short, like someone who knew what they were doing made it.
The gameplay will be instantly familiar to anyone who's ever played a 16-bit videogame before. You must guide Ronald to the exit, jumping from platform to platform, avoiding the various enemies, spreading the message of cheap, convenient foodstuffs to all who cross his path and ruthless eliminating those who don't listen.
Ronald's got a few other moves besides his basic jumping skills. The first is a grappling-hook-type power that lets you grab onto certain outcroppings and propel yourself upwards. It's called a "scarf" in the game, but it's clearly a series of handkerchiefs knotted together. It's this kind of deception that proves you should never trust grinning corporate mascots, especially when all the evidence points to them being a disturbing mixture of clown, children's magician and multi-million dollar propaganda icon.
As for defeating your enemies, this is accomplished by the magic rays Ronald can shoot out of his fingers. Ronald's mastery of the black art of sorcery was an aspect of his character that I must admit I overlooked as a child, although McDonald's must share some of the blame because they never really drew attention to his arcane powers. They should have pictures of him sacrificing a goat on the Happy Meal boxes, just so we're fully informed about the kind of man we're allowing to entertain our children.
There are only four worlds, but each world is split into quite a few smaller stages that vary in length: some are full-on platforming or forced-scrolling areas, like an act in a Sonic game, while some are very short but with an unusual obstacle in the way that almost gives the stage the feel of a puzzle game. This being a Treasure game, new gameplay mechanics and set-pieces pop up one after another, taking something that could have easily been a one-note borefest like Mick & Mack: Global Gladiators and transforming it into a game that's worth playing. The first world alone sees Ronald travelling through the forest as day turns to night, climbing a robot tree, riding giant frogs and eventually entering an advanced underground facility.
I say advanced - I think it just seems that way after you've spend some time in a colourful world of clowns and enchanted forests. I suppose it can't be that advanced, because every five seconds Ronald has to find a "Safety Zone" or risk being swept away by the torrents of water that erupt seemingly without purpose. Anti-clown defences, perhaps?
The underground base is also home to one of Ronald's lovable friends: unreformable villain and compulsive fast-food thief the Hamburglar. He's got a favour to ask of you:
Okay, this might look like a simple enough scene but there some disturbing undercurrents going on here. First off, ha ha ha - he wants to get his hands on Ronald's pair of jewels. Hamburglar must come from a world without innuendo (or morals). While we all love a good bollock joke, things develop a more sinister air when you realise that the jewels actually measure Ronald's health and when he runs out of jewels, he dies. The Hamburglar is demanding that you pay him with your very life essence in order to proceed with the game. I didn't want to go too far down the "McDonald's is aligned with dark forces beyond the ken of man" route, but it's hard to ignore the fact that this supposedly child-friendly mascot is draining my health like some cheerfully vampiric muppet.
Most worrying of all is the fact that the Hamburglar is a shameless, unabashed felon and Ronald is expected to entrust his magical life crystals to him. If you're such an incorrigible repeat offender that your crime starts being used as your given name, you're not someone who should be trusted, you're certainly not someone that children should be exposed to and you might want to look into therapy for your severe kleptomania.
So, you give the disturbing little child-man your jewels, he gives you a hint about how to defeat the boss and you're free to head onwards and encounter said boss.
It's a giant, mobile tomato whose playful expression rather contrasts with the bleak background decor. Looking at those flickering candles and strange sculptures, it seems like it'd be more suited to an aristocratic tomato vampire. That all begins to make sense when you discover that this tomato is a vampire. He's normally impervious to even Ronald's diabolical magicks, and the only way you can hurt him is by letting him eat some of your health.
It might look like he's vomiting up the contents of his previous blood supper, but that's actually a beam that steals Ronald's health. You need to let this beam hit you then blast away with your magic while the tomato is chewing and vulnerable. All the bosses share this weakness, and thus every boss battle also has an infinite supply of small enemies wandering about which can be killed for health pick-ups. It's certainly unique, but this tomato has met his match and is dispatched quickly enough.
Ronald beats the shit out of him and takes his piece of the treasure map. Remember that, kids - if someone has something you want, just beat them up and take it. Now the clown has half of the map as well as the logging rights to the Magical Forest, allowing him to deforest the whole area and plant enough soya to feed McDonald's vast herds of chicken. Time for stage two!
It's Magical Town, but you spend half your time here making your way to the town itself via several forced-scrolling sections on a train. Treasure really ramped-up the cute factor here - if anything involving clowns can ever truly be considered "cute" - with everything taking on a pastel-toned, almost Kirby-esque feel. Those little guys in the train windows certainly look like they could have come from a Kirby game, at least, but as cute as they are they're still trying to murder you. They're determined that Ronald won't reach his destination alive, which is terribly suspicious: what lies at the end of this train line that the bad guys are so desperate to keep Ronald away from? What are you hiding? I'll do whatever it takes to find out...
...no matter how many bunny-eared ballerinas I have to crawl over to get there. It was at this point, as Ronald hopped between the glassy-eyed dancers that filled the rail tunnel, that I realised McDonald's Treasure Land Adventure has absolutely fuck all to do with McDonald's. All you'd have to do is change the sprites of the McDonaldland characters - not a huge task as there are only five of six of them - to something else and you'd have a completely original platform game that first-time players would never suspect was once a corporate tie-in. You wouldn't even have to change Ronald's sprite to something else, because this really does feel like a game where you should be controlling a clown. Just alter his colour palette slightly, change his name to Randy McDandy or something, and pow! You'd be left with another quality product from the folks at Treasure without the taint of the McDonald's name.
Sadly, we're stuck with Ronald. The train journey ends eventually, and Ronald sets out into Magical Town on a quest to... wait, what was he doing? Oh yeah, finding the pieces of that map despite having no clue where they are or who owns them. He's just going to roll into town and use his magic to dispatch anyone who stands in his way, killing indiscriminately until he locates the next section of the map. No wonder those guys on the train didn't want Ronald to reach town.
Magical Town is also inhabited by a great many sumo wrestlers whose foot-slams are so powerful they can alter the terrain around them. My favourite bit of the stage is this neat little section where Ronald has to make his way up a building site, the scaffolding swaying in all directions as the sumos pound their feet. Treasure also gave the sumos a pair of rather pronounced hot-pink nipples. It's not important, I just thought you might like to have that knowledge tucked away in your head as you look at the sumo's disturbing grin in the screenshot above. Ask yourself this: why is he so happy?
Then there's the boss. I have no idea what it is supposed to be. It looks like a large maggot or grub with handles sticking out of either end, elongated arms and the helmet from a green suit of medieval armour glued in the middle. Oh, and the helmet is wearing a bow. I'm pretty sure that's not what it's supposed to be but with this visual it's very hard to argue that this isn't a stretchy-armed helmet maggot.
You fight him like the last boss - let him drain your health and them hit him while he's chewing on your delicious energy crystals. It turns out that the hang-glider grub thing was being piloted by a little gremlin kid.
"Please stop crying" - the second-most common sentence uttered by clowns, just behind "I've got puppies and candy in my van". Rather than straight-up brutalising him, Ronald buys the gremlinoid's silence with some crystals and takes the third part of the map. With only one section remaining, Ronald heads to stage three: the Magical Sea! Really? Magical Sea? If you just keep calling everything "magical" then it's just going to devalue the word "magical". Are you like this everywhere you go, Ronald? "Here's a magical window, and a magical toilet, and a magical bunk-bed I used share with my magical cell-mate Magical Harry before I stabbed him with a magically-sharpened toothbrush."
There are two types of stages in the Magical Sea - on a pirate ship or inside a pirate ship.
I don't think much to this remake of The Birds.
You should know what to expect by now: platform japery with the odd interesting twist. For example, in the area pictured above you have to contend with the large waves that splash across the screen now and then. Just before that, there's a section where Ronald travels in some small rowing boats that are cut in half by submarine saw blades, gradually drifting into two halves and sinking slowly. MTLA's quality comes from the balance of three elements - a solid base of tight, responsive controls and good hit detection, interesting twists to the standard platforming formula that appear with pleasing regularity, and attention to small details that highlights the amount or work and care that went into making the game - things like the cloud-platforms grimacing under Ronald's weight when he jumps on them.
Anyway, the pirate ship is a maze of doors, zip-lines and rolling barrels which pulls of the neat trick of being a maze level in a platform game that doesn't feel like a tedious, needlessly-confusing slog. It helps that you encounter this guy along the way:
He's a fearsome-lookin' knight who puts up his dukes and then backs away, inviting you to come and attack him. He backs away and backs away, keeping his guard up... until he backs up so far he falls into a hole and dies. These pirates - a group of people you'd think would be used to guarding treasure maps - are woefully unprepared for Ronald McDonald and his magical onslaught.
Of course, the pirate cap'n is the boss. His is a fascinating backstory - you see, Scarlet Johansson's lips escaped from her face and fled Hollywood, eventually settling into a life of plunder on the Spanish Main. Also he has a big hat, which he can use as a weapon. The same boss rules apply, although this is a more interesting fight as he can summon various enemies by pulling the two ropes in the center of the room, and what starts off seeming like it's going to be a straight-forward battle quickly becomes an exercise in finding a safe place to stand and remembering to let him hit you with his life-stealing breath-beam so you can hurt him.
And hurt him you shall, because Ronald will let nothing stand between him and that map, not now, not after all he's been through - the thunder gnomes, the ballerina tunnel, seeing Hamburglar dragged off to prison after his years of compulsive shoplifting finally caught up with him. Once Cap'n Hotlips is defeated, Ronald finally has access to the completed map. But where is the treasure located?
It's on the moon! Sorry, a moon. It is not specified which moon. Phobos, possibly. Ronald's magic is not yet advanced enough to let him cross the vast interstellar gulfs, so he decides to turn to The Professor for help. Let's just hope he's not a professor in seventeenth-century Russian literature or something like that. He's probably a real renaissance man, someone who knows something about everything, a true intellectual titan. After all, anyone appearing in a McDonald's-themed videogame is bound to be a bastion of scientific rigour, right?
I wouldn't trust this man to sell me a whoopee cushion, let alone build me a manned space vehicle. He's like a cartoonified version of John McCririck, except presumably less misogynistic. However, Ronald's quest for riches has blinded him so thoroughly that he'll let this "Professor" - whose doctorate is never revealed, by the way - fire him to the moon.
Of course you fucking crashed, did you see that Professor?! Ronald's mission has switched from finding the treasure to basic survival, and you've got to find a way to repair the ship before Grimace starts looking like a Happy Meal and the McDonaldland family are forced into cannibalism. It's time for the final stage: the moon! It's magical!
Fortunately for Ronald, every clown's blood-pact with the dark lord Satan gives them the ability to survive on atmosphereless planetoids, and that's where the world begins. Then you get chased by a really cool UFO. It's got a laser-firing dragon head that uses its advanced energy weapons to blow whacking great chunks out of the floor, hoping to see Ronald fall to his grisly death. Then Ronald is taken aboard said UFO, and the main bulk of the world begins. Speaking of bulk, Ronald probably weighs a good thirteen or fourteen stone, plus his baggy clown robes and giant shoes add considerably to that. With that in mind, look at these poor cat-things:
First evolution shafts you by moulding your species into overweight, winged cat-creatures with genitalia shaped like subway straps, and then a fat clown appears and grabs you by the dick. No wonder their eyes are bulging out.
As you might expect, the final stage is a mixture of all the things you've faced before, putting your jumping and scarf-whipping talents to the ultimate test. Although, what the final stage reminds me of most is the Chemical Plant Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 2: between the rotating platforms made of square blocks pictured above to the strange blue liquid that the enemies squirt at you to the overall mechanical nature of the stage, it's a comparison that's hard to ignore.
Then Ronald gets past a guard by slipping him some drugged life crystals. The saddest part is that we are no longer disgusted by Ronald's behaviour: indeed, we have come to expect it.
His terrifying rampage is nearly over, though, because we're at the last boss. It's that green dude at the bottom of the screen, not the pretty adorable slug-monster in the middle (who looks like an escapee from The Trap Door). The fight has a rather unusual set up: you can't tell from the screenshot, but the three levels spin around like sideways roulette wheels. When they come to a halt, you can jump into any door on your level and you'll emerge from the other door with the same pattern on. You've got to let the boss hit you with his health-draining ray, then get onto the same level as him so you can shoot him, and then get back out of a door because if you're trapped on the same level as the boss you're guaranteed to take some damage.
Sadly, it's not nearly as interesting a final boss battle as the rest of the game made me think it might be. In fact, it ends up being kind of tedious and you spend most of the fight waiting around for the doors to line up correctly or for the boss to not be standing directly outside the only door you could exit from. It's not exactly difficult, though, and with a bit of patience you'll be able to defeat your final opponent.
Beaten and cowed, the once-proud leader of the Moon People grovels before his new master. Ronald, fickle as ever, announces that he doesn't want the treasure after all; he just wants to go home. Fortunately the treasure happens to be a rainbow bridge that takes them back to McDonaldland.
Well, that was convenient. Ronald and his friends return home, the Moon People are left to rebuild their shattered civilisation and all is right with the universe.
I've played some really bad games I'd never heard of before over the lifetime of VGJUNK, and McDonald's Treasure Land Adventure could so easily have been one of them. A licensed fast-food tie-in, and something as generic as a platformer at that? Lesser hearts would tremble at the idea, but then Treasure came along: beautiful, wonderful Treasure, and they crafted a game that has almost nothing to do with the fast food giants and everything to do with good, solid game design.
Presentation-wise, it's hard to fault MTLA at all - the graphics are gorgeous, and the wonderfully geometric art style makes it that bit more interesting than your usual "grass-n-hills" type background. I don't think there's a colour in the Megadrive's palette that isn't used at some point, and the graphics are matched by some really excellent music.
As for the gameplay, it more than matches up. It's fast-paced, there's always something new happening and the stages are varies without ever descending into cliches like "ice world" or "fire world". Everything works just as it should, and in a way I feel bad that a game as good as this got lumbered with the McDonald's name. It's not quite a true hidden classic - there are a few too many blind jumps for my liking, and overall it's rather short - but it's certainly not far off, and I would unreservedly recommend it to anyone with a love of colourful, well-constructed platform games. Look past the name and give McDonald's Treasure Land Adventure a chance, and I'm sure you'll enjoy it.
Oh, Ronald: everything you say sounds like a threat.