Like any pop-culture phenomenon worth its salt (or perhaps sugar, as the case may be), some of the biggest video games of the ’80s found their way off of screens and into the cereal aisle. As to be expected, they were uniformly of the ludicrously sweet variety, with sugary corn puffs or marshmallows shaped vaguely like stuff from the games. Given the amount of preservatives that were probably in those things, if you were willing to cough up the cash, you could probably track down a box and scarf down some barely edible 30-year-old Pac-Man cereal. But for the rest of us, we’ll have to settle for reliving these ridiculous novelty breakfasts through an equally ridiculous bit of ephemera they left behind: their commercials.
The first video game to get its own cereal was Donkey Kong. Looking to capitalize on the success of Nintendo’s first arcade hit, Ralston, the company formerly behind the likes of Chex and Cookie Crisp, started producing a Cap’n Crunch-like cereal for the game and really latched onto Donkey Kong’s penchant for chucking barrels. It was made up entirely of tiny barrel-shaped puffs and was “barrels of fun for breakfast,” as the slogan goes. As far as cereal commercials go, this little rockabilly ditty isn’t half-bad, and they even snuck in the game’s ubiquitous introductory fanfare right at the top.
Donkey Kong Cereal was followed by General Mills’ Pac-Man Cereal. This one was more long-lived and has a ton of surviving commercials floating around the internet. The fact that various companies continued to publish Pac-Man games throughout the ’80s doesn’t hurt, but it’s nice to think the cereal’s popularity has something to do with the fact that Pac-Man is a perfect cereal theme. After all, it’s a game about a character who eats circles and ghosts. Fill a bag with marshmallow ghosts and crunchy spheres, and you’re golden.
A neat YouTube channel called Commercial Collections has compiled a bunch of Pac-Man cereal ads into the video that’s embedded above. A couple of things to note: That “Do The Pac-Man” tune is way better than it has any right to be, and the commercial for the edition that included Ms. Pac-Man marshmallows is thought to be one of Christian Bale’s earliest acting gigs.
Naturally, Ralston followed up its Donkey Kong cereal with one based on the far less popular Donkey Kong Jr. game. Again, the shapes were pretty tame, nothing but corn-puff bananas and berries. The commercial was equally sedate, transporting the world’s least excitable child to a cartoon jungle.
But in 1988, Ralston went all out with the introduction of the Nintendo Cereal System, a box that included separate bags of two “different” cereals. One was made up of “fruit-flavored” Marios, mushrooms, koopas, and goombas, while the other included “berry-flavored” Links, hearts, keys, boomerangs, and shields to represent The Legend Of Zelda. (Although, let’s be honest, there’s absolutely nothing Mario or Link-like about those vaguely humanoid-shaped corn bits.) The commercial is best in class, with a jingle that’s set to the tune of Mario’s classic underground theme. It’s an absolute earworm.
Official video game cereals dropped off in the ’90s, but there were plenty of one-off tie-ins. For instance, who could forget the epic race between Sonic The Hedgehog and the Honey Nut Cheerios bee?
Unsurprisingly, the last video game to get its own cereal was Pokémon, although Kellogg’s didn’t pull the trigger on it until 2000, two years after the game’s release in North America and the height of Pokémania. Judging by the Pokémon the company chose to marshmallowize, it cared a hell of a lot more about easily replicated shapes than, you know, picking critters people actually cared about. At least they got Pikachu’s head in there.