I am not familiar with the extended lore of McDonald’s. I wanted to go there almost weekly as a kid and my parents used that as a bargaining chip to keep me in sports clubs I wanted nothing to do with. That vibrant red & yellow building was eventually replaced by a boring, brown box; too haughty to admit it’s still just a rubbish fast food join and too prideful to admit it’s even worse at being a café. I don’t even think they still have that clown statue around or if it was removed during the horror clown craze not too long ago.
Even if the company nowadays has set a new course, there is no way for them to undo their contributions to the gaming scene. M.C. Kids, prior to its trashing at the hands of James Rolfe, was a much-liked childhood game for many. It released at the tail end of the NES’ lifespan and would take a lot of inspiration from the platforming classics that characterized the console.
The game uses a level select system akin to Super Mario Bros. 3, albeit with limited freedom. Each world is themed around a now jobless McDonald’s mascot of old, as the boys Mick and Mack are on the hunt for the Hamburglar. Each level is not so much about reaching the finish as they are about finding the hidden card found in each stage. Gather enough and you can move on to the next world without necessarily completing every stage.
Even so, taking a peek at every level is fun enough to do so anyway. M.C. Kids is a gimmicky title that loves to throw in novelty mechanics that make stages memorable. One will have you hopping between falling leaves, one has you ride around on moving clouds, another is an arduous climb up a series of perilous trees, and another will let you flip gravity. Stages are made to be vertical and horizontal, with plenty to find if you are willing to explore and experiment. The cards are rarely so well-hidden that you end up stuck, so most of this will be for the collectible arches and extra lives.
These lives come in handy because the game can be surprisingly cruel. You have a health bar, but it doesn’t refill between stages. Enemies also do a full heart of damage with each hit and can be hard to avoid. Your main method of defense is picking up blocks to throw, but the arc for this is unpredictable and unreliable. Even worse, enemies respawn almost instantly if you let their spawn point go off-screen, whereas your blocks are limited. Enemies can be fast, small, they can fly, and sometimes they guard such narrow platforms that you are certain to take a hit if you can’t hit them first. You can’t even pick up a block and then hit an enemy from below, that will still damage you.
Despite taking clear inspirations from other platforming heroes, Mick and Mack also fall short in mimicking their controls. The boys feel too floaty to reliably land on the tiny platforms the game sometimes forces you to use. Sometimes stage gimmicks don’t trigger as expected and sometimes you fall to your dead making leaps of faith into the unknown. The game lacks some basic game-design sensibilities that should be commonplace, but it makes up for that with its novel ideas. It’s not a game I’d return to often, but playing through it once and seeing what it had to offer was worth the time investment.