10 Awesomely Awful Video Game Ads

You don't want to look...but you can't look away!
August 01, 2016

Insert required "It's so bad..." quote here

So, as if my articles here haven't made the point clear enough - I am a huge fan of retro video games. Not only that, I am also a fan of retro video game magazines - especially the ads that accompany them. There's just something so hilariously awesome about 80s and 90s advertising that was directed to young boys and teens during those decades. Of course, this was the time of my youth, so I remember a lot of them. However. I have also discovered some new favorites while browsing through past magazines that I want to share.

So, here are 10 Awesomely Awful Video Game Ads that tried and failed to grab our young minds that were pumped full of sugar, pizza and french fries. Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, I am going to continue with my Hidden Treasures of 16-Bit series. I'm just taking a short break.

So, let's light this candle, and take a look at some ads!...

10: Ironsword: Wizards and Warriors II

Here's one everyone from the day should be familiar with. And yes, that is a pre-fame Fabio holding that sword and glaring as if the reader as if to say, "Do you think I'm sexy?" Now, it's not the fact that Fabio is on the ad that makes it awesomely bad, though that's a good start. No, what makes this ad so bad is how it horribly misrepresents the main character. You see, Fabio is supposed to be Kuros, the hero of the game. And what does our boy Kuros look like in the game itself?...

Seriously, how the heck do you program a hero in full body armor, and get Fabio to represent him in your ad campaign! That would be like if back in the day Nintendo used Cindy Crawford to stand in for Princess Toadstool in their advertising. This is just a plain deceptive ad. It promises us muscular sex on legs in the ad, and the game gives us a dweeby little Sir Lancelot wannabe.
9. "Naughty" Game Boy Pocket ad from Britain

You think Nintendo is all kid-friendly flowery fluff with plumbers saving princesses and cute little pink puffballs going on happy adventures? Well, this ad might change your tune. To be fair, this ad never ran in America, for obvious reasons. This ad from the U.K. was obviously aiming for the adult perverted role players out there.

It's not that Nintendo of America could not get racy from time to time. There was the infamous TV commercial for Conker's Bad Fur Day that features a realistic-looking squirrel puking in a toilet of a scuzzy hotel room, while a prostitute waited for him. There was also a Game Boy ad that DID run in America that seemed to suggest mice enjoyed humping Game Boys...Not sure how that was exactly supposed to entice you to buy the thing. But this ad isn't really sexy or kinky. It's actually kind of creepy. I mean, we don't know exactly WHY that woman is strapped to the bed in the first place. It could be kinky fun, or it could be something...else, and the guy is just biding his time with his Game Boy before he peels her skin and makes a lampshade or something...Yeah, I'm creeping myself out now. Let's move on.

8. Haunted Castle

Oh man, I seriously can't help myself from laughing whenever I see this ad. Haunted Castle was a largely forgotten arcade spin off of the Castlevania series. It's not remembered much today, and probably for good reason, as those who do remember it don't have a lot of great things to say about it. But, man oh man, the ad for this is 31 flavors of cheesy awesomeness!

Right in the foreground, we have a female model who is supposed to be looking frightened, but she seems more confused than anything. She also doesn't seem to be hiding herself too well. If Dracula can't see where she's hiding from where he's standing, he's long overdue for his eye exam. And how about ol' Drac back there? That doofy look on his face gets me every time. The way his mouth is just kind of hanging open to expose his fake fangs, and that look on his face that just suggests he's not the sharpest wooden stake in the pile...It's a comedy gold mine! Thank you, Konami, for teaching us how to laugh...and love...again.

7. Neo Geo (frustrated girlfriend ad)

Once again we're using sex to sell video games, but honestly, this one's a lot tamer than that Game Boy one. We've got a model posing as some guy's girlfriend (possibly wife), frustrated that the dope in the background is more interested in playing his Neo Geo video games than spending time with her. Hey, I remember the Neo Geo. The games for that system cost something like $100-200 per cartridge! He plunked a lot of money down for that game he's playing. You can wait, sweetheart.

But why don't we just take a closer look at that ad. Look where the guy is holding his controller, and grasping his...um...joystick. Surely this is not an accident. Are they suggesting that the guy finds his Neo Geo more sexually fulfilling than the Playboy Playmate girlfriend? Has their love really grown so cold that the man prefers the firm grip of a controller to the sensual touch of his woman? Either this couple needs relationship therapy, or I need a different kind of therapy for thinking of this stuff by looking at video game ads. Moving on...

6. M.I.A. - Missing in Action

Koanmi delivers another bout of hilarity with this ad for an arcade military rescue game. Once again, we have a model who looks downright confused as to what she's supposed to be doing, or what she's even doing there. Maybe she's thinking about what the headband she's wearing is doing to that hilariously huge 80s hair of hers. Once again, this is a deceptive ad. I have played the Missing in Action arcade game, and at no point do you get to play as a centerfold posing as a mercenary soldier. I want my quarters that I plunked into the machine back now that I've seen how I've been lied to!

And let's take a look at those leering men who are being freed from the cage by her. Yep, these ungrateful dopes have just been saved from torture and possible death, and all they can think about is that behind of hers. You know what's scary, though? I bet you if women were allowed to serve in combat back when this game came out, the official ads from the Army probably wouldn't be too different from this. This one's not as funny as the Haunted Castle ad. It's just kind of stupid.
5. Treasure Master

This was a game so difficult, the creators were actually offering a cash prize for anyone who could beat it. Seriously, what kid back in the day didn't dream about being paid to play video games? But don't let the lure of big money distract you from the reason why this ad is here. Let's take a look at that artwork. Yeah, there's a lot to take in here, so let's break it down.

Okay, so right smack in the center, we have a corporate "late 80s/early 90s" kid who kind of looks like Poochy the Dog from The Simpsons if he somehow morphed into a 13-year-old boy. Nothing too out of the ordinary for the time period. But what's all that crap happening all around him? We have mushrooms flying upward from the bottom of the box, a UFO, a giant robot, a really weird looking flying bug, a spider (I think) flying around on what looks like a floppy disk, and a shark jumping over a...seriously, I don't know what that red thing is. Maybe a blimp? We've also got some pyramids in the background. Seriously, if this is what the game itself is like, how the heck did I not play this thing? Forget the cash prize, I wanna know what the heck that shark is supposed to be jumping over!

4. Game Boy "Tongue" ad

Okay, file this one under simply weird. I get what this ad is supposed to be doing. It's showing off the different colors that the Game Boy were being released in. But, for some reason, Nintendo thought the best way to show this off was by showing a bunch of multi-colored tongues on a creepy-looking fleshy backdrop.

Unless you're Gene Simmons, I don't see exactly how this ad is supposed to be appealing. It's weird, it's a little bit gross, and it's just kind of stupid. Nintendo did a lot of stupid advertising back in the 90s. I remember their ads for Earthbound were built around farts, and warning you that the game stunk. No wonder the game didn't sell very well when it first came out! I also remember a Yoshi's Island commercial featuring a fat guy eating so much food at a restaurant until he just simply blew up from being overstuffed. What was wrong with Nintendo back in the 90s? Seriously??

3. Back to the Future Pinball

Okay, this ad isn't really funny, or weird, or even stupid. It's just kind of pathetic. The reason why I'm including it here is for the obvious lack of effort. They have a "Marty" and "Doc" look alike who don't like a single thing like the characters they're supposed to be representing.

Not only is it pathetic, it's boring. It's just two badly dressed cosplayers standing in front of a brick wall next to a pinball machine. This is the kind of ad that you throw together at the last minute when you've run out of ideas, and you've got a deadline in less than 10 minutes. The ad tries to distract us from its dullness with a lot of banners screaming about "Quick-Loc locking system" (whatever that means), and the fact that the game features music by ZZ Top and Huey Lewis. I don't care if the video game programmers somehow brought Elvis back from the dead in an ancient and dark ceremony, and forced him to write a new song for the game. This ad is just 100% boring.

2. Acclaim Pocket Games

Okay, what we have here is another corporate "early 90s" kid ad. Honestly, maybe my memory is fuzzy, but did you ever know any kid who looked liked this all the time, because I don't remember. That's not really the reason why I included it here. The reason is because of the product being sold - Acclaim Pocket Games. Pocket Games were those ultra cheap LCD games that were usually sold at grocery stores, and your parents would buy them for you if they were too cheap to spring for a Game Boy. Most pocket games were made by Tiger, and they were all pretty much terrible. Now here's a series line up of pocket games by Acclaim, a company known for terrible games on Nintendo consoles based on license properties.

Apparently, Acclaim decided they could inflict even more pain upon children by bringing their crappy games to a handheld device that could not even properly display animation and movement, and usually had no sound except for a few screeching bleeps and bloops that made the Atari 2600 sound like a Beethoven symphony. This ad shows a 90s kid screaming with joy as he rides a surfboard through outer space while playing his Acclaim Pocket Game with "Out of this world Superplay Action"! (Again, whatever that means.) It then goes on to list some of the exciting games you can play, such as Bart Simpson's Cupcake Crisis, Bigfoot (the monster truck) and even Total Recall! I would like the record to state that I have played the NES games of Simpsons, Bigfoot and Total Recall back in my day, and if these pocket games were as bad if not worse (and conventional wisdom states they are), then this is not so much a product, but rather a device used to carry evil in pocket size.

And now, for the # 1 spot. We've seen some funny ads, some stupid ads, and some stupidly funny ads. But nothing can prepare you for the glory of Johnny Turbo, the failed mascot of the Turbografx-16 who was created to warn kids of the evil of Sega...

1. Johnny Turbo

Johnny Turbo was a short-lived, last ditch effort to try to lure kids away from the Sega CD, and toward the Turbografx-16. Johnny was a fat guy in a green jump suit who kind of resembles filmmaker Kevin Smith (aka Silent Bob), the director of Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy. Unlike the other ads in this article, this was actually a series of mini comic books that were included in issues of Electronic Gaming Monthly for a short while. There were only 3 issues made, but they were glorious.

The first two "issues" followed a simple plot. An evil video game company known as "Feka" (Sega, for those of you who are not tuned in to this comic's "subtle" sense of humor). Feka was run by evil robots with glowing red eyes who sent their henchmen (who kind of looked like The Blues Brothers) to try to sell kids on the brand new Feka CD. That's when Johnny Turbo would show up, and shout to the kids that the Feka CD was not the first CD system on the market, and would then proceed to kick the living crap out of the Feka goons, while the kids cheered. You know, funny thing. I don't remember Sega ever saying that their CD system was the first one on the market. Johnny was supposed to "open kids' eyes" to the real CD action of the Turbografx-16, but when you stop and think about it, his mission did not make much sense in the real world. As far as I know, Sega was not run by power hungry killer robots. Although, I could be wrong.

In the third and final issue, things get really...interesting. Instead of focusing on Johnny fighting Feka, the issue instead focuses on Johnny's nerdy friend and roommate, Tony, having this really surreal dream where a disembodied voice talks to him about new games coming out for the Turbografx-16. There's a lot of bizarre imagery, and none of it makes any sense. I don't know if this was intended to be the last advertisement featuring Johnny Turbo, but if it was, it was a frickin' weird note to close out on.

And that will close us out of this bizarre little retro rewind. I hope you've had a few laughs, maybe questioned just how you were being sold to when you were a kids. It does make one pause and wonder just how these ads were supposed to appeal to us, but apparently they did, because a lot of kids had Game Boys, so maybe that sexy ad actually worked!

Until next time, fellow Retro Junkers, keep the past alive!
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