“Divide and conquer: It’s an ancient military concept that applies perfectly to the logistics of pizza delivery. It would be important throughout the growth of Domino’s, and it’s crucial in fighting the emerging pizza wars of 1987.”
“The following is a contributor post by the Arcade Mage.”
The 1980s was a strange time to be alive, in terms of advertising. It was the age of mascots, where every company felt the need to create a wacky character to promote their product. If your food, drink, or industrial material did not have a goofy or cutesy human or animal plastered on it to generate sales, well, you were practically a failure by 1980s standards.
(Pop Quiz! Do you know what products these mascots are shilling?)
Admittedly, mascots have been utilized to sell products since the industrial revolution in the 1800s, when heavy machinery mechanized production and allowed large quantities of identical product to be made and sold from sea to shining sea. With dry goods stores and, later, grocery stores and shops of all shapes and sizes full of similar products, manufacturers needed a way to separate themselves from the crowd, catch the shopper’s eye, and make a product that was memorable, if not necessarily good. If a company didn’t slap a catchy slogan on the box, they used a mascot.
With the decline of mascots outside of the sports industry, by and large, in recent decades, one can really see how the proverbial pot (full of mascots in this case), which had been simmering since the 1950s, boiled over in the 1980s, the result of which was mascots pretty much getting all over everything.
Cut to 1986. Domino’s was red with the marinara sauce of war. They needed a general to command their army of drivers dedicated to delivering cheesy pies in 30 minutes or less. The mission? Sell more pizzas. Enter: The Noid.
Now, in all honesty, no one is quite sure exactly what The Noid is. He is a human-like character wearing an articulated rabbit suit (I guess you could say he puts the ‘noid’ in humanoid?). What we do know, however, is what he represents: chaos. The idea behind The Noid from an advertising perspective is that he represents everything bad that can happen to your pizza between making the order and receiving the goods. Add to that the fact that The Noid was animated by claymation master Will Vinton (who also helped create the California Raisins for television audiences) and Domino’s had a highly successful ad campaign and company mascot. Customers were urged to “Avoid The Noid” by ordering their pizza from Domino’s, who would deliver it in 30 minutes or less.
Until January 30th, 1989. A man by the name of Kenneth Lamar Noid, a mentally troubled youth, became convinced that The Noid campaign by Domino’s was a personal attack. He came to believe The Noid was a caricature of himself and Domino’s was using The Noid to mock him on a nationwide scale. As the years passed, it became too much for Kenneth and, on the aforementioned date, he entered a local Domino’s restaurant, held the employees hostage, and made random demands.
Fortunately, the hostage situation resolved itself shortly thereafter with no injuries to person or property, with Kenneth Lamar Noid entering police custody. However, because of the fantastical nature of the event, the story became highly publicized. From a promotional standpoint, the event was a disaster for Domino’s. The Noid, and to a degree the company itself, began to decline in prominence in the following years. By the end of 1995, Domino’s had dropped The Noid as their mascot and removed him from all advertising materials.
Yo! Noid was released in 1990 in North America. However, the development of Yo! Noid is somewhat curious. This is due, in part, to the fact that Yo! Noid is actually a re-skinned version of 仮面の忍者 花丸 (Kamen no ninja Hanamaru, or, “Masked Ninja Hanamaru”).
During the localization of Ninja Hanamaru by Capcom, they also entered into an agreement with Domino’s to publish a game utilizing The Noid. This was nothing new. In addition to companies during this period creating mascots for every conceivable product, the mascots became a product unto themselves; toys, dolls, cartoons, Halloween costumes, shirts, bath products, food, drinks, posters, kitchen-ware, and more all became ways to get customers to buy a product with a mascot whose sole purpose was to get those same customers to buy another product. Customers went to Domino’s to buy a Noid-themed t-shirt which advertised Domino’s to get those same people who bought the t-shirt at Domino’s to buy more products from Domino’s. Like I said, the 1980s was a strange time to be alive. This process, naturally, included video games.
Now, this wasn’t the first or last time a nationwide restaurant chain created a video game based off their mascot. (In fact, when Yo! Noid was released, M.C. Kids was in development for McDonald’s.) But what Capcom decided to do was take the skeleton of a pre-existing game (in this case Kamen no Ninja Hanamaru) and completely re-skin the levels, world map, enemies, and, of course, the main character. No longer a ninja, you became The Noid!
The graphics for a majority of the Yo! Noid video game are somewhat bland, or, to use a pizza allegory: the toppings are slightly undercooked.
Now don’t get me wrong, the graphics are not terrible. I have seen worse graphics on the NES before and after the release of Yo! Noid and, in fact, the graphics, as you progress through the latter half of the game get progressively more dynamic and detailed.
However, what one needs to take into account is the fact that Capcom already had a finished product in Kamen no ninja Hanamaru and were tasked with simply re-theming the game as they localized it for Western audiences. In press releases at the time, Norm Nickin (Domino’s Director of Marketing & Advertising) stated:
“The game took Capcom, a Japan-based game software firm, two years to develop, including seven months of work for eight programmers in Osaka.”
Granted, I am not a video game programmer, but given that a four person team could make an entire game from start to finish (M.C. Kids) in less than two years, it is surprising that a team twice that size working with a fully functional game and only re-working the graphics (especially a team from Capcom) didn’t produce a product that blew players out of the water with its graphics and sound.
In an interesting parallel with the development of the M.C. Kids game, Nickin made it clear that Domino’s did not want this game to be perceived as a marketing ploy to get children to eat at Domino’s:
“The Domino’s name may appear on the packaging, but it won’t appear on the screen during the game. The programmers had all these Domino’s signs all over the buildings in the program, and we had them take [the signs] off. This is not a propaganda piece or a commercial for Domino’s. It is a game for kids to play.”
This becomes almost double-speak from Domino’s as they are creating a product (Yo! Noid) based off another product (The Noid) which exists purely to promote yet another product (Domino’s). Yet Nickin claims the video game is altruistic in its intentions, that it is merely to be enjoyed and played by children. This is the often tricky line companies tried to dance with their mascots. The very existence of The Noid is as an advertising entity, yet a video game about him is not. To further muddy the waters, the video game came with a coupon for Domino’s pizza printed in the instruction manual.
(I’ll leave the title screen here for readers to decide if Domino’s placed their name in this game or not.)
So, while the graphics are average in appearance, with some nice color choices and some pleasing design elements, when given the parameters the team worked under, the graphic’s shortcomings become all the more glaring.
In addition to crafting new sprites, level skins, and replacing Hanamaru with The Noid, Capcom was tasked with replacing some of the music in the game with more ‘American’ style music to fit the new theme of the video game. I’ll be honest: for me, even the worst Capcom music is still above average. That said, I like the soundtrack to Kamen no ninja Hanamaru better.
But if you listen to the two tracks, the track for Stage 1 in Kamen no ninja Hanamaru has a more distinctly Asian feel to it, which goes with the theme of playing as a ninja. However, when Capcom and Domino’s localized the games for Western audiences, they made the new setting for the game New York City. The result of this decision was: Eastern influences out, Western influences in. Including the music.
The controls in this game are not good. You have no life-bar and all enemies and level hazards do one-hit K.O.’s against The Noid. You have few opportunities to gain extra lives and there are no continues. What few secrets exist in the game are obtuse and acquired primarily through luck. Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk more about the game itself.
Kamen no ninja Hanamaru, as far as story and setting goes, is a bit disparate and disjointed. One of the benefits of the localization is that the story and theme of Yo! Noid is far more coherent. The narrative throughout the game and the level design works well with the setting of New York City. Players will find themselves navigating The Noid over the wharfs, through city parks, up skyscrapers, across industrial zones, the sewers, and seedy underbelly of New York.
The plot of Yo! Noid is relatively simple, so I will post the in-game text here:
“Yo! Noid Update: Wild creatures led by ‘Mr. Green’ are assailing New York City. The mayer (sic) knows that only the The Noid has the power to stop them. Using his super yo-yo and other inventions, he will try.”
Again, I don’t want to bash this game over the head (although there is a whack-a-mole mini-game in Yo! Noid), but with two years of development this is the best plot they could come up with? I know NES games are not always known for sweeping narratives that would put J.R.R. Tolkien to shame, but a sentence and a half of plot per year of development is pretty sad.
Norm Nickin stated that throughout the development of Yo! Noid he had to communicate with Capcom via a translator and, oftentimes, things would be lost in translation and would lead to further redesigns of level assets (to remove the Domino’s signs, for example) or adjusting gameplay and how The Noid was presented to Western audiences.
What I do like about the game is the variety in stage design. A majority of the levels are your standard platforming levels but, sprinkled throughout the game, you also have several shoot-em-up (shmup) levels, vertical platforming levels, as well as using the Pizza Crusher.
(While The Noid uses the Pizza Crusher to crush, well, pizzas in Domino’s commercials, he uses it in the Yo! Noid video game to crush his enemies!)
Additionally, there are boss battles, of a sort, in Yo! Noid. When you complete a number of the stages you will battle against an impostor noid working for ‘Mr. Green’. Of course, this battle takes the form of a
Domino’s pizza eating contest.
(We swear this isn’t propaganda for Domino’s!)
The ‘boss-fights’ in Yo! Noid also differ from Kamen no ninja Hanamaru, even though both games use the same mechanics. In Kamen no ninja Hanamaru, you use ninja-themed weapons you pick up in the levels to reduce the HP of the boss. In Yo! Noid!, you instead are competing to eat the most pizzas. In place of weapon power-ups, you get items you can place on an opponent’s pizza, such as the red pepper, which can help you win the battle. Of course, there is little at stake in these boss battles as losing or winning them has neither negative nor positive effects on gameplay.
While there is certainly a variety of gameplay styles in Yo! Noid (platforming, shmup, etc.), the poor controls a user will have to wrestle with to survive these platforming challenges negates the benefit the varied stages provide.
The challenge in Yo! Noid is primarily due to the unresponsive controls and the fact that every enemy in the game will one-hit kill The Noid.
(This includes balloons as well.)
The above image also demonstrates another element that raises the difficulty of Yo! Noid: precision platforming. To create a game that implements challenge well, you need to not only create the challenge (in this case: platforming) but also create the tools to overcome that challenge (i.e. good controls). Yo! Noid does not. As a result, players will find themselves losing what precious few lives the game provides falling off of tiny platforms due to poor controls and poor edge detection. Coupled with the fact that enemies kill the player in a single hit and that extra lives are few and far between, this makes Yo! Noid challenging, but not in a good way.
As I mentioned earlier, mascots, in addition to promoting a product or brand, are a product unto themselves as well. How successful is the video game at promoting the mascot’s reason for existence? How does the cheesy influence of Domino’s impart flavor upon Yo! Noid?
Largely, the only place where any pizza related imagery can be seen is during the ‘boss fights’ (which really aren’t boss fights at all). The Noid and an impostor noid engage in a ‘fight’ à la pizza eating contest. Before you ask, no, this contest is not at Domino’s. It takes place at the well-known restaurant chain ‘Pizza’.
(I can smell the Sysco boxes from here.)
While Norm Nickin cited frustration in things getting lost in translation with Capcom, he failed to take the time to understand Japan’s relationship with mascots and how they contextualize them differently. Yes, they often serve the function of promoting a product, town, video game (Mario anyone?), etc., but they often have their own identities that tend to become a brand separate from their origins, such as Hello Kitty. This is, to a large degree, what Nickin wanted for Yo! Noid. Yet The Noid’s identity is Domino’s pizza. To neglect that foundation, as was done in Yo! Noid, leaves nothing to build upon. So, in effect, The Noid in Yo! Noid represents nothing. You could remove The Noid from this game and, for example, add a ninja and it changes little to nothing within the game.
(Ahhhh…and it all starts to make sense…)
Setting a video game in New York is nothing new. However, the variety of play-styles and locales encapsulates the different New York environments. You have parks, skyscrapers, sewers, docks, industrial zones, and crumbling infrastructure. This is all accomplished without splattering landmarks in the foreground or background.
However, the game is largely a pot-boiler NES platformer (and not a good one at that). Add to that the fact Domino’s neglected to create an over-the-top, wacky video game with all the toppings befitting the character that is The Noid and you are left with a mediocre gaming experience that delivers little to nothing new.
The game is challenging. Granted, part of the challenge is the controls, but with everything in the game killing The Noid in a single hit, it does provide some replayability in wanting to get farther in the game as one gets a ‘feel’ for it. However, there is little reward in doing this except a few shmup levels. Gamers are a discerning bunch, and will find better platforming and shmup experiences elsewhere.
The question is: if a player does overcome the challenges of this game, what will he or she be rewarded with upon beating the game? What is the reward for all this hard work?
(Pizza. You get pizza. But not Domino’s pizza.)
Personal Score: 3/10
Honestly, this game is bland. There are a few bright spots here and there, but those existed in Kamen no ninja Hanamaru as well. This game rests upon the skeletal frame of another game, and little was done to flesh it out. Sure, you have sprite swaps, and more cohesion between all the levels in the game that tie into the bare-bones setting and story, but the fact that Domino’s refused to let The Noid meet his full potential in video game form (especially given how he was marketed in all prior incarnations) made this game a failure from the start.
Yo! Noid is a game. It is a completed game with graphics and sound. But I wouldn’t call it a competent game. When the inclusion of pizza power-ups in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time is a better implementation of pizza than a game featuring a pizza company’s mascot, you have a problem.
In sum: Domino’s, you got the order wrong.
Aggregated Score: 4.0
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Categories: Game Review