As I had settled in one Sunday evening, preparing to cooperatively play Minecraft on the Xbox 360 with my girlfriend, We were delayed due to a needed update. To pass the time, we browsed her game selection when something interesting caught my eye. “Doritos Harm’s Way” overlaid an image of a dusty canyon environment with a mad max style truck being shot at by a large mechanical turret. The idea of a Doritos sponsored game excited me: an advergame designed by a corporation to appeal to target markets. I was ready to criticize it to the very core — until I played it.
The core concept of Harm’s Way is that while 4 drivers race along a track, they each have 4 corresponding players jumping from static located turrets along the map, who attempt to shoot down the other drivers while assisting your own. I found this concept rather creative, admittedly. Being able to help my partner by shooting down the competition would leave me feeling helpful without feeling risk of danger, like a guardian angel of bullets, and all the while my girlfriend was swerving and racing through a hectic environment wrought with gunfire, explosions, and racers who’d very much like to have her meet said dangers. What’s this? Fun? How can this be so fun? The game only had a few levels though, so the fun was short lived. Once we were satisfied with our experience we went back to the game library to discover yet another Doritos game, which would have easily been overlooked had we not just then had a nacho cheese flavored revelation.
Doritos Crash Course was next on our flavor blasted roster. In a strong contrast to the last game, Crash Course was bright, colorful, and much more bouncy in feel. Inspired by TV shows like Ninja Warrior and Wipeout, the goal this time was to control your player (displayed via your xbox avatar) and run along this large construction of padded platforms to the goal, all the while dodging swinging hammers, conveyor belts, and a myriad of obstacles. Now THIS was more of what I was expecting to see, an unoriginal concept wrapped around a layer of “buy our stuff”. While I was not dazzled by the creativity as we progressed through the levels, I found myself respecting the design of the levels and of the game as a whole. Controls were simple and easy to use and the levels were well made and seldom too easy or difficult. What appealed to me the most however was that whenever you hit a check mark, the level would actually seamlessly reset to base position. Ropes in mid swing would click back to where they started and platforms would snap into their original place. This meant that your first time encountering that segment would always be the same in terms of timing as it would if you failed and had to restart from that point. This was a great way to guarantee fluidity along the entire level regardless of how long a player takes on a previous section.
In the end I found myself enjoying this game as well. I had little faith that these games were created as mere advertising tools. So I did some digging, and I was right. In 2007, Doritos teamed up with Microsoft to host the “Unlock Xbox” competition, where fans would create a video game, and the winner would be rewarded 50,000 US Dollars. The first winner was published on the Xbox Live Arcade in 2008 with Doritos Dash of Destruction. The theme of that game was to drive a Doritos delivery truck around and make deliveries while a large T-Rex attempted to chase you and eat the truck. The game was eventually removed after it became apparent that it was designed for, and encouraged, how quickly a player could unlock all achievements and boost their gamer score. In 2009, they opened the competition flood gates open once more for a second round. This is where Crash Course and Harms Way come in.
But that’s 2 games, 2 is more than 1, and only 1 can win, that’s why its called WON.
At first there was only one winner, and it was Crash Course, initially chosen as the winner of the second round of the Unlock Xbox Competition. As of year-end 2010, Doritos Crash Course had been downloaded over 1.4 million times – successful enough to even have a sequel released in may of 2013. However, due to such positive feedback, it was decided that both Crash Course AND Harms Way Would be given the 50,000 dollar awards, and kept on the Xbox Live Arcade.
The “true” creators of Crash Course were Wanako Studios, a Chilean video game studio which, after a series of mergers and acquisitions, are now known as Behavior Santiago. Harms Way was a game concept created by Utah gamer Justin Carpenter, and was developed to fruition by Bongfish, a game development studio which now has a history of working with corporate entities like Smurfs and Redbull. Harm’s Way was their second game ever published at the time, and first game made for a corporate sponsor.
I had finally reached peace in my journey for truth. Doritos doesn’t necessarily make good games. They encourage the masses to bring them these games with competitions and cash prizes. Half of their games are removed from the market not long after, but the ones that remain have solid concepts and design behind them. While neither Harms Way nor Crash Course would win game of the year, and while I will be unlikely to play them again, this was a bold experience that only Doritos could provide.