Over the past thirty-five years, I’ve seen a lot of television, and by extension, a lot of television ads. Since I was an avid gamer since I was a tot in 1975, the videogame ads stood out to me. Well, those and the perfume ads, which were and still are as close as I will ever get to getting high on LSD – one ad in particular hypnotized me as a college student every time it came on. It was like a snake mesmerizing a bird. I simply stopped everything I was doing and just stared at it.
Getting back to videogame ads, I’ve seen a lot of them. I’ve seen good, and I’ve seen bad, and I’ve decided to make a “Top 10″ list of the best and the worst videogame ads. There are some restrictions, of course – these actually have to have appeared on TV. While that might be easy for games and systems released before the internet exploded, the recent ones have to have actually aired on TV.
That said, it’s time to get on the suck train as we look at the Ten Worst Videogame Television Ads. The Ten Best will come tomorrow. Keep in mind, these are not the worst games or systems, just advertisements. So, if I pick a game or system you really love, don’t think I’m attacking the system – just the deranged marketing heads who thought these were a good idea. Also, this is by no means a comprehensive list. If there’s an ad that was just terrible that we missed, let us know.
10. The Wizard
Okay, already I’m bending the rules, but in this case, I have to. The Wizard was a gigantic commercial for Nintendo products, and possibly one of the most shameless product placement ads ever. Now, when I was 19, just the existence of the trailer on television was enough to make me hire a hitman to shoot Shigeru Miyamoto on the toilet. Lucas was so smug about his piece of shit Power Glove I wanted to beat him down. Not because he was a villain or anything, but I just hated some hair-feathered dweeb promoting a garbage peripheral. He made Joe Isuzu look like Curt Gowdy. Keep in mind, this was before I fell in love with Mystery Science Theater 3000, when my tolerance for stupid went from anger to giggling mockery. But anytime some late 20′s/early 30′s guy burbles on with fond nostalgia because they saw this movie before they had pubic hair, my urge to slap them repeatedly does rise.
That’s it for exceptions.
9. Resident Evil 4 (GameCube)
Another exception here. While this did air on television, it aired on French television, but it was quickly leaked here in the United States. Why? It was a mother suckling her newborn, something that would never be able to make it here. Now, some may think it’s cool and daring, but I thought and think it’s idiotic. Does this really make you want to buy Resident Evil 4? Seriously? No. I know this ad will make people argue with me about “art” and how it’s “expressionistic”. Spare me the Art History 101 terms, college boy – it’s just stupid.
8. 3DO (Evolution Is Hard)
This ad was so smug and sure of itself, it seemed almost blind to the fact no one was buying its games. 200 games, and probably half of them were full-motion video garbage, while the other half were games with low frame-rates and blocky graphics. This ad was late in its life, so there is a stench of desperateness in this ad, which avoided mentioning how expensive the thing was.
Yes, “Evolution Is Hard”, but not as hard as anyone wanted to buy the thing.
7. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES)
A lot of people didn’t like the game when it first came out, but honestly, there’s nothing wrong with Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. For one, at least Link gets his name in the damned title. It’s always about Zelda, Zelda, Zelda, but she has no right to even be named since it’s never really about her.
You have to wonder, however, if this television ad was the main cause people didn’t like Zelda II. I mean, look at it. Link is a total spaz in it, and his voice makes him some like he wants to wear cut-off jeans and march in the next Pride parade. Even if you’re a Zelda fanatic, does this make you want to buy the game, or just stuff the actor playing Link into a trash compactor?
6. PlayStation Portable (Dude Get Your Own)
You’re going to find there is a running theme in this article, and that theme is pondering what made the marketing folks think this would make you want to buy what they were selling, and of all the ads in this article, this commercial series selling the PlayStation Portable were the most irritating of all. It didn’t make me want to buy a PSP – all it did was make me want to NOT buy one so some moron didn’t invade my personal space and breathe on me, as he did in every ad. One had him sitting outside the guy’s bathroom stall so it makes me wonder if he wanted something else that had nothing to do with a handheld portable. (I had the same problem with the McNuggets rap ad, though I do wish they’d kept running the ad so I could cut down on junk food.)
I must admit, had they run an ad in which the guy punched him dead in the face then kicked him in the balls, it might have made me want to buy a PSP. Seriously.
5. Atari Jaguar (Do the Math)
This ad doomed an entire console series. The Jaguar told people to “do the math”, telling everyone that it had 64-bit processing power and everyone else had 16. The problem was… well, Atari rushed to get it out the door for whatever reason and didn’t send out devkits to developers in time, so games ended up being made based on the 16-bit controller architecture. That’s right – games were made for the console’s controller. It wasn’t til homebrew games were made for the system that it actually had software that showed off what it could do. But Atari was stupid enough to release the console too early, and Nintendo was smart enough to mock the “Do the Math” ad by showing how the SNES could do what the Jag could do, only cheaper… and you already owned one, probably.
Incidentally, a lot of bad videogame ads in the mid-90′s had screaming adults acting like they had some sort of neurological disease, which brings us to the next ad…
4. Shaq Fu (SNES, Genesis)
Do I even need to explain why this ad is so bad? Well, for starters the game itself was a miserable piece of crap that even dung beetles thought was too disgusting to get near. But that isn’t the real sickness that infests the game.
The fact is this game was invented by marketing departments. Someone said let’s make a videogame for a rising Orlando Magic NBA superstar, and – God help us – they probably had Shaquille O’Neal’s input, too. Yeah, “Shaq Fu”. Someone put a bullet in my brain. O’Neal probably asked them to have one level in which he was buck naked and slapped female enemies with his penis. Getting beyond the stinkiness of the game in both concept and actuality, the commercial itself was terrifically bad, too. Who was that white-haired guy, and why did he have violent Tourette’s Syndrome every few seconds. Did he have a spastic colon? Was he off his meds?
At least anytime I think Shaquille is too smug for his own good, at least I can think of this game, his failed rap career and Kazaam, and know he’ll forever be remembered for that and not as an NBA player.
3. PlayStation 3 (This Is Living)
In the late 2000′s, the marketing team Sony hired to do their ad campaigns were either recommended by a perfume company, high on drugs, or trying to pull off some weird Springtime For Hitler scam on Sony. Their commercials dared you to want to buy a PlayStation 3. Actually, it wasn’t always clear it was an ad for a PS3 in them, until the final tag that said “Play B3yond”, and even then, Joe Consumer might think it was maybe a long distance phone commercial or a fake movie trailer by MadTV.
Even then, what was this ad trying to sell? Were they seriously equating the PlayStation 3 with a model in her underwear sitting on a toilet? Part of the reason the PS3 stumbled so badly out of the gate was the $599 price tag, the embarrassing E3 2006 conference, and these ads. These ads didn’t just insult you with ego and smugness, they attacked your very soul.
2. Power Pad (NES)
You know, Americans were smarter in the late 80′s and early 90′s, and the evidence of that is that the dumb peripherals Nintendo foisted on us twenty years ago failed, and yet they are popular these days. How to explain how the Power Pad was avoided like the bathroom after Grandpa’s been taking a dump for thirty minutes back in 1988, but in 2007, people went nuts over the Wii Balance Board.
This ad sold the Power Pad as “The Most Challenging Nintendo System EVER!”, and boy, did it suck, and thankfully, the ad makes it painfully clear. Are you really going to job in place to make a race car go? Please. Next thing you know, someone will make a peripheral that just has you making body movements to control a game… On the other hand, give Konami credit – they did find the perfect use for such a peripheral in the arcades.
1. PlayStation 3 (Crying Baby)
Did I mention how out of touch the PR agency Sony hired to do its ads were in the late 2000′s? This probably epitomized just how badly Sony screwed up marketing the PlayStation 3 – well, that and the aforementioned $599 price tag.
This was the commercial that was just embarrassing, and being forced to watch this every 10 minutes on television just made people avoid ESPN for a long, long time. What was it advertising? The next-gen doll that would have momentary bouts of insanity? There was nothing about the PS3 in the ad, save the teeny-tiny visuals of Resistance: Fall of Man that you could barely see in the doll’s eyes for a split second. Who knows why the ad agency decided that showing actual Resistance gameplay would be a detriment to selling the PS3. Nah, let’s just have the baby have an epileptic attack of emotion as it calls out “Mama” for the PS3, floating there like a 2001 monolith. No one would be creeped out by that, right?
Sony would do better in 2009, but that would be cutting into the next part of this feature, the Ten Best Television Videogame Ads. So stay tuned and see if Sony actually learned from its mistakes, and other ads that just make you say, “Hell ya, I want to play that!”
Jonah Falcon is a blogger for TMRzoo and GameStooge.com and covers all gaming consoles and platforms including Sony Playstation 3, Microsoft XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and computer games designed for Mac OS, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. Jonah provides his readers with reviews, previews and up to date gaming industry news and rumors.