9 of the Most Bizarre Licensed Video Games

Some of these games are so baffling that they still confuse gamers to this day.
Street Fighter: The Movie (PlayStation) Street Battle as Guile
Street Fighter: The Movie (PlayStation) Street Battle as Guile / TheInnocentSinful

Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, video games were all the rage thanks to original titles like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Sonic The Hedgehog, Crash Bandicoot, and others. Console sales were at an all-time high and it seemed like everyone with disposable income was buying games, which led some companies to go for easy cash grabs like licensed video games, which are based on existing properties and brands.

While some were actually good—like GoldenEye 007, NBA Jam, Adventures of Batman & Robin, and X-Men 2: Clone Wars—others were more about marketing and brand awareness than anything else. Many of these games were inspired by popular movies, but sometimes, they were based on your favorite fast-food chains. Either way, plenty were just strange.

Ahead, you’ll find our picks for the most bizarre licensed video games from your childhood.  

Journey Escape (1982) and Journey (1983)

Journey was so popular in the ‘80s that the rock band released two video games based on their music and exploits. The first, Journey Escape, was made for the Atari 2600 home console in 1982 and was influenced by  the band’s seventh studio album, Escape.

In Journey Escape, the objective is to get each member of Journey from the stage to their scarab spaceship—which is featured on the album cover—at the end of a concert. With the help of roadies and the band’s manager, players try to protect Journey from groupies, paparazzi, and sleazy concert promoters.

The following year, video game developer Midway Games created Journey, an arcade game featuring digitized versions of each member of the band. Players embarked on an interstellar journey to collect the band’s instruments from aliens who stole and scattered them on five different planets. Both games also have Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” playing in the background.

Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game (1995)

Fighting games rose in popularity during the early ‘90s, and Capcom’s Street Fighter II reigned supreme with its memorable characters, easy-to-learn mechanics, and fun gameplay in both single-player and two-player modes.

It was the toast of arcades in Japan and the United States when it was released in 1991. In fact, it was so acclaimed that it led to Street Fighter: The Movie, a live-action film adaptation starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia, Ming-Na Wen, and Kylie Minogue.

However, by the time Street Fighter: The Movie was released in theaters in 1994, its main rival, Mortal Kombat, had gained a big following in arcades, courtesy of its realistic-looking digitized characters and graphic gameplay. So when it came time to adapt Street Fighter: The Movie into a video game, Incredible Technologies took cues from Mortal Kombat by featuring digitized characters (based on the actors in the movie), similar gameplay, and graphic violence. The end result was a game that didn’t play like Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat, but serves as an odd tie-in to the film.

“Trying to make a game similar to Mortal Kombat — obviously, if you don’t know the secret sauce, it’s a lot more challenging than you realize,” Darryl Williams, video department supervisor at Capcom Coin-Op, told Polygon in 2021. “So we tried really hard to get the feel right. Between trying to get the feel right and trying to make it Mortal Kombat-esque, we got close enough but we didn’t quite hit the mark.”

Fun fact: The makers of Mortal Kombat wanted Jean-Claude Van Damme to appear in their game. But when the Belgian actor (who played Guile in Street Fighter: The Movie) turned down their offer, the designers still modeled the character Johnny Cage after him anyway.

Pepsiman (1999)

In a series of soda commercials that aired in the Land of the Rising Sun during the late ‘90s, PepsiCo of Japan created Pepsiman, a superhero mascot. The character was so popular that game developers KID Corp. created an action game based on him for the original Sony PlayStation in 1999.

Pepsiman has a very similar gameplay and stage layout to Nintendo’s Paperboy and PlayStation’s Crash Bandicoot. It takes place in San Francisco, New York City, Texas, and the fictional Pepsi City in the United States. You can play as the titular superhero, running, jumping, and dodging obstacles on streets while collecting Pepsi cans to save people from dehydration with the power of Pepsi.

The King Games (2006)

For the holiday season of 2006, Burger King released three games, affectionately known as the King Games, for the Xbox 360 home console. The trio were initially released as downloadable games for the Xbox Live Arcade online platform; eventually, Burger King released physical copies of each game due to high demand. If you went to the fast-food chain in the lead-up to Christmas, you could get your hands on the games for $3.99 each, or $11.99 for all three. Most mainstream video games at the time cost upwards of $59.99, so charging under $15 for three games was considered a bargain.

As for the games themselves, they were all pretty different. PocketBike Racer is a kart-racing game similar to Super Mario Kart, but with Burger King characters, like The Burger King mascot, Whopper, Jr., Subservient Chicken, and an assortment of fast food workers. Another was Big Bumpin', which features bumper car mini-games with the same cast of characters. The most popular game in the trilogy is Sneak King, wherein The King mascot sneaks around a city and surprises people with fast food from the chain. 

Shaq Fu (1994)

Basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal was the face of the NBA during the 1994-95 season after the retirement of Michael Jordan a year earlier. The athlete led the Orlando Magic team to a franchise-best 50-win season; released a platinum rap album called Shaq Diesel; had a signature sneaker line with Reebok; and had an endorsement deal with Pepsi. O’Neal was at the top of the game when he tried (and failed) with video games. 

Shaq Fu, a 1994 fighting game for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, follows O’Neal as he travels to Tokyo, Japan, for a charity basketball game. However, he finds himself entering a dojo and speaking with a martial arts master named Leotsu. Shaq is then tasked with going to another dimension, “The Second World,” to rescue a boy from Sett Ra, an evil mummy. Along the way, Shaq uses a new form of martial arts, Shaq Fu, to fend off Sett Ra’s henchmen in a fighting tournament.

Thanks to its muddy graphics, tinny music, unresponsive controls, and overall bad storyline, Shaq Fu is considered one of the worst video games of all time. Still, it gained enough of a cult following over the years to warrant a sequel, Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn, which was released for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, and mobile devices in 2018. 

Chex Quest (1996)

General Mills gave away the video game Chex Quest inside of select Chex cereal boxes throughout the end of 1996. It was a family-friendly, first-person shooter game that was set on the planet Bazoik. You play as the Chex Warrior, trying to defend your home from the alien Flemoids invasion with your trusty “Zorchers” zapper.

Although the story and characters are based on a breakfast cereal, the gameplay itself resembles Doom. In fact, Chex Quest was built on top of the original Doom engine, which was obtained from id Software, the developers of the iconic first-person shooter game.

Chex Quest won the Golden EFFIE Award for Advertising Effectiveness in 1996. General Mills even released the sequel, Chex Quest 2: Flemoids Take Chextropolis, as a free digital download on the ChexQuest.com homepage in 1997, and it earned the Golden Reggie Award for Promotional Achievement the following year. The game still has fans: Chex Quest received an HD re-release for Steam and Nintendo Switch in 2020.

Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit! (1994)

Based on the smash TV sitcom, Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit!—which was originally released in 1994—follows Tim Taylor (played by Tim Allen on the show) trying to recover his missing tools while filming Tool Time. Because his tools went missing at a TV studio, Taylor has to go through a number of TV sets to get them back.

The game was initially released on Super Nintendo. However, because of poor sales and mixed reviews from critics, plans for a Sega Genesis version of Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit! were scrapped—despite an official announcement in Sega Force magazine [PDF] in 1994.

Taco Bell: Tasty Temple Challenge (2000)

Inside of a Taco Bell kids’ meal sometime in the year 2000, you’d have found a free copy of Taco Bell: Tasty Temple Challenge, a MS-DOS video game for PC. It was a first-person shooter, but instead of bullets, the game’s protagonist, Baja Bill, shot packets of Taco Bell Hot Sauce at snakes and scorpions as he tried to pursue the Grande Meal at the end of the game.

Taco Bell: Tasty Temple Challenge was published by Taco Bell, but developed by BrandGames, a studio that exclusively made brand-licensed video games, promotions, and interactive training programs for companies, such as GapKids, Mr. Pibb, BIC, and others.

Over the last few years, Taco Bell: Tasty Temple Challenge has been a favorite among the speedrun gamer community. Although the game generally lasts for about 23 minutes, a speedrunner named “Vanity” beat the game in just over one minute and 17 seconds.

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