Let’s face it. With the advent of video reviews and live streaming gameplay online, it’s been years since any publisher has truly relied on a TV advertisement campaign to sell their game. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that for decades there was no better way to sell your game to kids than with a totally rad 30 second TV commercial or magazine ad. Fortunately for punks like us who get a kick out of critiquing things that were never meant to be taken seriously, a handful of those game ads are so mind blowingly strange that we had no choice but to compile a list to laugh and scoff at until we all feel a wee bit better about ourselves.
Honorable Mention to…
The Legend of Zelda Rap (Circa 1987)
This is one of those commercials that just screams, “I was written by an adult.” The late 80’s NES ad only seems to create more questions than it does answers. What level of Zelda ever featured a hip-hop soundtrack? Am I supposed to be offended by that nerdy kid stereotype? Will I ever be as cool as that Young James Dean latching onto a Nintendo Power like it’s his first Playboy? Strangely enough, this wasn’t the only time a Zelda commercial has featured a rap song. Let’s just hope that Zelda Wii U “breaks from Zelda tradition” in more ways than just gameplay.
5) The Time Kirby Spent All Day With a Six-Foot Tall Penis (Circa 2005)
Now in its seventh iteration, it’s hard to believe that there was ever a time that the Nintendo DS needed a marketing push to help consumers understand the revolutionary handheld. And yet, there Nintendo was in 2005 looking to demonstrate their new style of gaming to the world – and what better way than by filming Kirby walk around town accompanied by a giant penis.
Alright, alright, I know it’s actually supposed to be an index finger, demonstrating the new touch controls on Kirby: Canvas Curse, but the undeniable phallic resemblance combined with the slogan, “touching is good” make for an uncomfortable thirty seconds with everyone’s favourite pink puff.
4) Nothing Screams “Luigi’s Mansion” Like a Gothic Woman in Poor Lighting (Circa 2001)
A logical commercial tends to show footage of a game, maybe even cut together with a few shots of a target demographic enjoying that game and looking great doing it (see Legend of Zelda rap above). A contemporary Nintendo commercial tends to do none of those things, instead opting to show nothing remotely close to the game content – in this case a Joe Everyman creepily sliding towards a Gothic chick – coupled with an edgy and surprising twist: the Goth woman that caught our hero’s eye? She was actually a Nintendo GameCube all along…Because that just…Surprise!
3) Fifty Shades of Game (Circa 1996)
If we’ve learned anything from the previous two entries it’s that video game marketers can be downright freaky. In this magazine ad out of the United Kingdom, our gamer in question averts his eyes from the woman scarf-tied to his bed in favour of the far more stimulating Game Boy Pocket. I can’t help but wonder why they had to go and make the sense of consent totally ambiguous by having her tied up rather than freely relaxing until her valiant gamer is ready. At this point, I can’t help but notice the ads are getting more bizarre the further we continue backwards in time.
Also, why is the kid playing that Game Boy four times the size of a normal human being? Seriously, look at those hands.
2) Welcome to the Next Level…of Nightmare (Circa 1992)
By 1992, Sega was finally starting to make a dent in the Goliath of a company, Nintendo, who since 1985 owned 90% of the gaming market. Flashy graphics and a cool-dude hedgehog piloting the Sega Genesis got the company some recognition, but Sega would need an extra kick if they wanted to press continue on their fifteen minutes of fame. That extra kick would inevitably come from the 1992 release of Sonic 2 coupled with one of the most nightmare inducing advertising campaigns of the ’90s.
In the ad, viewers are strung along through a hallucinogenic journey set to the soundtrack of a single man’s bloodcurdling screams. To top things off, just when you think the madness has ended, a second man appears and yells “SEGA!” into the viewers ears. It was fast, edgy, and unpredictable. And I guess in that way, it really was everything Sega sought to personify in the early ’90s.
1) Zelda? Zelda!? Zelda!!!! (Circa 1987)
I can’t state this enough: The Legend of Zelda has some weird commercials. In fact, one could probably make an entire list simply counting down the most absurd Zelda ads, they’re all so strange. If it wasn’t clear from the Zelda Rap that earned the “honourable mention” spot above, the second commercial spot for the original NES adventure confirms that game marketers in the late ’80s were all out of their minds.
In this 30 second TV spot, we have the distinct pleasure of watching an innocent man have a mental breakdown on camera. Throughout, the gentleman exclaims the names of now-iconic Zelda monster types (keyword being “now”) in increasingly zany voices. Because, you know, nothing sells a game better than shouting things that nobody can understand, since this was literally the first game in the series. It’s a downright baffling advertisement, and for that I’ll always love it.
Have any other commercials you think deserve recognition or disagree with the order of anything on this article? Vote for what you think is the weirdest ad or post a link to your favourite in the comments!