Greetings once again, my fellow Retro Junkers. It's time once again to look at some rather bizarre ads for video games that popped up in magazines back in the 80s and 90s. Naturally, these were all enticed to make us beg our parents to run us out to the nearest game or toy store, or to have us put these items at the top of our birthday and Christmas Lists. But, when you look back at some of these ads now, you kind of have to wonder what the advertisers were thinking, and what we were thinking for falling for it.
There's a lot of ads to cover this time around, so let's get a move on with our first entry on this list...90S CAMPCOM KID AD
Let's kick things off with what has to be one of the most stereotypical early 90s ads I think I have ever seen. Seriously, this kid looks like he stepped right out of the Saved by the Bell auditions. But he's not just any stereotypical 90s kid! He's a Capcom 90s kid. Check out that brightly colored Capcom branded hat he has casually placed on the back of his chair. And his room may look kind of sparse and empty, but he still found time to hang up that awesome Capcom's DuckTales video game poster on his wall! Because hey, when you're focused on playing Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, you want as few distractions as possible.
A couple weird things I've noticed, though. The kid has two copies of the NES game Strider laying about. One of them is is placed upright, sandwiched between two very odd looking bookends which he uses to display his Nintendo Power magazine that just happens to be hawking Mega Man 2 (another Capcom gem), the other is just kind of lying haphazardly in a small pile of games. (All Capcom, of course.) Also, I know that this is supposed to be the kid's bedroom, but it looks more like an office cubicle to me. Finally, the look on the kid's face gets me every time. That confused expression, combined with that half-hearted thumbs up he's giving to the camera, just screams that he really does not want to be here, and that he was waiting for the photographer to tell him he could go home. Gotta love his fashion sense, though. That pink shirt/jean combo just takes my breath away.BIBLE GAME FOR THE ATARI
Oh boy, can't you just feel the excitement leap off the page here? Seriously, this has to be one of the most boring ads I have ever seen in my life. I mean, it's bad enough you're trying to promote a Biblical video game. But, can you at least make the kids look like they're not here against their will? First, you stick the kids in a place that looks like "The Room the 1970s Forgot". Then, you sit them down to play a video game that is supposed to be about Moses crossing the Red Sea, but judging by that image on the TV, I have no idea what's supposed to be going on in the game. Oh, and just to really make it a party, force them to listen to Dale Evans Rogers talk about the Bible on audio cassette. Because I'm sure kids know who she is. Heck, I didn't know who she was until I looked her up. (She was the wife of singing cowboy, Roy Rogers.)
And hey, doesn't it look like that boy is having a blast with that free coloring book? It looks like he's contemplating ways to escape being trapped in this drab, dull-looking room, while the two kids behind him are too confused trying to figure out why they're not having fun playing this video game. I mean, video games are supposed to be fun, right? Instead, they're stuck playing a bunch of blocks and pixels that is supposed to be Moses, but looks more like somebody just threw some random stuff in a cartridge, and said it was religious. You just really feel sorry for the kids in this ad. I wouldn't be surprised if that kid with the coloring book used his crayons to write a message for help, and that they were captive there.MORTAL KOMBAT
I have a feeling that this was the very first ad ever made for the game just when it was hitting arcades, and boy, is it ever gloriously stupid. I mean, you have Rayden and Kano coming out of the screen to kill two kids who walked up to the machine just to get their daily dose of video game violence! Honestly, given Kano's Fatality, it does look like he's about to rip that one kid's heart out of his chest. Obviously, this ad was made before the game became known for its violence, as I highly doubt Midway would have gotten away with promoting this game to kids (who look to be no older than 11) after it became a hit, and the target of every Senator who wanted to boost their reputation by riding on their message of "video games are evil".
But the weirdest part of this ad? That endorsement in the bottom left corner from the 1992 Olympic Games. I mean, what the heck is it doing there in the first place? What does it have to do with a video game about a bunch of martial artists ripping out the spines of their opponents? I mean, I don't remember a lot about the 92 Games, but I don't think they were held in Outworld. Maybe they were. Maybe Shang Tsung was on the Olympic committee that year. Now I wish I had paid more attention to that year's Games, because that would have been pretty dang awesome.WEIRD NINTENDO AD
In my last article, I wrote about how Nintendo just had some incredibly stupid ads in the 90s, as they were trying to shed their "kiddie" image, and be "extreme" and "cool". Well, here's yet another example. And this one just makes no sense whatsoever to me...
I mean, what audience are they even going for with this one? Obviously, the people who enjoy shoving wildlife down their pants. But is that really that large of a market? And is it a market that Nintendo really wanted to attract? And also, if Game Boy is supposed to be more fun than having a ferret in your trousers, then why is the kid in this ad doing both at the same time? Did the Game Boy just not grab his attention enough, so he decided to combine the two? Finally, if ferrets in your shorts really is a fetish for you, then you need much more than a Game Boy to help you. This ad tries to be funny, but it's really just confusing and wrong.SEGA 32X
I have the sinking feeling that this is the kind of ad that Nintendo was trying to emulate with the last one. Though why you would want to emulate this is beyond me. Sega had a reputation for "edgy" and funny advertising back in the 90s, which helped them stand out and attract an older audience than the ones who gravitated toward Nintendo. But this is just a bad idea all around. And even worse, this was used to advertise the 32X, a notorious failure that was designed to lengthen the life of the Sega Genesis, but probably ended up shortening it, since no one was dumb enough to fall for it.
The 32X was a device that plugged into your Genesis, and allowed it to play souped up games that were 32-bit, or at least close to it. In theory, it sounded great, but when you realize that there were hardly any games for it (let alone hardly any games that were worth playing), combined with the fact that Sega had an actual 32-bit console, the Saturn, on the way in less than a year, and you can see why this thing didn't exactly catch anyone's eye. I'm sure advertising like this probably didn't help, either. Maybe gamers just don't want to think that their game systems are somehow making love. Who'd have thought.STEVIE WONDER FOR ATARI
Okay, this ad is just bizarre. First of all, you have a blind celebrity endorsing a product that he can't possibly use. And then, the ad almost seems to be making fun of Stevie for not being able to see the incredible Atari 2600. "Even Stevie can fumble his way through a joystick", the ad tells us. This is supposed to emphasize how easy Atari products are to use, but it almost sounds more like the advertisers are pointing and laughing at him.
My favorite part of the ad is when they quote him saying, "My friends say the graphics are the best", followed immediately by him saying, "I don't know what that means". Poor Stevie. This has to be one of the weirdest celebrity endorsements ever. Although, I do sense a missed opportunity. I would have loved to have seen an ad with Stevie representing Atari and Ray Charles representing Coleco Vision, and have them argue over whose video game system that they can't see or use was better. TAITO GAMES
Wow, I really don't know what to say about this one. Let's just focus on that image for a second. Some kid is having his privates roasted by a roaring flame just from playing his awesome Taito video game. But what game could possibly be so badass that it could singe your nuts? Could it be The Flintstones? Possibly The Jetsons? We will never know. All we do know is that kid seems to be enjoying having his crotch blasted with fire just a little too much...
Or maybe I'm looking at this ad all wrong. Maybe the kid is trying to enjoy his Flintstones video game, but he is distracted by his urinary infection which makes it feel like he's shooting fire. You know, kind of like Tom Hanks' character in The Green Mile, before that kindly giant convict cured him with his magical powers. There's a lot of ways you could interpret this ad. But, however you do, it's just kind of stupid.UM...STD???
Hey, boys and girls, want an STD for your Game Boy or Game Gear? Okay, maybe those initials meant something else back when this ad came out, but it's impossible not to think of something else now. This STD product was supposed to enhance the image on your portable game device, and other useful features, like a joystick for better control. But, I'm sorry, once you see the company name, you can't take your eyes off of it.
And that's a real shame, because you miss out on that stupid look on the guy's face. You have to wonder if his face always looks like that. And honestly, if that woman he's hugging can't tell that he's playing a Game Boy behind her back, she deserves to be with a guy who looks like that all the time. This ad was probably pretty lame even back then, but today, it's just hilarious for all the wrong reasons. ACCLAIM WIRELESS CONTROLLER
What we have here is an epic tale of how one little boy (we'll call him Jimmy) never had to play with a wired controller ever again. At the start of our tale, we see little Jimmy has somehow gotten himself tangled up in his NES controller while playing his game. I can only imagine how this happened, but we just have to assume that Jimmy is a certified moron. Somehow, God happened to see Jimmy's struggle, and sent a lightning bolt down from the heavens, which just so happened to strike the kid right in the nuts. But Jimmy didn't care about the pain, because he now had the Acclaim Wireless Controller for his Nintendo!
Now that Jimmy was free from those restrictive controller wires, he was unstoppable! He could fight wrestlers, fly in helicopters based on cheesy early 80s TV shows that had gone off the air long before the video game based on the show had come out, and battle what I think is a plant monster. With no more wires, Jimmy was free to play his games however he wanted. Hopefully he also played some good games, since all the games represented here were from Acclaim, one of the notorious companies from back in the day for releasing licensed schlock games. The ad at the end promises "to be continued", but I don't think we ever got to see Jimmy's further adventures. I'm sure he lost a lot of friends when he tried to tell everyone how he got his amazing, mystical controller. If I was struck by a lightning bolt to the privates, I would probably try to keep it a secret, too.KOOL-AID MAN VIDEO GAME
Did you know that there was once a Kool-Aid Man video game? I assume this happened right around the big home video game crash of 1983, when anyone who had even the most basic of programming knowledge could put a game out there and sell it. This was the time when there were so many systems out there and so many games (due to the fact that there was no quality control, and anyone could release a title if they wanted) that gamers just gave up on the whole thing. I have no idea what this game was about, but I assume it concerned the smashing of many walls, and the screaming of "Oh yeah!".
And look, all you needed was 125 proof of purchase points to get the game for free. This meant you probably had to drink your weight in Kool-Aid to get those points. I probably would have accepted this challenge had I known about it as a kid, as I remember drinking a lot of Kool-Aid (as well as Hi-C) when I was very young, as fizzy sodas were not my thing. Still, drinking so much Kool-Aid in order to earn 125 points probably would have turned my urine the color of the stuff, so it's probably a good thing I didn't try. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the game was probably pretty crappy in the first place, so I don't think I missed much.EARTHBOUND AD
Today, Earthbound for the Super Nintendo is considered one of the all-time gems for the system. Even though you can find the game on Nintendo's Virtual Console, the original cartridge still goes for hefty prices on line. (I paid $200 for mine.) With its quirky humor, unique story, and diverse soundtrack, the game stands out from a lot of other RPGs for the system. And while I do consider it somewhat overrated in some regards, there's no denying that it's a quality experience in just about every way. And yet, back when it came out in the Summer of 95, the game bombed...hard. So much so that for a while, you could see the game in clearance bins less than a year after it came out, selling for $20 or less.
Why did it bomb? Well, there are a lot of theories out there (the game was more expensive than your average SNES cart, due to the fact it included a full sized strategy guide), but for me, one only needs to look at the ad campaign. I mean, just look at this. A huge cloud of fart gas right there in the middle, drawing the viewer's attention, with the words "this game stinks" in huge letters. I also remember other ads that had scratch 'n sniff stickers of the different monsters that not only were putrid, but managed to stink up the entire magazine they were included in. I mean, right off the bat, the ad says that Earthbound is "the first role playing game with B.O." Boy, doesn't that sound appealing? Again, this was during the time when Nintendo was trying to be "hip" and edgy, but usually just came off as being crass and dumb. If this game tanked in its initial release, Nintendo has no one to blame but themselves.STAR WARS "CRAZY DOCTOR" AD
I get what this ad is trying to do - It's trying to show how regular people can live out their fantasies through video games, including being a Jedi Master. It's a noble concept, sure, but this ad just scares me, and I know exactly what it is. The guy holding the Light Sabre doesn't so much look like a Jedi, as he does a homicidal maniac who just happens to be into Star Wars. I mean, yikes! I don't care if he's a professional by day, I would not let this guy anywhere near me if I knew this is the kind of face he made after hours.
And doesn't he seem to be holding that Light Sabre just a little too close to his own face? I wouldn't be surprised if he accidentally sliced his own ear off, or part of his cheek. Given the expression the guy is giving, if this did happen, he'd probably laugh like a crazed monkey, before he ripped out your innards, and then used your own flesh to fill in the pieces of his face that he accidentally sliced off. When he's not playing Star Wars video games in his free time, he's probably keeping his victims locked in a freezer in his basement. Just creepy.UM...UNIQUE GAME GEAR AD
We end this strange journey with what is easily an ad that seems to be going for a certain audience, and I don't think it's the kind who were drawn to the Sega Game Gear. This ad for Sega's portable system originated in the U.K., so we lucky Yanks didn't have to open up our video game magazines and see it, thank goodness. There's just something so scuzzy about this ad, and it's not just what it's implying. The low rent artwork looks like it was taken from a trashy magazine, which makes it all the more filthy.
And then there is the text. It claims that you can "play with yourself" for hours on end. Yeah!...But, only if you have a lifetime supply of batteries on hand, since the Game Gear was notorious for draining batteries in roughly an hour and a half. While the Game Boy may have been low tech in comparison, the reason it succeeded was because you could get a lot of play out of the thing on much fewer batteries. I also like how they tried to make this even dirtier, by emphasizing the word "COMING" in "Coming soon". I don't know, maybe 13-year-old boys at the time found this a riot. But, I don't think it sold many Game Gears. Can you imagine a kid showing this ad to their parents, saying, "I want this for Christmas!"?
And with that, we wrap up our nostalgic look into the not-so proud world of video game advertising. I hope you had fun, and got a few laughs. As for me, I never realized how much companies relied on getting hit in the privates in order to sell video games back then. That, combined with the rampant sexual innuendo and toilet humor, really makes me take a pause. Lots of nostalgic-minded people seem to see the 80s and 90s as a more innocent time, but you really have to wonder sometimes.
Anyway, I will see you all next time, and keep the past alive!