Developer: Virgin Games USA
Also Available For: Amiga, Game Gear, and Master System
You…you’ve heard of McDonald’s, right? The highly commercialised fast food chain founded in 1940 that, despite having the best milkshakes around, is (in my opinion) subpar to Burger King. Oh, sure, the Happy Meals are fun (especially back in my day, when they had far better toys and treats) but Burger King does this fantastic cheese and bacon burger that has the crispiest bacon, the gooiest cheese, and their meat actually tastes like it’s real meat and not some mass produced, watered down piece of off cuts.
Anyway, McDonald’s was such a powerhouse back in the day that they ended up being behind a handful of videogames, including the unsubtly titled M.C. Kids (Various, 1992), a shameless rip-off of Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo EAD, 1990), introduced gamers to the titular “M.C. Kids” themselves, Mick and Mack, who had to travel around a magical McDonaldland collecting the restaurant’s iconic Golden Arches and helping out their now long-retired mascot, Ronald McDonald. Although released in the same year, the M.C. Kids saw a dramatic redesign in Global Gladiators, a pseudo-sequel that I actually first played on the Amiga and which carried a heavy emphasis on recycling and environmental responsibility. Both characters slimmed down, stuffed chewing gum into their mouths, armed themselves with Super Soakers goo-shooters, and, since “attitude” and being “cool” was all the range for platformers after the release of Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991), were reinterpreted as hip pre-teens who cared for nothing more than comic books, McDonald’s, and…protecting the environment. Because, yeah, sure, me and my friends were all about environmental awareness…especially when we ate at McDonald’s…
One day, while reading a Global Gladiators comic book in McDonald’s, Mick and Mack are magically transported into the comic’s pages by Ronald McDonald. Armed with goo-shooters, they journey across four worlds fighting against pollution and to protect the environment, all while collecting McDonald’s arches.
Global Gladiators is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer with strong run-and-gun elements. From the “Options” menu, you can select one of three difficulties and also choose to play as either Mick or Mack. Functionally, they are exactly the same, but palette swapped (Mack is the Caucasian kid…), so it really doesn’t matter which one you pick; the game is only made for one player as well, which is really weird considering even Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (SEGA, 1990) had a turn-based two player mode…and that only had one playable character!
Anyway, despite being young kids in the prime of their lives (and probably hyped up on McDonald’s food), Mick and Mack seem to have some difficulty in deciding whether they want to be fast, loose, and slippery or slow, heavy, and clunky. They start off at a painfully slow walk that soon turns to a trot and, eventually, a full-on sprint the longer you hold the direction; the faster you go, the more momentum you carry when you jump and the more likely it is that you’re going to crash head-on into an enemy. Luckily, the game’s jump is very useful; your character leaps quite high and you can control their direction in mid-air, but the game’s fast-paced, shoot-‘em-up action is mired in the fact that the titular Gladiators either plod clumsily forward and slip off of platforms or go rocketing away straight into a bottomless pit or a bed of spikes.
Each character wields a goo-shooter, which sprays some unidentified substance that generally eliminates enemies in one hit. The goo travels in a slight arc and you can only shoot in the direction you’re facing, meaning you’ll have to jump and shoot to hit higher enemies and duck and shoot to hit lower enemies. Considering the screen immediately scrolls down when you duck, this can make it difficult to properly aim at your target but, for the most part, the goo is quite a useful tool in your limited arsenal…provided you’re not standing too close to an edge. When you fire the goo-shooter, your character is knocked ever so slightly backwards thanks to the weapon’s…recoil, I guess?…which can be enough to nudge you into a pool of water or toxic waste, and to your death. If you shoot whilst running, this same recoil will stunt your momentum, which can be useful for avoiding damage but, more often than not, simply killed my momentum when I actually wanted to sprint ahead.
As you battle your way through the game’s handful of levels, you’ll collect different coloured Golden Arches; if you’re thinking that you need to collect a certain number of these to beat the game’s worlds, well, you’re in luck because you don’t. You are free to jump, sprint, and blast your way to each world’s goal (literally Ronald waving a flag) without collecting any Golden Arches, but you’ll miss out on the points they provide and the bonuses you get from collecting them at the end of the stage. If you collect seventy-five Golden Arches, you get to take on a Bonus Stage (which you can also practise from the game’s “Options”), which sees you avoiding anvils and recycling materials for bonus points.
Global Gladiators only has four worlds but, like Sonic, each world has three stages, each of which is surprisingly big. There are many paths to take in each world; the higher path is usually fraught with more enemies while the lower path has pits and other instant-death traps (spikes, water, toxic waste, and bottomless pits). Continue Arrows are dotted around each world’s map, allowing you to respawn further into the stage when you die and, even better, you won’t lose the Golden Arches and points you’ve collected and the enemies you’ve destroyed stay dead; no respawning enemies here! Mick and Mack have a health meter at the bottom of the screen, which is represented as an arrow (conveniently, this arrow is also pointing right, which is the direction the goal is located). If you run into an enemy, they’ll be destroyed (which is good) but you’ll take damage (which is bad); most enemies spit or throw projectiles at you, meaning you’ll have to work around the game’s clunky controls to avoid being hit, and some stage hazards can result in instant death. Luckily, though, you can pick up a Heart to replenish your health and, like the Continue Arrows, these aren’t exactly plentiful but also aren’t exactly rare, either.
As with seemingly every single videogame of the time, you’re also working against a clock; when the timer reaches zero, you lose a life, but you can extend your time by picking up a Clock and, if you’re really lucky, you can grab a 1-Up or earn an extra life by accumilating a high enough score. You can also find Continue Coins that will allow you to continue playing after all of your lives are exhausted, which is easily done considering the amount of enemies and hazards packed into the game’s worlds.
Mick and Mack travel to three worlds in Global Gladiators: Slime World, Mystical Forest, Toxi-Town, and Arctic World. Each is themed around some kind of environmental message; the first, obviously, deals with pollution and the cleaning up of toxic waste, the second is deforestation, the third is centred around industrialisation and industrial pollution (kind of ironic given that McDonald’s restaurants wouldn’t be the powerhouse they are without industry…), and the fourth is, I guess, commenting on global warming? Honestly, it kind of falls apart the further you get away from Slime World, where you’ll battle slimy monsters and even destroy polluting machines; you might think these machines are crucial to clearing the world’s stages but they’re not and similar mechanisms don’t seem to appear in other worlds and, by the end, it just seems like you’re blasting generic enemies with your goo while hankering for a second-rate cheeseburger.
Graphics and Sound:
Global Gladiators is a visual treat; the game immediately blasts you right in the face with bright, colourful, well-animated graphics and sprites when you teleport into Slime World. While the game’s other stages aren’t quite as visually appealing in their presentation, Slime World does a great job setting the tone for this game; stages are dense, packed with colours, and different layers that can make other worlds, like Toxi-Town, a bit difficult to navigate as, not only can you take multiple paths, your way is often obstructed by foreground elements. Stages do change it up by changing season or colour palette as you progress, and there are often hidden paths or invisible blocks to jump across to reach more Golden Arches, Clocks, Hearts, or 1-Ups, which encourages exploration and experimentation.
Sprites are large and full of life; Mick and Mack both incessantly chew on gum when left idle and sprint and hop around with a fluidity that makes it feel as though you’re playing a cartoon or comic book. The game’s enemies are equally large and well-animated but often blend in with their surrounding; Slime World, for example, is largely covered in green slime that is the same colour as the stage’s enemies and many of Mystical Forest’s stationary creatures tend to merge with their backgrounds.
As soon as you shove in the cartridge, Global Gladiators blasts your ears with a loud, rap-inspired main theme that also doubles as a stage theme by the time you reach Arctic World. Luckily, the other worlds have themes that fit their aesthetic rather than being a distorted mess of synthesised sound bites and “hip” music. As you collect points and bonuses, your character will also spew out exclamations such as “Awesome!” and “Cool!” just to remind you that these environmentalists are radical and have attitude. Remember how Sonic just was cool and hip without having to literally shout about it (in the videogames, at least)? That is how you know a character is cool, not yelling it out while sporting a knock-off Super Soaker and saving the environment on behalf of McDonald’s.
Enemies and Bosses:
Each of Global Gladiators’ worlds is filled with enemies unique to their theme; there’s no recurring enemies here, which is nice, and each world has slightly different obstacles to overcome. In Slime World, for example, most of the enemies are globs of toxic waste that spit projectiles at you but, in Arctic World, you’ll contend with more aerial enemies and be navigating more platforms rather than dodging projectiles.
However, Global Gladiators loses some of the distinctiveness of its enemy design once you get to Mystical Forest. From then on, you’re battling the likes of sentient axes, man-eating plants, living fireballs, and (of course) bats. Luckily, these appear alongside such weird creatures as garbage-throwing anthropomorphic trashcans, log-throwing beavers, and sliding polar bears.
What isn’t so great, however, is the fact that Global Gladiators features a grand total of one boss. Yep, four worlds, with three stages each, and you’ll only battle a boss at the end of Arctic World…and it’s two angry faces set into blocks of ice, one on the left-side of the screen and one on the right. Each only attacks you when it’s on screen, and even then all they do is spit bats at you or cause icicles to fall from the ceiling. The most difficult part of this boss is not falling into the instant-death spikes and actually hitting their weak spot, which is their just in-reach eyes; you also have to defeat each face in turn and you’ll know when you’ve done it because the game abruptly ends and wraps up its paper-thin story.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Disappointingly, Global Gladiators doesn’t feature any power-ups at all. There’s no speed up, no invincibility, no way to improve your goo-shooter, and no smart bomb to clear out all onscreen enemies. Honestly, I find this very surprising considering when it was released but, when you’re playing Global Gladiators, the best you’ll get are extra lives, extra points, extra time, and the chance to play the Bonus Stage if you collect enough Golden Arches…where you can earn more points and extra lives.
There aren’t any.
Oh, sure, you could play through the game as Mack instead of Mick, or take on one of the other difficulty settings but there’s very little incentive to do this beyond attaining a better high score and, I guess, bragging rights. You can input a few button combinations from the pause menu to gain one extra life or skip the stage you’re on, but I wasn’t able to access the supposed cheat menu so I can’t say if there’s more to be gained from blasting through Global Gladiators with cheats enabled.
Global Gladiators is quite a cumbersome little title; the controls are very stiff and awkward but, once you get used to them and the way the game handles its momentum and physics, it’s a lot of fun. The game is gorgeous to look at, well animated, full of life and vigour, and has a very catchy and upbeat soundtrack but it can’t be denied that there are better colourful run-and-gun platformers from that time available. It’s easily the best of the McDonald’s-branded videogames, though, thanks to its more action-orientated approach; perhaps if it were longer, had more bosses, and allowed (at least) a turn-based two-player mode it would have been better but, as it is, it’s a decent enough way to waste an hour or two and nothing more.
Did you ever play Global Gladiators? Which of the two titular characters was your favourite? Where do you rate it in the surprisingly long history of McDonald’s videogames? When you visit McDonald’s, what do you tend to order? Do you also prefer Burger King? What is your favourite Mega Drive title? No matter what, drop a comment below.