Barbara Lippert’s Critique: King Of All Media

N ot now Dad, I’m kind of busy here,” says the video-game-playing kid to his father in a recent Burger King spot. A well-executed take on a standard advertising joke—the role reversal—it shows the father standing in the living room doorway pleading to go to his fave fast-food place. He whines, “But I want a Whopper!” Fingers flying, the kid is too preoccupied to even look up. When mom joins in the whimper fest—”You lied! You said we could go!”—the kid, with a mix of resignation and resentment, says, “OK, get in the car.”

The spot is amusing because it’s well acted and, sadly, not that far from the truth. I’m embarrassed to say I actually entered into a similar scenario in my home recently, which was also in the service of the King. There had been relatively revolutionary news—Burger King had entered the gaming space—and I wanted to review the boundary-pushing work. Since I’m hardly a gamer, I figured it would be great to get my 16-year-old son’s input.

“Stop doing your damn bio homework and start playing those Burger King games!” I shouted through his door. (In fairness, it was his exam week and he needed to study, but hey, I’ve got priorities. Do you think this column writes itself?)

The three Xbox games, Pocket Bike Racer, Sneak King and Big Bumpin’, are being offered starting this week for $3.99 each with the purchase of a Value Meal. That’s amazingly cheap for an Xbox game, which usually goes for around $50. So I thought this might be the free-toy version of a video game—like a miniature Barbie with hair that falls out. But these are real, full-length games, and they follow three of the most popular genres: racing, stealth and action-adventure. But they all have a weird and funky vibe that, like the King himself, manages to combine creepiness with ingenious marketing.

The cast of characters includes the King, Subservient Chicken and Whopper Jr., which may be why there’s a lack of embarrassment about coming across as silly. By the way, the Subservient Chicken is subservient no more: in Pocket Bike Racer, he’s the master of his ridiculously teeny motorbike.

The Pocket Bike game will have the most appeal to a general audience, while Big Bumpin’, with its variety of bumper car games, seems to be the one that will appeal most to younger kids. (I believe it’s what the kid in the role-reversal commercial couldn’t tear himself away from.) Sneak King corners the market on creepiness, from the scary music and heavy breathing to its stalker-like moves. I realize the genre usually involves delivering bombs or nerve gas (with a few throats being slashed along the way), and this was looking refreshingly non-violent. But still, with all this evil afoot, I was kind of stunned that the object is to serve Croissanwiches to a logging community. (Huh?) Along the way you can make the King hide in a Porta-Potty, in a mine shaft or under a log while shirtless CG workers march around. (There’s also another version at a construction site. ) Why is a guy in ermine and white tights running around a logging community? My guess is all the logs, shafts and over-the-top-macho vibe is someone’s idea of a joke.

But even with the super-creepy, not-for-everyone’s-taste Sneak King, it seems that the games are a no-brainer for Burger King. For a kid to go in and get a meal and three games for under $15 means the games will definitely sell out, and the restaurants will likely attract a new audience of gamers who’ll want some fries with that. (Talk about snackable content.)

But I gave my son the last word. A veteran Madden 2007 and Halo 3 player, he played all three videos in about 20 minutes—which was how long it took me to look at the instructions. “I’m done,” he said. “That was pretty stupid. I hope you’re going to compensate me for my pain.” (It’s doubly annoying to see your own feeble attempts at sarcasm parroted back.)

He did admit that the overall graphics are good. And it looked to me like he was really enjoying the Big Bumpin’ ice hockey game, so I assume that since this was forced labor, he didn’t want to admit it. (He also expressed skepticism about the colorful venue: “I don’t know about this amusement park setting,” he said. “Kind of Michael Jacksonesque.”)

He found Sneak King, he said, “terrifying. Is it like the new Dateline version of To Catch a King? It’s kind of nauseating to have to look at him from all angles. And he can’t even jump or roll. He just prances around.”

In viewing Sneak King, my son felt compelled to add that there seems to be “weird cannabis-like plants in the fields surrounding the logging community.”

“OK, that’s it,” I said. “Get in the car.”