6 Baffling Old-School Video Game Commercials
In the 80s, video games were still new to the public and the game companies were still trying to figure out how to ease us into the technology. From their early ads, it appears they decided the best way was via batshit insanity.
Nintendo Australia/New Zealand Ad
When Nintendo brought the NES to the US they rolled out about the most run of the mill ad ever: just a kid, the games and an announcer announcing how awesome it all was.
But when it came time to bring the NES to Austrailia and New Zealand, they unleashed an ad that crawls inside your head and kicks your brain in the balls.
After a great deal of market research, apparently all Nintendo came up with was "Well, those Australians seem to drink a lot and are boastful by nature, so let's threaten their well-being and take shots at their self-esteem." Their plot to make you feel horribly inadequate is carried out by some of Nintendo's classic villains, like Poor-Man's Max Headroom in a Dress Shirt and of course, That Dog from Duck Hunt.
Welcome to the end.
Wait, what? The fucking dog from Duck Hunt? Was he really even a villain? He's got a creepy voice, sure, but he's a mild nuisance at worst and a jackass at best.
"Ha ha! You'll never satisfy a woman!"
Our blocky league of evil goes on to tell us that they are Knee-Ten-Do, which we can only assume is an elite terrorist organization of some sort. The only kids they show playing games are doing so in an empty dark room, as though they've been abducted and forced to play games, constantly being reminded that their opponents are invincible (even if they have zapper and robot companion). However, given that the zapper doesn't actually cast bolts of lightning and the only thing the robot does well is spin tops, we'll go ahead and agree that we cannot beat you.
As the commercial draws to a close, we do manage to encounter an actual villain in Bowser, King of the Koopas, who makes the ad's worst transition from blocky thing on screen to three dimensional blocky thing on screen.
The whole thing ends with the Legion of Doom challenging all players and, again, letting you know they are unbeatable, and that they'll be turning up in your nightmares later. Yeah, we'll head right to the store and give you fuckers $250.
Dr. Mario (Gameboy and NES)
After his initial success as a plumber/adventurer, Mario started to pick up various other occupations, presumably because super mushrooms show up on drug tests and get you fired pretty quickly.
During his ongoing adventures of unemployment he became a doctor, which is actually pretty disgusting when you remember his day job is unclogging your toilet. To advertise the release of the Dr. Mario puzzle game on the Game Boy, Nintedo ran this ad in the states:
The young antagonist, Johny Greenshirt, has a problem. He's made it readily apparent that he has a problem because he informs us he told the witch doctor something and, in exchange, got some advice. He never really elaborates on the what his problem is, so we'll take the high road and assume it's herpes.
Rather than going to a clinic like a rational human being, this teenager makes his way across the very heart of Africa to get the sage medical opinion of this guy:
Nintendo Presents "Super Stereotypes."
The witch doctor tells Johny Greenshirt the cure to his herpes is to play Dr. Mario. When you take into consideration that over the course of this trip Greenshirt's probably contracted malaria, this is a really shitty prescription. But our hero isn't a medical genius and gleefully accepts. Fortunately for him the witch doctor has two copies of Dr. Mario, two Game Boys, eight AA batteries and a link cable so he won't have to head back home with his shameful disease.
The two have it out and the witch doctor loses, so we assume Greenshirt is cured. The witch doctor loses his cool and casts some sort of Voodoo spell in a scene that contains what is quite possibly the creepiest Mario animation of all time.
The whole thing ends with Greenshirt's head being shrunk. Whatever his problem was, he would have been better off with it and a normal sized head.
You know... we're thinking for once we wound up with an ad more fucked up than the Japanese version. Though it's close.
Berzerk (Atari 2600)
The commercial begins with a young gamer challenging his grandmother to a game of Berzerk, presumably because he wants her to her to have a heart attack, as two players did back in the day. Maybe he found out he was in her will.
Either she hadn't heard the news stories or she had balls of steel because she accepts the challenge and is soon power-walking to the video arcade. When her grandson informs her that Atari has made it possible to play the game at home, her senile mind is blown.
"Atari? Holy fuck!"
What follows is quite possibly the most upbeat jingle about forced entrapment in an electric maze and robot-slaying ever penned. From the obligatory screen shots we see that granny is actually quite good at fighting off her oppressive metal overlords. Too good, in fact.
"Back in my day, robots were a threat to our nation's sovereignty!"
As she blasts a robot she throws out the line: "Take that, turkey!" which would imply either that the quality of your zingers go down as you age, or she grew up on the world's most terrifying turkey farm.
But all good things must come to an end. As she hands it off to the youngster, we're treated to what is either a serious stink eye, or the world's most inexplicable decision to go in for a kiss:
We'll go ahead and assume this is her version of a death-stare. We never would have guessed she was so defensive in the beginning, but the look on that kid's face is some kind of mixture of pants-wetting fear and brain damage, mostly likely the result of the pummeling he received for topping her Ms. Pac-Man record.
Pole Position (Atari)
Right from the get-go, this Pole Position advertisement sets us up to despise everyone involved.
Meet the Douchebag Family: mother, father, sister and brother.
Immediately the narrator calls them out on their bullshit with "Heeeeeey! You look like a real jerk." Normally such an accusation would in and of itself be considered pretty rude, but low-and-behold Papa Douchebag pretty much confirms that yes, he is a jerk.
"Well I am a corporate executive," he chimes. "He stops exciting things from happening!" explains his wife, helpfully. They further explain to the kind-of-an-asshole narrator that they're on their Sunday drive. For some reason this is the last straw, as he reaches down from the heavens, revealing himself to be God, and replies with a kindly worded "Fuck you, you're playing Pole Position today."
Keep holy the Sabbath.
The Heavenly Father violently shakes the vehicle, cuing an awesome 80s power rock song. The family plummets to what we are led to believe is their doom. Disappointing everyone, instead of meeting the pavement in free fall and ending the scene with 60 seconds of a silent black screen, they land in formula racing cars.
We don't know too much about the family's back-story, but it's safe to assume that they don't have the training for this sort of thing and, yeah, that's actually pretty dangerous. The mother in particular seems to know that she'll soon be exchanging driving safety tips with Dale Earnhardt.
Either she's driving through time or you're tripping balls.
The remaining time is spent systematically injuring every single member of the family with reckless driving and Michael Bay-esque explosions. A questionable way to make a sales pitch but, to be fair, God was most likely never concerned about them buying the game so much as he was just being wrathful. Our scene closes with the family coming back together, fused with the wreckage of their cars.
The message to all this: If you're going to have a successful career you and your family should probably learn to drive a race car. You know, just in case.
The ad for Centipede manages to look like a normal video game commercial for about two seconds, during which we actually see a guy playing the game. Then, all hell breaks loose:
A gamer is pulled into his television by what appears to be a centipede's arm, mostly due to his questionable evasive maneuver of screaming in terror while giving it a high five.
This leads to the greatest spinning newspaper shot in the history of film:
Freak the hell out, people.
Naturally, centipedes pulling people through their television is front page news, but notice the second headline: "Budget Cuts." We won't argue with the Editors at the Daily Globe but what kind of budget cut is so important that it can bump the remaining story about killer centipedes to page B3? Unless the subtitle to "Budget Cuts" is "People in Half" then it could probably be saved for business section.
The ad is mostly black and white stock footage and, for some reason, the scientific name and classification of centipedes. We do, however, get some original material and it's as golden as it is terrifying.
First, we have a scene where the monster enters a back alley and encounters a homeless man.
If the camera angle is any indication, this centipede has the height of two hobos.
We're treated to more unrelated stock footage before the beast finally reveals himself, and to be honest, we're a bit underwhelmed.
Somehow he's gone from stalking alleyways to dominating rooftops over the course of nine seconds. Soon enough we're treated to yet another newspaper spin:
We're assuming the centipede killed the budget cuts.
From here the story takes a dramatic turn: The goddamn military is fighting this thing. Everything from air raids to battleships are involved and no one can actually manage to hit the bastard. We're not going to question the prowess of our men in uniform, but you should be able to at least graze the thousand-hobo-tall centipede with your various explosives.
Over the course of the conflict, the centipede also manages to sneak into someone's home (we guess he shrank again) and leave a copy of the game on their Atari, much to the embarrassment of the marines.
Our ad comes to a close with the fellow from the beginning returning to his living room, now trans-mutated into some kind of manipede (or centiman, if that's how you'd like to put it).
A narrator gives us the tag line "Centipede from Atari. It could change your life." The words ring true as our hero, finding he's no longer the man he was, cries out for an exterminator. That's right, Centipede could lead you to seek assisted suicide.
The Legend of Zelda
So, you're selling a revolutionary fantasy game with a timeless story. Clearly it's time to break out the 80s rap song:
Not only does this commercial succeed in blazing the trail for nerdcore rapping many years later, but over the course of twenty-nine very awkward seconds we get an almost sufficient plot synopsis ("Those creatures from Gannon are pretty bad?" Clearly this Gannon fellow is the antagonist!) set to a rhythm that can only be described as "rad ass."
Not only is the game so awesome that it can inspire an off-the-cuff and perfectly rhyming rap song, but is also manages to distract Johnny Rebel from pummeling the irritating geek next to him who, for reasons unknown, dresses in a button-down collared shirt to play Nintendo.
He's got street cred.
The folks at Nintendo had a meeting after this and discussed the fact that the original ad wasn't nearly fucked up enough. They had their ad team go off their meds for a couple of months, and they cranked out this:
Has there ever been a more stark portrayal of the ruin that awaits the frail human psyche? This poor soul wanders aimlessly in the dark, cowering in fear of imaginary monsters, searching the obviously empty room for his fabled princess.
A rational reaction to finding an Octorock.
This guy's mind has been blown so fiercely that even gravity no longer applies in his nightmarish, Tektite-plagued reality.
Where's your princess now?!
And once more, as we imagine this poor, broken man weeping and writing on the walls of his room in his own feces, we feel the distinct impulse to buy a video game console. That's the power of marketing , people!
This man is satisfied customer! You buy now!
When not challenging your grandmother to a game of Berzerk, Ben Dennison can be found writing for thedeadbeat.org
For more inexplicable decision-making from the gaming world, check outThe 6 Most Politically Incorrect Video Game Moments. Or have a look at The 10 Least Subtle Product Placements in Video Game History.
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