Developer(s) – KID
Publisher(s) – KID
Designer(s) – Nobuaki Umeda, Nozomi Takeguhi & Keisuke Itou
ESRB – T for Teen
Developed on a low budget and released exclusively in Japan after the development team failed to get the game published overseas, Pepsiman is an action game, which has silently become one of the most influential games in recent years, with it’s gameplay being the basis for a plethora of popular smartphone titles like Temple Run and Angry Gran. It’s one of those games that on paper would sound ridiculous, and in many respects it is, but regardless, it is a game worth playing.
Graphics – 6/10
The majority of the game is set in Pepsi City, where everything seems to revolve around Pepsi; there are billboards advertising it and Pepsi vans driving around everywhere; on some levels, there are even NPCs holding signs saying “I love Pepsi”. Other levels also break away from the modern-day city settings to levels set in science labs, sewers, and motorways. Conceptually, it stands out a lot more than what gamers would think it would after hearing about a game like this. In terms of the technical aspect, it just about meets industry standards set at the time, albeit including a number of 2D sprites all over the place, which back then were being fazed out gradually.
Gameplay – 7/10
The concept of the game is simple; guide Pepsiman through a series of on-rail levels, whilst collecting as many cans of Pepsi darted across each of the levels as possible. What isn’t easy is mastering the game, since there are a lot of obstacles and obstructions to overcome along the way. The natural flow is very cleverly disturbed at times, with Pepisman having to run into dustbins at certain points, which reverse the controls as long as his upper body is still in a dustbin for example. It provides much more of a stern challenge than what most people would think going into it; even for players who had previously played the games that were later inspired by it. At the time, a lot of critics were comparing the game to the original Crash Bandicoot games, which although I’m able to appreciate that that was the frame of reference at the time, Pepsiman is still a different type of game indeed.
Controls – 10/10
The game’s control scheme also poses no issues; if the player fails, it’s solely on them. It’s also quite clever how the developers managed to implement changes to the controls based on Pepsiman’s given situation, such as for when he’s balancing on a barrel or riding a skateboard, or when the camera angle is reversed for when he must escape from objects moving behind him.
Lifespan – 4/10
Disappointingly, one playthrough can only be made to last around half an hour, which for the amount of innovation perpetuated with this title, is nowhere near enough time for it to last; especially when drawing comparisons with other games like it, which can be made to last forever. There’s only a certain amount of replay value to be had in addition, with the only incentive being to unlock an alternative costume for Pepsiman, whereas again, there are several skins and characters that can be unlocked in future games that follow the same mantra.
Storyline – 7/10
The story of Pepsiman is very reminiscent of that of an exploitation film in my opinion. It features Pepsiman traversing Pepsi City solving primarily Pepsi-related problems, such as stocking a particular vending machine with Pepsi, rehydrating a bunch of people stranded on a rooftop, and ultimately preventing a worldwide shortage of Pepsi and in turn, stopping a riot from continuing among those wanting Pepsi. It’s as ridiculous as it is flat-out hilarious. But it’s actually quite aware of how ridiculous it is, and the developers played on the fact heavily. It also features a lot of the slapstick violence that was synonymous with the character before the game was released, which further plays on the comedic aspect of the game throughout.
Originality – 9/10
The amount of uniqueness attached to this game is staggering; especially compared to what perception the player will have going into it. It was a game that proved to be ahead of its time in terms of gameplay, given how many developers would go on to copy the model it set years later. Even the games that were perceived to have influenced it at the time are only very loosely related to it; it’s an action game by design, but in terms of its actual gameplay, it was genuinely in a genre of its own, as would later be proven.
Overall, Pepsiman is much better than what it seems on the surface. When stripped back away from all the Pepsi ads and the hilariously bad story, there’s a very enjoyable game to be played for the short time that it unfortunately lasts.