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With the video game industry’s heavy reliance on Internet-based marketing, pretty much every gamer has read months’ worth of interviews and development blogs, plus seen dozens of video previews, before he plunks down cash for a major title. If anything, there’s the occasional problem of having too much advance information, therein spoiling some of the surprises when you finally get to play the game.

Things weren’t always this way, though. Before having Internet service went from being a technophile luxury to a modern necessity, video game advertising came in smaller bursts. The market was still far too small to justify the high costs of regular commercials on TV, so publishers looking to drum up sales would take out single-page, or in the case of companies with deep pockets, double-page, magazine advertisements.

Today, we look back at some of these ads from the ‘80s and ‘90s, the problem of having to catch your target audience’s attention with just a few still images, and the sometimes puzzling solutions game companies came up with.

Starting with one of the most iconic images of the decade, we see an ad for the 1988 NES game Rambo. The bit of copy that proclaims “Your body is a weapon” is actually somewhat telling, as despite the guns blazing action promised by the photo, it’s not until well into this fairly cerebral game that the player gets his hands on a machine gun.

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Thankfully, there was a series that made good on the promise of letting you blast everything in sight. Contra basically combined the three biggest action hits of the decade, Rambo, Predator, and Aliens. We don’t recall any “quest for freedom” though, unless that’s a euphemism for “60 solid minutes of nothing but shooting space creatures.”

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By the time Contra III rolled around, developer Konami had given up on trying to attach lofty ideals to its ads for simplistic violent fun, and went with a description that’s a bit more concise.

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You can’t talk about video games from this era without mentioning the intense rivalry between Sega and Nintendo. The two spent years trying to one-up one another, touching off cycles where one would release a new piece of hardware, prompting the other to announce they had something better coming just around the corner, which would then send the first company scurrying back to the drawing board so it could announce it was ready to leapfrog its competitor yet again.

Unfortunately, sometimes one of the companies would show up to this game of cat and mouse with a Parcheesi set, something hardly anyone understands and even fewer people actually want to play with.

▼ Or, in other words, the Sega 32X.

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Man, did the 32X tank hard. No one cared how “X-treme!” it was, since they knew Sega already had another, more powerful, console called the Saturn set to come out about a year after the 32X launched. Man, what a bunch of dummies those Sega execs were. I mean, Nintendo would never do something so dumb, right?

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You’ll notice something missing from this ad for the Virtual Boy, Nintendo’s least successful system ever. There’s not a single picture of a game, since the display’s 3D effect couldn’t be replicated in print, and the single color red graphics weren’t impressive even when you were actually looking into the monitor unit. We’re not sure if that guy is supposed to be a caveman or a homeless person, but he’s got to be one or the other, since those are really the only two groups we can see either being so unaccustomed to technology or desperate for entertainment that the Virtual Boy would impress them that much.

But hey, everyone makes mistakes, right? It’s not like Nintendo put out any other pieces of hardware with a laughably small library of games, right?

▼ Umm…

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It’s a good thing the Super Scope, the light gun peripheral for the Super NES, came with six mini-games included, because it sure didn’t get that many more before developer support for it completely sputtered out.

Nintendo didn’t get where they are by pumping out nothing but duds, though. While the Game Boy handheld system seems incredibly retro with its chunky casing and mono-color graphics, when it first hit stores, it was a technological marvel, as shown by this futuristic ad.

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Gamers were so happy to have a fully functional system for games on the go, they didn’t mind the lack of color, even when Nintendo was slapping them in the face with it by releasing brightly colored versions of the system itself.

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As you can see, this was during the phase when Nintendo was trying to prove they could be just as X-treme as Sega, with their “Play It Loud!” series of ads. Not even cuddly, good-natured Kirby was left out of this push towards a new image.

▼ You know something, Nintendo? If you can’t figure out how to tell us how badass Kirby is without referencing campfire sweets, maybe you just shouldn’t try.

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Of course, no game nailed the aura of edginess like ultra-violent fighting game Mortal Kombat, which attracted all sorts of complaints from panicky parents’ groups and legislators. The two most common rebuttals were that gamers weren’t being affected because they could easily separate fantasy from reality, and that the game was meant for mature players, anyway. The first point seems valid, but the second is a little harder to swallow after seeing this ad of a Mortal Kombat player who’s so young that we’re not sure he’s tall enough to see the screen.

▼ Of course, if he can’t see the game’s violent contact, how can he be corrupted by it? Also, who knew Mortal Kombat was an Olympic sponser?

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It’s a little sad to see Killer Instinct 2’s producers brimming with so much confidence. On the one hand, the game was moderately popular. On the other, it would be almost 20 years until their was enough interest to warrant another installment in the series.

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Street Fighter, on the other hand, has been popular enough that it’s had an almost constant string of sequels and updates. The series’ core fighting engine is so good that it could even overcome this hideous box art of Thai kickboxer Sagat apparently doing some ab crunches in a crawlspace that’s too small for him to stand up in.

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Speaking of video gaming stalwarts, it’s a little surreal to see an ad from back in the day when it was actually necessary to tell gamers who Sonic the Hedgehog is.

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Going from something that’s unnecessary now to something that was unnecessary then, we doubt you could find a single gaming enthusiast who genuinely enjoyed edutainment title Mario is Missing.

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But while Mario and Sonic are still around, time hasn’t been so kind to some other characters. For example, Earthworm Jim was once so famous that advertisers didn’t feel they needed to say anything to sell gamers on his updated Sega CD rerelease, so they simply tossed in a command to “Eat dessert.”

▼ Will do! Let us know how your game turns out, OK?

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Similarly, it’s been a long time since Ren and Stimpy have had the kind of popularity that warrants getting your own video game.

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And then, there are some video game characters we don’t even remember existing in the first place.

▼ Was anyone, anyone at all, convinced to buy this game because it featured The Mountie? Other than The Mountie himself, we mean.

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Then there are the franchises that have always been around, but not as we know them today. It’s hard to remember with Homer stealing every scene he’s in, but Bart used to be considered the central character of The Simpsons.

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Likewise, Batman wasn’t always as serious as his last three cinematic outings would lead one to believe.

▼ Somehow, it still took two more movies after the release of Batman Returns, and its Super NES adaptation, until audiences demanded a gritty reboot.

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Back in 1994, Lord of the Rings wasn’t one of the most decorated film trilogies of all time, it was just a series of really long books that literature and fantasy buffs reread constantly, with perhaps an occasional break to play the more or less completely forgotten video game of the same title from Interplay.

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One thing has remained the same, though. Wolverine has always been just about everyone’s favorite member of the X-Men. This seems to be less a matter of choice and more a natural phenomenon. For example, here we see an artist who seems to have gone out of his way to make the tenacious mutant seem as dorky as possible, as he’s wearing what looks to be an 11th Century court jester’s cap.

“Verily, bub!”

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And yet, he still manages to look cooler than Cyclops, who doesn’t look so much like he’s blasting an optic ray as getting hit in the face with a personal pizza.

Yup, Wolverine is the coolest guy in the group. Some things just never change.

Source, images: Acid Cow