pepsiman1.jpg['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. This week's column covers Pepsiman for the Sony PlayStation, published by KID and released in Japan in March 1999.]

Have a Pepsi!

Product placement in video games is usually a little bit more subtle than it is in Pepsiman. Most gamers probably don't bat an eyelash when a game makes you collect iPods to access hidden music, and does it really matter if your game has a few Snickers banners in it? In the past, there have been titles that exist solely to promote dog food and the magical power of Skittles, so it's difficult to categorize any kind of incidental advertising in gaming as "blatant".

Pepsiman, however, is a game that takes product placement beyond what could even be considered blatant and crosses over into the realm of the absurd. In Pepsiman, you play as a man -- himself presumably made entirely out of Pepsi -- who runs through a number of stages collecting Pepsi cans and distributing delicious Pepsi to those in need of refreshment. The game is based off of a series of Japanese Pepsi advertisements, and it's even more ridiculous than it sounds.

pepsiman2.jpgEverybody Pepsi!

The first level's introduction is a good indicator of the madness to come. The heroic Pepsiman theme blares in the background, serenading the player with repeated cries of "Pepsimaaaan! Pepsi-Pepsi-Pep-Pepsimaaaan!" A Pepsi deliveryman calls out to you, in desperate need of help. "There are a bunch of people waiting in front of the vending machines, and they want Pepsi!" he says. "And the word is that they're just about to riot. Can't you do something, Pepsiman?" Pepsiman nods, then rushes to the scene. It's up to you to ensure that Pepsiman gets there in time, before a war can erupt on the streets.

Pepsiman's gameplay was once described to me as being "like Crash Bandicoot for idiots." Take that for what you will. Pepsiman runs unceasingly forward, and your job is to make sure that he doesn't trip over anything in his path. Circumstances may occasionally force Pepsiman to ride a skateboard, or navigate the landscape with a trashcan over his head, but gameplay always involves lots of jumping, dodging, and Pepsi can collecting. All of this matters little in the end, though; once a level's goal is reached and crisis is averted, Pepsiman immediately suffers a violent death. Such is the way of Pepsi.

Pepsi for big fat American jerks!Pepsi for Pizza!

After Pepsiman dies and before he is resurrected without explanation for the next stage, the player is rewarded with a live-action FMV cutscene featuring a fat American man extolling the virtues of Pepsi. These clips are devoid of context, and none of them have anything at all to do with gameplay. One such scene begins with the guy laughing while shoving potato chips into his mouth. He then laughs at an even greater intensity, causing crumbs to shoot out of his mouth and onto his protruding stomach. He pauses to take a sip of Pepsi, then looks directly into the camera and cheerfully states, "Pepsi for TV game!" Fade to black, end of scene, begin next level.

Truth be told, Pepsiman as a game is not very much fun to play. The controls could be a lot better, and later levels are full of cheap, frustrating deaths. Still, the idea of preventing riots and saving lives using the power of Pepsi has an undeniable appeal, and the lure of the next inexplicable FMV cutscene will keep you playing until the end.

[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com, and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]