Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 05/20/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Before there was BitTrip Runner, there was Pepsiman. Pepsiman is approximately 75% of the reason that I got an Xstation ODE for my PS1. I’m not kidding. I REALLY wanted to play Pepsiman on authentic hardware. Was there something keeping me from just emulating it? No. Did I think this was going to be a legitimately good game? Of course not. Did I make it my mission in life to play it anyway? You bet your Pepsi-chugging ass I did.
Pepsiman may not be a good game per se, but it’s definitely not a bad game. Actually, it’s probably exactly what BitTrip Runner would be if it had been made during the PS1 era. It’s an obviously low-budget game, but the developers ended up using that to the game’s advantage by playing up the low-budget charm. There are four stages each consisting of three parts. The first two scenes in each stage are your usual runner levels where you run straight through a world dodging obstacles that appear by either moving to the side, jumping over them, or sliding under them. You can also do a very brief boost run and smash through some obstacles, but that’s not necessary until around the second half of the game. The third part of each stage involves running towards the screen rather than away from it as you try to outrun some giant thing chasing you. If you’ve played the original Crash Bandicoot, then you know exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. These were always the hardest for me because running towards the screen means you have very little time to react to oncoming obstacles since you can’t see them off in the distance. Fortunately, if you run out of lives and get game over, you go to the main menu where you can save your game and restart from the last scene with a default of three lives.
Between each stage, you’re treated to a glorious live-action scene of an overweight American drinking Pepsi. That’s it. That’s the whole scene each time. A fat American sitting in a chair watching Pepsiman on a TV and drinking Pepsi. Sometimes he’s eating pizza. Sometimes he’s double-fisting Pepsi cans. But he’s always drinking Pepsi. This is hilarious to me for a few reasons. First and foremost, he looks like me in 20 years. Second, he’s speaking English with Japanese subtitles despite the fact that this game has never been released outside of Japan. Third…I mean, dude, he’s just sitting there butt-chugging Pepsi. It’s so random. I must admit, though, despite how charmingly low-budget this game is, it’s better than I expected. Each level is pretty different from the others, and it’s got a much smoother difficulty curve than most games of the era. The beginning is pretty easy while the end of the game is legitimately tough, but there’s no difficulty spike. It’s a nice, smooth, transition. In that regard, it impressed me more than some bigger budget games of the era.
Pepsiman isn’t a long game, and it’s not a terribly impressive game, but it is a fun game. For a branded game that exists solely to advertise a soda, it’s way better than it should be. It feels like the 5th gen McKids for being way better than an ad game ought to be. That’s not to say that it’s amazing or worth going out of or your way to play, but if you’re into goofy meme games, this is about as good as gets. It’s short, it’s tough towards the end, and it can get pretty frustrating, but I still had fun playing it and don’t regret the few hours I spent with it. It’s a shame that it never got released outside of Japan; it feels like the type of game that would do reasonably well as a cheap digital game if re-released today just for how random and goofy it is. I can’t recommend anyone go to any lengths to play this, but if you happen to have a PS1 emulator downloaded on your PC or have an ODE in your PS1, it’s worth finding an ISO and playing around with. There are certainly worse ways to spend an afternoon.