You can practically see Don Draper throwing up in his mouth
Back in the olden-times (the 1990s to you and me), we had this thing called 'print media'. Essentially, you'd spend five bucks or so at your local supermarket or bookstore, and you could pick up a 'magazine'. Yes, it's unbelievably quaint now in the age of instant access to all information ever, but if you were a kid growing up without access to America On-Line, print was where it was at.
This was also an age before banner ads with scantily-clad women, meaning those magazines were also filled with advertisements for new and upcoming games. Many of them were complete garbage, filled with bad jokes, terrible imagery, scantily-clad women, and actual insults directed at the would-be consumer. But looking back, many of them were so bad that you can't help but laugh at the idea that at least one person thought these ads could actually sell video games. These are some of the most hilarious offenders.
Barkley Shut Up and Jam
Little-known fact: in the 1990s, it was against the law to release a video game ad which didn't mock the potential player's skills or point out their failings as a gamer (or even as a human). And b-ball bad-boy Charles Barkley wanted you to know that his game isn't for chumps, as even its title is a call for you to put up or, well... you know. I also love that Sir Charles' mug shows up on this ad three times, but there's only one actual screenshot of gameplay. Sadly, none of them chronicle the majesty of the man's Chaos Dunk or participation in the Space Jam.
OK, Contra 3. I'll bite. What one thing do you have to say? Is it something about 'Mode 7' graphics? How many 'megs' the cartridge has? Or maybe something about how 'intense' or 'extreme' the game is? Let me just turn the page and
Contra 3 (cont'd)
OH HOLY SHIT MY EYEBALLS WERE NOT PREPARED FOR THIS! Contra 3 is clearly not fucking around. Who needs words when you've got bolded text, upside-down screenshots flying towards the viewer, and a massive explosion? Also, Konami apparently had a few more things to say about Contra, if that giant essay on the right is any indication.
Wow, uh, I don't even know where to begin here. Neon logo. Random guns and bags of cocaine scattered on the ground. A mysterious woman in a negligee, seemingly lost somewhere between devastation and arousal. What appears to be a young Patton Oswalt wearing massive, fuchsia wrap-around shades. Three explosions, one featuring the face of an angry (possibly possessed) businessman. Oh, and let's not forget the 'actual 256 color VGA screens' and 'Real Sound'. Y'know I kinda want to play this now.
Eternal Champions (Genesis)
Video game ads in the 1990s didn't just berate the player. They were also all about creating as much beef between rivals as possible. Eternal Champions really loved to stir the pot, first by specifically calling out the vastly superior Street Fighter 2 as 'training wheels' for the real match that awaited players...
Eternal Champions (Sega CD)
...and then upping the ante for the Sega CD version by ripping into Mortal Kombat, though with slightly more subtlety this time (emphasis on slightly). Of course, we all know that Eternal Champions went on to be one of the greatest fighting game franchises ever made, with both Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat disappearing into the mists of video game history, never to be heard from again.
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
What is Squaresoft (no Enix) even insinuating here? Looking at this, there are only two things I could properly figure out. One: Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is an easier RPG designed for genre newcomers. Two: I'm way behind on my brain's scheduled tune-up, and $39.99 sounds like a steal.
In the First Degree
This ad is all over the place. Multiple font sizes and a collage of full-motion video cutouts (with not one, but two different face-palms) alone are evidence enough to convict this ad of murder of good design sense.
Light Boy Game Keeper
You have to love those infomercial 'before-and-after' shots, where a befuddled actor tries to jam too many forks into a blender, shrugs their shoulders at the camera, and exclaims to an audience of no one that 'There's gotta be a better way!' This one is practically perfect, as we have a kid so inconceivably lost that he's got cords, batteries, and video game doo-dads hanging off of every single appendage available. The real icing on this shitshow is the game sticking out of the kid's mouth. I've got an idea: how about you put everything down and do one thing at a time? Also, just so you know: every single suburban white kid in the early '90s looked exactly like this. It was awful.
How would you sell a $600 console (and $300 games) to an audience perfectly happy with much cheaper hardware? Do you show crystal clear images of the amazing, arcade-quality graphics they're missing out on? Or do you show a couple boring graphs and a picture of the nastiest hot dog ever conceived, all while spouting some elitist bullshit about how the higher cost makes it better? Well, if you're Neo-Geo, you went with the latter, then wondered why no one ever bothered to buy the thing.
Pipe Dream is a benign puzzle game that tasks you with connecting various bits of plumbing to keep an ever-encroaching rush of water from leaking. This ad, on the other hand, makes it look like a hellish nightmare designed as a collaboration between John Carpenter and M.C. Escher. I'm glad I didn't see this when I was a kid, because I would have never slept another night for the rest of my childhood.
Here's how I imagine the photo shoot for these two random dweebs went down:
"OK, guys, I want you to pretend someone's encroaching on your turf, and I want you to look TOUGH. OK, the fist in the air thing is pretty good, but do you have anything else? ...Sigh, OK, two fists in the air, that's sigh maybe cross your arms? You know, like Vanilla Ice, I guess? Whatever, we got what we needed. Your checks are in the mail." To producer: "Can you fix this in post? I dunno, add a building or something urban. Sure, put it at a weird angle, I don't care. Where's my cocaine?"
Here exists the single image associated with the cancelled MGM-published Rollerball video game movie tie-in. No screens showing off gameplay, no announced platforms, not even any hackneyed copy describing what you might do in the game (but probably actually wouldn't). I don't know what MGM was hoping to do by advertising a game that for all purposes likely didn't exist when this ran, but you have to appreciate its optimism.
A totally different Rollerball
From the studio that would eventually bring you amazing titles like Kirby's Dream Land and EarthBound comes Rollerball - essentially, a video pinball game. And what better way to sell the excitement of pinball than a full-page spread of an eight-year-old's attempt at drawing Clipart? Sold!
Secret of Evermore
I get what they're trying to do here - your dog is one of the main selling points of Secret of Evermore and generally helps you tear shit up - but we don't need to see up the snout of a snarling canine. The ad copy is also ridiculous. '24 megs. With rendered graphics'? I hope the graphics are rendered, because I'm sure as hell not gonna sit here and render them myself. The screenshots even feel like they were slapped on as an afterthought, with the box art (and title of the damn game) placed at an awkward 90-degree angle. Guess we really needed that angry puppy front and center, right?
Nothing sells a game quite like a disgustingly up-close shot of some random dude's mouth chomping down on a metal ball - complete with shoddily Photoshopped teeth fractures. I don't know about you, but I'm super stoked to see what Tetrisphere is all about - in between dry heaves, of course.
Shortly after finishing his work on Tetris, creator Alexey Pajitnov started breeding snakes. But what began as a hobby quickly turned into an obsession. Pajitnov started talking to the snakes, and the snakes started talking back. The slimy reptiles covered his body, enveloping him until he became more snake than man. Then they whispered the code and design of Wild Snake (and Hexic) into his ear. He currently awaits further orders from Serpentulus, Queen of the Snakes, and has placed himself in stasis until he is summoned once again. Or, that's the impression I got from the ad. I could be reading into this a bit.
I can't believe people actually ran these things
Those were pretty bad, huh? Kinda makes you wonder how video games ever sold at all. The worst part? They really haven't gotten much better. Do you have any favorite hilariously bad video game ads you remember from your childhood? Let us know in the comments!
Looking for more video game business-speak to chuckle at? Check out these 15 ridiculously NSFW ads (for totally unsexy stuff), or some of the worst uses of the word 'extreme' in video game titles.