When one thinks of Nintendo, that old plumber Mario springs to mind. Sega has Sonic, Square-Enix has the Chocobo, and even Atlus has Jack Frost. Most gaming mascots are icons in their own right, and many rival the name recognition of the company itself. Sadly, for every successful gaming mascot, there is a pile of grizzled, abandoned ideas lying in a pit of failure and obscurity. Perhaps these lonely mascots hang out in a South Park-style Island of Misfit Mascots, just waiting for a second chance.
No matter how cringe-worthy or destined for failure these mascots were, here is a list of the top ten most interesting ones in no particular order.
Ty the Tasmanian Tiger
After the popularity of Crash Bandicoot, it seemed that many people discovered an affinity for Australian adventuring animals. A small company created Ty for Activision to see if he could take off like Mario, Sonic, or Crash. Three games later, and not too many folks have even heard of the series. The problem is that nothing in the Ty series stands out, and all portions of the game seem like parodies of other games. They could have alliterated any number of obscure animal names (Paulie the Pretty Platypus?), and it would have never mattered at all.
In a land of comedy-inspired anthropomorphized animal games such as Earthworm Jim and Bubsy, Gex was right at home. In many of his adventures, the gameplay was based on vague jokes about TV and movie pop culture. This led to the utter stagnation of the games after just a few sequels. Much like the Scary Movie series and its utter demise, vague genre parodies only work once in a while, and not for long. Luckily for Gex, there seems to be a market for humanized gecko characters as of late with the insurance firm Geico - maybe he can land a role?
Blinx was, for all intents and purposes, going to be the "Official Microsoft Xbox Mascot" according to... just about everyone. Many felt that Halo’s Master Chief was not iconic (nor an anthropomorphized animal), so the Japanese would hate him. Take this article from Gamespy way back in 2002:
“As Blinx, players could control time in five different ways, doing things like rewinding back to before a death, or pausing moving spikes to allow passage. Given the Xbox's lack of traditional platform games, Blinx seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. And, with his unsettling, Xbox-green eyes, he might have even made a plausible mascot for the system. “
The problem with Blinx, as with many of these failed mascots, is that folks hated the game. By extension the character was unpopular as well. Blinx was the last true attempt at an animal mascot that was not immediately shunned. Times were changing and Master Chief was to be the voice of a gaming generation.
Whenever something is labeled as "the next so-and-so,” it never turns out well. Case in point with Bubsy the Bobcat or, "the next Sonic the Hedghog” according to mountains of hype by early previewers. I guess all it took was an exclamation point on a T-shirt to say “I’m rad and tubular and a bunch of other 90’s lingo synonymous for badass-ness.” Sadly, Bubsy wasn’t very popular, and the franchise died a horrible death trying to follow Mario’s transition to 3-D. This killed the once-upcoming Bubsy animated show and just about anything else going for him.
Alex Kidd was to be Sega’s Mascot, and boy did Sega push him. After a handful of mildly successful games, a certain blue hedgehog had something to say, and Mr. Kidd was demoted to the B-string of gaming mascots. This wasn’t new to Alex, as he had taken the crown of Sega’s Mascot from a character called Opa-Opa (Fantasy Zone). What Sega needed was to stand out and be “edgy." Alex Kidd was neither.
Awesome Possum from Tengen was destined to fail for many reasons, mostly due to its utter plagiarism of Sonic the Hedgehog. Not only did you have a spin attack and run very quickly, but your goal was to save animals from a mad scientist named Dr. Machino who built robots. This laziness (coupled with heavy-handed preaching about environmentalism) made this character so hard to market that the game needed to rely on its bleeding-edge technology. Awesome Possum... Kicks Dr. Machino's Butt was notable for having many lines of digitized speech - fairly unheard of in those days. Awesome Possum would be one of Tengen’s last hurrahs as the company got slapped with a multitude of copyright infringement cases (go figure) throughout the early 1990’s, something that ultimately took them down.
When Hasbro Interactive decided to try the mascot platformer genre, they decided not to go with an anthropomorphized animal character, but instead with an anthropomorphized disembodied hand. Glover was well liked on the Nintendo 64, but slammed on other systems such as the original Playstation. All planned sequels and other merchandise were soon canceled, including an unfinished 2000 release game.
Aero the Acro-Bat
Not only is Aero’s concept pretty bland, but having a name with such a bad pun in it should lead to pun-ishment (rim shot). Aero seemed to simply be trying too hard as he was “in your face” and “extreme,” concepts generally lauded by little kids and big wig executives. When one of your main villains in a game is named “Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel” the barrel is getting scraped pretty bare.
In trying to get their very own brand recognition going, the house that brought us Mega Man and Dead Rising decided to go the unconventional route with a character called Captain Commando. During the majority of the 8-bit era, most Capcom games were emblazoned with the "Captain Commando Challenge Series" moniker along with a picture and other gimmicks like a letter from the Captain himself. Sadly the Captain only appeared in one game of his own in 1991, and he now resides in spinoff-land. He’s kind of like those reality show “celebrities” that constantly end up on other reality shows to stay in the public eye. Commando failed for many reasons including a late home console port, goofy name, and an overall push for Street Fighter and Mega Man at the time.
Izzy the whatizzit was a fairly ill-conceived mascot, created to help popularize the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, that spun into all media... including gaming. Up until that time, the Olympics tried to have symbols that not only related to the host country, but gave them something to slap onto shirts. These characters ranged from Misha the Russian bear to Roni the Raccoon. At the end of the 1992 Olympics, many people were confused when a cartoon character began waving the Olympic flame around during telecasts. Sadly, this was the mascot for the following Summer Games. Suddenly whomever was in charge of the Olympic branding decided to make all manner of ill-advised Olympic products that nobody cared about including a cartoon, toys, and a terrible platform videogame called "Izzy's Quest For the Olympic Rings". Here is a video of the game in action:
When I see that, I definitely see world brotherhood and athletics. /sarcasm. Nobody liked Izzy from day one, and many columnists condemned his very creation, calling him a “sperm monster" and other flattering titles. Thankfully since this blunder, we’re back to seeing the standard and more logical animal mascots.
Not all mascots can be as popular as Mario or Sonic, but many have tried. It seems we live in a time where gaming has matured, and game companies don’t always need a cheesy mascot to stand out. Too bad, really, because I’d love to see what sort of obscure animals these companies would have used next.