Hey kids! Do you like Taco Bell? Do you like Duke Nukem 3D? Of course you do? Well, what if I told you there was a way you could enjoy Taco Bell and Duke Nukem 3D at the same time – Wait, did we do this already?
Taco Bell: Tasty Temple Challenge was an advergame given away with Taco Bell’s kids meal in 2000. Even for advergames, the concept is pretty inane: You play as “Baja Bill”, an adventurer exploring deep into a lost jungle temple to find an imprisoned Grande Meal. Yes, you’re on a quest to rescue precious Taco Bell food from an ancient faux Mayan-Incan-Aztec-Racist Caricature temple. As you battle your way through the temple, you combat snakes and scorpions by… lighting them on fire?
After the jump, we’ll explore the Tasty Temple, discover its secrets, and figure out how some free games demand their own kind of payment.
The game plays like a bad Duke Nukem clone – which it is, having been built in 3D Gamestudio (an ancient 3D game development kit). Somehow, they managed to make such a simple premise absolutely abysmal. We understand that this is an older PC game probably produced on a shoestring budget, but not being able to remap your keys to anything else is inexcusable.
There’s a veritable laundry list of problems: There’s no way to aim up or down. The jump goes higher than the ceiling, which means that you jump ridiculously high and lag against the top before awkwardly crashing back down. The button for this action is mapped to the Home button of all keys, making it impossible to jump in stressful stituations. There isn’t even any music, meaning you have to do all of this to the sound of soul-crushing silence.
Switches that unlock doors or move level geometry do not tell you what they open. The best you get is that they “open something big”, and you’ll have to go out and find exactly WHAT big thing got opened. There’s no inventory system, and a complicated series of keys and other item pickups that you can’t keep track of. You are repeatedly given ammo for a gun that you don’t even have until much later, which makes for a lot of head-scratching.
The graphics are disappointingly poor. There are a very limited amount of textures that are used throughout the entire map, and none of them give meaningful clues to where you are going.
Level design is a complicated and many-faceted beast, but one of the most basic common sense decisions to make is to meaningfully reward the player for going in the right direction. Tasty Temple does not do this, because Tasty Temple hates you. Instead, ammo is placed sporadically in clusters. Switches control secret areas, but they won’t tell you which ones. Nearly every door needs a key, and that key is not placed anywhere near the doors that it unlocks. There are no lights to guide your way, and no color-coordinated doors. There is only the maddening void of Wild Sauce, and another god damn snake around the corner.
Even the included map is no help and often claims that there are enemies where there are not, due to the map not representing multiple floors properly. It’s extremely easy to get lost in the literal temple maze because of trying to follow your broken map.
There are only two enemies throughout the entire game: the scorpion, and the snake. They both only use the exact same close-range melee attack, with only differing animations (the scorpion stings you, and the snake bites you).
The only difficulty difference is entirely artificial, and frankly accidental: the scorpion, being shorter, is harder to hit when it’s on a flight of stairs (and here’s your reminder that you cannot aim up or down). This gets boring fast.
Speaking of monsters, probably the most actually memorable part of this game is the ammo. The reader, having made it this far, may be wondering why we’ve completely glossed over Baja Bill’s weapon of choice. The simple answer is that it’s completely god damn inane.
Baja Bill is armed with… sauce packets. Your choices are Mild sauce, Hot sauce, and the now-discontinued “Wild” sauce (if you’re some sort of curiously dedicated Taco Bell fan, Wild sauce was their limited-time super hot sauce before Diablo sauce was their limited-time super hot sauce).
Yes, you are forced to defeat the ravenous forces of nature by squirting hot sauce on them, which for some ungodly reason causes them to literally burst into flames. It’s hardly the violence-free Zorch-fest that Chex Quest was, and it’s frankly disappointing in that light: the enemies even leave ‘corpses’ in the form of ash piles, which are tangible objects that you can push around.
Later in the game, you acquire a machete for hacking through thick door-covering moss with. Though it seems immediately ridiculous that you would be given a giant sharp weapon and not allowed to kill the annoying animals with it, further consideration reveals that the developers believed burning them to death with hot-sauce was much more child friendly. Ooo…kay?
Bugs are always abound in games like these, but Tasty Temple takes it to another level. There are several places with missing geometry where it’s entirely possible to fall underneath the level, getting trapped forever. If you’re lucky to avoid such a fate, you’ll just get embedded halfway into the floor, which removes your collision detection entirely – meaning that you can walk through walls as you please, but you are stuck at the same height, forever unaffected by the forces of gravity.
But the AI is the worst part. Enemies behave in confusing ways, such as clipping through walls (sometimes, snakes will walk through walls that they are taller than, becoming anklebiters shambling desperately towards Baja Bill with their head peeking out of the floor) and walking into solid objects. The pathfinding is broken, and and the cherry on top is the surprisingly insidious factor of doors.
You see, the enemies know that you’re there, long before you know that they’re there. And they will lurk behind doors, running into the doors in a frantic attempt to find you and hit you to death. So when you go to open a door, they’re there, right in front of the door, waiting to walk headfirst into your face.
Attempting to adapt to this is a futile task: the doors close as soon as you walk away from them, trapping the enemies behind them once again. Sure, you can take the whole minute or more that it would take to lure them out of the door without it closing in their face (two times out of three, they will stay behind the door and not move), but in the end, it’s just faster to eat it and run. This isn’t even mentioning the enemies’ nasty tendency to just phase through the door, completely catching you off guard and leaving you vulnerable.
Finally, at the end, you confront a disgustingly racist caricature of a Mayincatec priest with bright green skin. This is supposed to be the climax of the game, and as such is a crushing disappointment. You don’t even get to burn the guy to death, just trap him in a tiny prison cell.
Once you do so, the game is won immediately. You don’t even have to pick up the treasured Grande Meal to win, just trap the guy. There is no prize, no ending, just a simple tally of monsters “sauced” and a mysterious point total.
It feels bad enough to have to have gone through all of that for a prize that wasn’t worth it in any capacity. Could things get any worse? Yes, they could, apparently – the game still plays, even as it tries to desperately tell you that you’ve won. As such, it is completely and utterly possible to die in the jaws of a snake, prize still trapped tight in your hand, as the game over screen scolds you for failing to capture the Grande Meal.
Why, Taco Bell, why?
After the fact…
Taco Bell is and always will be one of our favorite fast food restaurants, but knowing that they willingly associated themselves with this mockery of a game… Well, we’re glad they’ve stopped the Kid’s meals, at least.
At least it did something right. This is the gamification of what Taco Bell is: intense racism, running around in a circle, and eating filthy food off of the floor.