Monday, August 26, 2019

Weird Videogame Ads

Growing up on Nintendo Power, I greatly preferred it to the other gaming magazines on the rack, which were little more than gaming advertisements with occasional gaming screenshots included.  If you were lucky, you might even get more than one page of in-depth coverage of your favorite games with playthroughs included!  But that didn't stop me from browsing through their contents.
An amusing letter from GamePro #65.
Upon flipping through any of the multiple gaming magazines in their heyday in the 90s, you were likely to run across the same advertisements for terrible games multiple times, in a desperate bid to get customer attention.  Some of the more unscrupulous companies would try to show as little of the game itself, figuring the cover art would be a better selling point.

While most of these ads were fairly unforgettable, it's the ones that stuck in my mind for years that kept a foothold, long after the games were sold.  I was surprised to see that there weren't many online archives of specific memorable gaming ads.  At least, nothing I was looking for.  So, with the help of some online sources, I was able to blaze my way through a few years of several sources, and pick out the ones that stood out.

For example, ads for a franchise tends to be similar across gaming consoles.  But in a rare instance, there were two different ads for Wanderers From Ys III - in the same magazine even!  One from Genesis, one from the Snes.

I only intended to pick and choose a few samples, but the more I looked, the more I found some individual ads that were just utterly... weird.

Back before emulators were a thing, you could get a whole collection of Atari games on CD-ROM.  This was clearly aiming for the aging gaming market, back when there was such a thing.

Pipe Dream is a puzzle game involving putting pipes together, but this ad makes it look like you're traversing a plumber's nightmare, making the 7th level in Super Mario Bros. 3 seem tame in comparison.

It wouldn't be a gaming magazine if it didn't include ripping off gameshows.

Then there were ads that had nothing to do with games.  Take these ads of Blockbuster Video, back when movies and video games could be rented out for a day or two at reasonable prices, far below the original.  You didn't have to worry about keeping them - you just had to worry about finishing them before the deadline and returning it on time, lest you pay a fine.  And you had to be choosy in your choice to guarantee a good time.

That's pretty basic in itself.  But look at how they sold themselves!

Is this supposed to be appealing?  I suppose when you've got a monopoly on renting, you don't have to worry about the competition.

One thing that annoyed me about some ads was that it was sometimes difficult to tell the name of what was being sold.  Titles with font that made reading nearly impossible.

VT Boy?  AJ Boy?  If you can't figure out the first letter, how can you ask for it?
ElRienlo?  No, it's El Viento.  Cursive font is a curse.

The Misadventures of Hioh?  No, it’s The Misadventures of Flink.

VAP?  No, it’s VAY.

You can't see the title properly from here, so here's a closer look:

...yeah, that doesn't really help much.  Gvnres?  No, it's Gaiares.  You could hardly make it out from a lopsided angle and a distance.  How were you supposed to figure that out?

One of the strangest tactics some of these ads would take would be to tell you just how much time you could be expected to spend on a game.  Saying a typical Adventure game or RPG would take 60 hours isn't anything unusual, but these ads took that play value to absurd lengths.  One example I want to point out is this rather generic poster from StormLord.

In particular, I want to close up on this section here:

Games are lambasted for being notorious timesinks, but that time spent should be worth it.  It’s one thing to spend time tracking down a valuable treasure in a dangerous puzzle dungeon.  It’s another to be travelling a hostile overworld with no hints of what to do or where to go next.

This Equinox game takes this player so long to finish that he dies before doing so.  Most online archives have the above image, but they miss the follow-up tucked away in a corner on the next page:

Another example of reducing the player to a mere skeleton comes from Phantasy Star III.
 Here's the enlarged font of the relevant text:

Oh, and just for good sake, here's a close-up of the Concerned Sega Mom of Humans Against Genesis (HAG) who, surprisingly enough, didn't show up on very many gaming ads.

Oh, and if taking a whole lifetime to complete a game isn't long enough, how about taking multiple generations?

When it comes to taking your sweet sweet time, you'd be hard-pressed to find another that tops this one:

An underappreciated art of magazine ads was how they would continue across the pages on a regular basis.  When done badly, it disrupts the flow and is immensely distracting.  When done properly, it's worth coming back to over and over again.

Yes, it repeats the Power Glove ad above, but unless you were aware of it, you didn't make the connection until now.

Another feature was that a continuous theme would show across several pages:

Actually, this last image showed up first, all by itself.  The individual installments you saw came later.  What actually showed up was this:

No, that's just an advertisement for a shirt.  I only include it because it has "Shafted", which was cut off above.  The actual last installment is this:
...yyyyeah, that's not as memorable as what came before.  When you have those elements, you need a strong finish.

For some ads, space was a a requirement, and if taking up a whole page was too much, then a compromise could be reached.  The upper half could have game previews, and the bottom half was fair game.  This resulted in double-page half-ads, effectively spreading out a double-side page spread.

Nowhere was this used more effectively than the first print Sonic ad:
I never really understood why they used a proclamation point instead of a question mark at the end there.  Must be something similar to the Hollywood belief that movies with "?"s in them don't do very well.  (Who Framed Roger Rabbit f'rinstance)

These aren't sequential artwork, but these Earthworm Jim ads showed up at random intervals, and I've taken the liberty of collecting them all in one convenient place for easy viewing.

And now, I've saved the best for last.  In a show of sheer chutzpah, a magazine showed at random intervals in its issue, three separate full-pager of some guy named Fritz, with absolutely no context.  He didn't appear in any of the previews, or animated movies in the magazine.
Then, after forgetting about it for a month or so, the same guy showed up again, with no further explanation.  And not all of them were the same.  Some of these came from different magazines, and I had a heck of a time tracking these down.  Incidentally, a similar early ad was repeated, with different artwork, and different swear symbols.  Kicking blocks somehow seemed preferable than stealing ice cream from a baby.
It wasn't until his later appearances that the title Brain Dead 13 started showing up, but that didn't really explain much.  At least we now had a name to go with the guy.  There were plenty of gross heroes, and anti-heroes with cool extreme outbursts, which didn't make it that far out there that this guy was the protagonist of something.
So it came as a bit of a surprise to find out that this Fritz guy who'd been in the spotlight all this time was actually the henchman to a brain in a jar in a non-prompted animated game along the likes of Dragon's Lair.
It was a brutal advertising campaign, subtly hyped up early on, but I just wish it had been applied to a better game.  Compare the character designs between Fritz and the hero, Lance.  Which one stands out more?
The generic teenager, or the hunchbacked midget with hooks for hands and transferable weapons?  Why couldn't Fritz be the main character?  Just have a Metrovania player with rotating tools you find and swap them out when the situation applies.  Link does this all the time!
These are most of the gaming memories I was able to find, but not all of them.  What I most hoped to find was a few pages in Total 64, a U.K. publication that had a limited release.  It was printed at a bigger size than most magazines, which could make scanning understandably difficult.  In the back were amusing three-panel sprite comics, and the first issue had a very funny commentary on the fight against Bowser that I can't for the life of me remember.
What I do recall was a Mortal Kombat comic titled "Too many Ninjas" where the numerous Scorpion / Sub-Zero clones started gathering up more and more, with Reptile, Smoke, Ermac and Noob Saibot showing up in the 2nd panel, until the last screen had multiple recoloured clones, some of who I suspect probably became actual playable characters later on.

The second comic was titled "The Longest Game Ever".  I can't recall the exact dialogue, but it went something like this:

"How do I get to the Castle?"

To get to the Castle, you need a letter.  The letter is hidden behind the Forbidden Bookshelf, found via a Secret Passage, accessible only at night.  A soldier can be bribed with WildShade found only in the Meadow Field. He'll give you the Blue Castle Key.  Once you have the Blue Pass, the guard will ask for the Red Pass."

"Uh, never mind.  Where's the Bathroom?"

"To go to the Bathroom, you need the Bathroom Key.  The Bathroom Key is held in a cave in the Dismal Swamps behind the Forbidden Woods.  It is guarded by a ferocious monster who is weak against Magnesium, only found in the..."