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The Next Level Feature Sega Happy Meal Toys
Sonic hands out Sega Happy MealsEvery once in a while, one of the fast-food emporiums pushes out a game-themed set of toys with their heart-stopping grease fests (otherwise known as Kids' Meals or Happy Meals). Luckily for us, most video gamers are no strangers to the ways of scary food, so collecting these knick-knacks isn't as comparatively bad on the heart as it might be if they were offering, say, Binky the Vegetarian Alfalfa Sprout and His Gang toys to the rabbit food crowd or Stern Rockpecs and the Buff Brigade. Not that I wouldn't love to see them try, but I digress.

At the end of June, Sega and McDonald's teamed up to present a set of six electronic mini games to be included in Happy Meals. Five of them featured Sonic and friends with the sixth one (number 5 on the package) being Monkey Ball, and though the actual gameplay of these LCD screen toys has very little to do with the related games, they're still kind of cute in a Sega-fanboy way.

Each toy comes in a plastic pouch with the game's name and number on it. The general format of each game is the same: four stages to get through before you win. None of them has more than two buttons, and two of them actually only have one. They're all roughly three inches by two inches, though a couple are held upright, and the LCD screen is 7/8" by 5/8". A bit small, but perfectly visible in good light thanks to the simple nature of the games. Sound on all is a few beeps and maybe a bip for good measure. They all have an on/off switch in the back and no apparent way to change the battery. They also have something else in common - they're all very, very easy and require more work to lose than to win. When, oh when, will we get our 5/8" x 7/8" LCD screen version of Ikaruga!?

A complete set of Sega Happy Meal toys

Toy #1, Sonic's Speedway
Sonic is engaging in a bit of auto racing, zipping past F1 cars in a convertible. Why is Sonic, fastest critter on earth, driving a race car you ask? No idea, but I'm guessing new sneakers that haven't been broken in properly yet. There are two bright red buttons on either side of the screen, and a total of three spots on the track for Sonic to drive on. Don't hit the cars through the four levels and you win. You get four hits per level with the fifth ending the game, and when you get past the level your lives are restocked. Difficulty: pretty easy.

Toy #2, Shadow Grinder
This is one of the two upright ones. Shadow grinds down a rail to some destination or other that the game doesn't seem to feel is important. There's a total of one whole button to use, used to make Shadow jump over the gaps in the rail. You get a whopping ten(!) lives per level, which is strange because it's one of the two easiest games in the bunch. If you go about your business, maybe reading a good book or juggling or something, while tapping the button at a decent speed, you'll automatically win with no deaths. Difficulty: very, very easy.

Toy #3, Knuckles Soccer
The other upright game, with Knuckles playing goalie in soccer. Apparently Robotnik has figured out a way to destroy the world by lobbing a soccer ball into the net that Knuckles is guarding, or possibly the hatred of the Sonic crew for Robotnik is such that they can't even let him relax while he puts in some Euro football practice. Either way, you've got two buttons to move left or right with, and a total of three positions to guard. This one comes close to requiring some skill, the ball can curve left or right from where it's launched at the top of the screen. Five misses on any stage and it's game over. Difficulty: easy.

Sonic Action Game

Toy #4, Sonic Action Game
Another one-button game. Sonic is running through the Green Hill Zone collecting rings. The scenery scrolls vertically towards you in blocks, and you have to hit the button to jump up or risk getting squished against the wall. Any parts of the scenery two blocks high have rings on top to collect, but the rings don't seem to have any kind of importance. Don't hit the wall and you win, 5 hits per level and you die. Like Shadow Grinder, winning simply requires tapping the jump button like an epileptic monkey. Difficulty: very, very easy.

Toy #5, AiAi Banana Catch
Monkey Ball time! Bananas are falling from the sky and you need to do your monkey duty and catch every single one. There are two buttons to move left and right with, and the bananas have three spots to fall toward. Knocking the difficulty up a level is that you will often have to catch two bananas in one row as they fall, but AiAi is a quick little guy so it's not a big deal. To make up for the sudden onslaught of challenge, though, the programmers allow you ten missed bananas per level. Difficulty: fairly easy.

Toy #6, Tails Sky Patrol
In a stunning attack on the concepts of originality and creativity, AiAi Banana Catch is turned ninety degrees counterclockwise! Tails is flying from right to left trying to snag all the rings in his path, with the two buttons making him fly up and down. The rings are coming in three rows, and once again you will have to get two rings in one move. Like AiAi, Tails is fast enough to catch both rings, and like AiAi Tails has ten lives per level. Difficulty: fairly easy, but sideways!

Conclusion? Reviewing these as games doesn't make them sound anywhere near as neat as it should. These aren't so much small video games as they are little collectible Sega toys that happen to be playable. The games themselves are scaled down to something a five-year-old can play, what with them being the target market and all, and the colors of the (very durable) plastic are bright and cheerful with a little bit of paint to spruce up a few details. For those of us looking to catch 'em all, though, the toys have a wide enough base that you can stand them up and proudly display them on top of your computer desk, right in front of the Virtual Boy and the Vectrex, proclaiming to all that no gaming oddity will escape your sight. It certainly beats ditching them in the back of the toybox.

Overall rating as games: D (with an exemption for Knuckles Soccer, which gets a C-)
Overall rating as little collectible Sega toys: B

· · · James

2003 The Next Level