Apologies for the brief absence but Five of the Best is back! It’s a weekly series about the incidental details we don’t celebrate enough. We’ve talked about all kinds of things so far from Game Over screens to Villains to Scares – there’s a whole Five of the Best archive if you’re interested. Yet, there’s so much more to talk about too.
Five of the Best works like this. Various Eurogamer writers share memories and then you – probably outraged we haven’t included the thing you’re thinking of – can share that thing you’ve been thinking of in the comments below. Then we all have a lovely chat about it. Your collective memory has never failed to amaze us – don’t let it stop now!
I still get excited seeing a video game advertised on the TV or at the cinema. It’s like proof this thing I do is real. I get all energised and spin to the person next to me, trying to tell them what’s being advertised before it’s announced. I must look ever so impressive to them.
But video game adverts aren’t really that rare any more are they? These days games are much better represented at the big entertainment buffet. It was different in the 90s though. Not only were games something really new and that only children did, they also didn’t have any graphics, which made it much harder to show them in an exciting way on TV. The only recourse was to get creative so that’s that’s exactly what the advertisers did.
Here’s to video game adverts on TV and here are five of the best. Happy Friday!
Nintendo hires British comedian Rik Mayall
Trying to pick a Nintendo advert from probably hundreds over the years is a very hard job. I’m particularly fond of the Nintendo 64 Smash Bros. advert where a bunch of people dressed up as Mario and Yoshi and the rest go from holding hands, skipping through a meadow together, to punching each other in the face. And I love the Wii Zelda adverts featuring the late, great Robin Williams and his daughter Zelda because how can you not? Robin loved the series so much he named his daughter after it.
But the Nintendo adverts that take the crown are those created by another late, great comedian: Rik Mayall. The story goes that Nintendo apparently wanted to shake its kiddy image in the 90s and appeal more to grown ups, so it paid Rik Mayall to come up with a bunch of adverts with which to do it. There’s a whole series of them and some are better than others. My favourite is the Nigel Mansell one, a famous Formula One driver here in the UK at the time. He’s not in it but his his defining characteristics are: strong eyebrows and a bushy moustache.
Everyone knows Segata Sanshiro and his incredible run of 90s ads pimping the Saturn – he’s a Sega legend as iconic in his own way as Sonic, and was brilliantly celebrated as part of the company’s 60th anniversary with a new set of adverts starring his son – but Sega ads peaked for me a few years after during the downbeat Dreamcast years. There was a fatalistic sense in the air as Sega’s exit from the hardware business became more and more inevitable, and a sense of self-reflection that at times veered into self-parody.
You can see it in games like Segagaga, an RPG which started as a private joke internally in which you were charged with running the company and turning its fortune, and you can see it too in a run of Japan-only adverts that made light of the Dreamcast’s struggles. Real-life Sega exec Hidezaku Yukawa overhears a bunch of kids talking about how awesome Sony’s PlayStation is, and then vows to fight the good fight for Dreamcast, making him something of a cult figure along the way, his visage even making its way onto a special edition of Sega’s last console. Anarchic and fun, it’s a campaign that was quintessential Sega.
The Halo 3 diorama
I still get chills even now, 13 years later. No gameplay. No game audio. Just a camera moving, sweeping, breathing through a war-torn diorama. But with that music and with those expressions on the soldiers’ faces, and with that explosion captured so beautifully, the whole thing is more alive than a thousand video game ads that followed. And there, at the end, a motionless Master Chief held aloft by the Covenant, our old enemy. They are victorious. Grunts are cheering. The Devil is dead. Or is he? A warm glow of a grenade pulsing into life, held in Master Chief’s super-soldier hand. And then: hope, as Master Chief lifts his head to look straight as us. Perhaps, behind that iconic visor, he smiles. As long as Master Chief is alive, there is hope for us all.
13 years ago, in September 2007, I started my video game journalism career with my first full-time gig. I covered the red carpet London launch of Halo 3. I reviewed Halo 3, giving it a perfect 10. I got caught up in it all, this silly, serious, overblown, terrible, glorious, heart-pounding video game industry. I believed then.
I still do now.
David Lynch – The Third Space
I think I found this advert annoying at the time. Probably something to do with that kind of bitter, gatekeeper bullshit fandom around Lynch – I didn’t want to share him with anybody else. Thankfully, I don’t feel like this anymore. I want to share the things I love far and wide.
This is Lynch doing Lynch. We’re in a classic Lynch non-place, somewhere a bit like the Black Lodge. There’s a handsome fellow in a suit, a thumbs-up, smoke and strange geometry, and there’s a duck, which is Lynch’s kind of animal. Watching it at the time, I was like: it’s just Lynch doing a bit of Lynch. Sony rang the doorbell: can I borrow a cup of Lynch? Well, I’ve got this smoke, I guess, and this duck in a suit?
I remember seeing this ad at the cinema where I worked and there was a certain luxurious delight in seeing Lynch’s stuff on a huge screen. But I also remembered being a bit disdainful of the use of computer effects – Lynch had said around this time that putting a computer effect in a film is like putting something made of plastic into something made of wood.
Times change! Twin Peaks Season 3 had an episode at the centre that was all computer effects, and it felt like art made of wood right down to the grain. Also, I now watch The Third Place again having seen that final series of Twin Peaks and think – oh, the floating heads! The arm! He returned to a lot of this stuff in the name of some of the best television I have ever seen.
I am sure that on many levels this is just a dumb ad – Sony buying the cool of Lynch because they’re making a new machine to sell. But even in an advert, I think Lynch is dreaming a little – and it’s very nice to watch him dream. Gotta light?
Microsoft and the wonderful Xbox Adaptive Controller
There are few televised stages in America bigger than the Super Bowl, which means there are few more valuable advertising slots than during it. It’s a precious moment to reach millions of people, and it made what Microsoft chose to do with its Super Bowl 2019 ad slot all the more remarkable.
It wasn’t about flogging the latest blockbuster, nor was it about going for the usual crowd. Instead, Microsoft took a step back and delivered a heartwarming message everyone needed to hear: games are for everyone.
Games are for everyone, and the more times we say it, the better.