Video Game Mascots were really big in the early life of gaming. Mario is the Poster Boy for Nintendo like Mickey Mouse is for Disney. It seemed like every company had to have a mascot in the 80′s and 90′s but today, they seem to be lost.
Mario has been the most successful of all. His games were simple, yet challenging. The way he could power up and grow, adding an extra chance when attacked. The ability to shoot fireballs. Secrets and warps, and excellent character designs made his games stand out from all other games of its time. Any music, or sound effect is instantly recognizable. He’s the most popular video game character of all time.. So why not emulate this?
Over the years there’s been many hits and misses in the mascot war. Either officially or unofficially there was an icon that represented a certain company. Sega had Alex Kidd. Who was some monkey boy, elf looking thing in the days of the Master System, His games were standard platforming, and he punched rocks and enemies. His fists are his main weapon, and you can buy items and vehicles like motorbikes and helicopters. (pedal powered no less) Their big break in mascot awesomeness happened when they introduced Sonic the Hedgehog. Sega had their new man, and Alex Kidd became unemployed. Sonic the Hedgehog is bright and colorful, with great animation that made it feel like you were playing a cartoon. He gave Mario great competition. He was a hit, and the only way you could play is with another system. No Sonic for Nintendo players.
Along for the fight, the Turbo Grafx 16 battled its way in between Nintendo and Sega, bashing heads with their guy, Bonk. Who’s game “Bonk’s Adventure” and it’s sequels are excellent and fun games. This guy was insane! Smashes his head against the ground to find hidden items, smack his head against enemies. Meat pisses him off.. I don’t know if its an allergic reaction, but he gets angry, and more powerful eating tasty meats. How does he climb a ledge? A ladder? A rope? No, his teeth! Little dude bites on the walls to climb to the top! He tries to teach proper eating by collecting veggies in the game but then uses his mouth to climb. Well what do you expect from a caveman? He’s a goofy character but his fan base grew., but not as high as Mario or Sonic.. He even tried his adventures on Nintendo platforms a few years after the death of TG16.. I still think Bonk has a great history and the games are still fun to play.
Another system popped up called the 3DO. They had a character who was in all their ads, and commercials. not an official mascot, but they did use his face often. This character was Crystal Dynamic’s Gex. Gex was a trash talking lizard (voiced by comedian Dana Gould) He had a basic look, naked except a pair of sunglasses. Being on the brand new CD-ROM technology it gave his game outstanding audio, great music, and he could speak! This gave Gex more character over the other guys. He had a tail attack and a tail bounce attack. He could stick to walls and ceilings. He was pretty cool but when the 3DO, failed he found a home on nearly every platform. Bad sequels followed, and Gex has disappeared. (His cousin sells insurance)
After the fall of Bonk and Gex, Mario and Sonic were still head to head in making their platform popular. Mario set new standards with Mario 64 and Sonic was struggling with nothing to compete with. Their Saturn efforts were terrible. By the time Sony PlayStation came out the need for mascots seemed to die. They had Crash Bandicoot but he wasnt officially called their mascot. He pretty much got used in ads much like Gex did for 3DO. Sony even went so far as making commercials where Crash would trash talk outside of Nintendo Headquarters taking hits at Mario. Crash played like most traditional platformers of the past but this time you can walk in 3 dimensions. When the PlayStation 2 came out, Crash took off and made some pretty lower quality sequels on every system out there. (except PlayStation 3.. go figure..) So possibly, Sony’s face of gaming is Kratos. A little violent, but is that what today’s gamer crave? Which brings up Xbox in this generation. Mascot free.. except maybe Master Chief? More adult themed character like these seem to attract more players instead of the brightly colored toons of the past.
Many 3rd party companies had their own cutsie cartoon characters to represent them. it seems like EVERYONE had something. Namco has Pac-Man, Capcom went from using Captain Commando in their ads to Mega Man, Accolade came up with Bubsy. Sunsoft had Aero the Acro-Bat, and Bomber Man is still strong in every HudsonSoft ad. Tecmo in arcades had a bunny mascot that went away, their next mascot would probably be Ryu from Ninja Gaiden but now I think it’s just Boobs. (I kid, I kid, but seriously Tecmo, “Breast Physics Engine?” .. genius).. Pac-Man will always be there for Namco but aside from another re-release of his classics, his platforming efforts have been forgettable. Sometimes these guys like to make “HD Remix” or try to squeeze in with an updated game but they usually fall back into seclusion. Will old or new mascots rise again? who knows. One things for sure, I miss Earthworm Jim.
I think its safe to say that Mascots the way we knew them are dead. and Mario killed them. Seeing Sonic for the first time on the cover of Nintendo Power was too much for me to take. (To this day, I do not own a non-Sega console Sonic game) Mario has been copied by nearly all of these characters. From character design, to game play. If you’re collecting rings, apples, or balls of yarn they are all similar to Mario’s coins. Even the most popular characters have Kart Racers because of Super Mario Kart. Technology had changed gaming, and has changed character design. Mario will always be the same, and will always do his job well.
The #1 mascot in video game history is an over weight plumber from Brooklyn. He has more in common with the every man, wears colorful overalls, and matches clothing well. He probably smells like his job, but he can fly, and spit fire, and owns a dinosaur! He can do anything…Except keep track of his Girlfriend.. but I think in time, we will all find out whats REALLY going on there…
Written by: Tom (SushiBallZ) Melgaard