With the holiday season approaching, Sony and Microsoft are pushing their latest upgraded consoles to the masses meaning a lot of money is being spent on advertising. One ad which caught my attention was a recent Xbox One S commercial dubbed “Portals”. The ad kicks off with the new white console and then has the camera fly inside the machine to pass through several rectangular portals, each portal containing a game’s universe. There are a few moments where they cut away to people playing the Xbox One S before jumping back inside the machine to show some more video game universes before pulling out and showing the console once again. Cool ad right? I swear I’ve seen this before.
It has been a little over 14 years since SEGA went third party, and while at the time it was a shock to learn that the company would be releasing games on once rival consoles, now most fans have grown accustomed to third party SEGA. In fact, it has been so long since the announcement that now we have a whole new generation of fans who pinpoint a third party SEGA game as their introduction to the company! I’m not one to use the tired expression “I feel old”, but that realization almost makes me want to utter it (almost). Back in the early 2000s, when third party SEGA went into full swing, fans were seeing the likes of Crazy Taxi on PS2, Sonic Adventure on Gamecube, and Jet Set Radio‘s sequel JSRF on the Xbox. Shocking, sure, but nothing could give SEGA fans whiplash like the announcement that SEGA’s own Amusement Vision team were to develop a new game in a fully Nintendo owned classic franchise – enter F-Zero GX and F-Zero AX.
When SEGA made the announcement that they were going third party, a lot of fans felt the pain of not seeing SEGA games on SEGA hardware anymore. But that pain didn’t last long, as over the next few years SEGA would release a slew of modern day classics to the Sony Playstation, Microsoft Xbox, and Nintendo Gamecube. Each console had their own unique games, and each could claim a certain SEGA IP. While Xbox and Playstation owners had the more adult Virtua Fighter and Panzer Dragoon games, the kid friendly Gamecube had the Super Monkey Ball series. I’ll admit, as a PS2 and Xbox owner at the time, I wrote the Super Monkey Ball games off as kiddie nonsense. Boy was that a mistake.
SEGA fans love to wax nostalgic on old commercials. Whether they’re the fast paced and competitive ads of the Genesis/Mega Drive era, the bizarre ads of the Saturn era, or in the case of today’s featured SEGA ad, the American Dreamcast campaign featuring fun vignettes taking place inside the console. We’ve featured an ad from this campaign before, and its no wonder we’re going back to the same well because it truly is one of SEGA’s best. The campaign’s concept was simple. Viewers would be introduced to the Dreamcast console’s triangular orange light which acted as a gateway to a magical world inside the console consisting of several levels. On each of these was a different scenario, it could be a DJ party or it could be a sleepy cantina. Sometimes viewers would be treated to an epic crossover of characters from recently released and upcoming Dreamcast titles and every ad ended with a zoom out featuring the console, controller and the memorable slogan “It’s thinking…”.
Jet Set Radio had a bit of an identity crisis when it reached the West. When the game was first revealed in Japan, few media outlets knew exactly what to make of the game. Was it rhythm game? Was it a Japanese take on Tony Hawk Pro Skater? From the teases we got, it appeared to be a bit of both. The first real concrete explanation of the game came from America’s Official Dreamcast Magazine, which featured an in-depth interview with Smilebit and a preview of the game. While ODCM did a fantastic job with explaining the game and selling many Dreamcast owners on it, myself included, SEGA of America did a less than fantastic job of letting the general public know what the game was all about.
You want to know how good Panzer Dragoon Zwei is? It’s apparently caused a nuclear holocaust. Think about that.
From what I’ve seen of them, SEGA Saturn commercials are…weird. Worse yet, they often aren’t really all that appealing. This one in many ways is kind of perfect example of that. Here they have this weird, quirky Japanese rail shooter where you destroy hoards of enemies atop a laser-shooting dragon, and what do they do? Compare dicks with the Playstation.
Of course, bit-measuring and graphics chest thumping was all the rage back in ‘90s video game advertising, but the sad thing about its use here is that it does nothing to make me want the game or the system. The commercial really is just kind of…lazy. It definitely has nothing on Japan’s iconic Segato Sanshiro campaign, or the Xbox’s Panzer Dragoon Orta commercial, which we’ll be getting to next month.
I’ll admit, Zwei is probably a hard game to fit into SEGA of America’s typical commercial formula. It has no attitude to it, and it’s very Japanese. That said, I doubt commercials like this did the Saturn many favors.
To wash the taste of this one out of your mouth, I’ve gone ahead and included the Segato Sanshiro commercial for Panzer Dragoon Saga below. It’s pretty much an abridged version of the Zwei ad, but its still got that awesome theme song!
When it comes to Japanese games being localized for the West, I tend to like it when they stick as closely to the original release as possible. I like to hear the original Japanese dialogue, have the names of characters and locations retained, see the original cover art used, and I hate it when they change the game’s title (hey, I just noticed that Jet Grind Radio broke all of these rules!). Skies of Arcadia, however, is a rare exception. When it was revealed in the pages of The Official Sega Dreamcast Magazine that Eternal Arcadia was to be retitled Skies of Arcadia, I was not only okay with this, I actually much preferred it.
If you thought Virtua Fighter in arcades and on the SEGA Saturn was as real as it could get, Tiger Electronics asks you to think again! Released in 1995, Tiger’s R-Zone (not to be confused with Pizza Hut’s P’Zone) was a portable headset and attached controller that promised a virtual reality experience, but ended up just delivering a headache. Unlike other Tiger Electronic LCD games, R-Zone took cartridges.
Each cartridge contained a transparent LCD display, projecting the game onto a mirrored surface placed just inches from the players eye. As was the norm for VR at the time, red was the color of choice. Leeching off of popular franchises to survive, the R-Zone featured Men in Black, Jurassic Park, Batman, Star Wars, and SEGA’s own Virtua Fighter. Don’t let the ad above deceive you, despite being right in your face, R-Zone’s Virtua Fighter was as far from virtual Virtua Fighter as one could get. Wait… did that kid say “brain chop”?!?
Looking back, the SEGA Saturn ad campaign in America was nowhere near as memorable as the Genesis and Dreamcast era campaigns. While the Genesis ads were funny and subversive, and the Dreamcast ads were magical and, dare I say “dream-like”, Saturn’s ads were both weird and forgettable. While some ads did stick in many people’s minds, I’m not sure it was for the right reasons. The “Fly Plaything, Fly” commercial, for example, was a risky move that didn’t pay off. SEGA did indeed beat Nintendo years prior, but in no way did SEGA’s Saturn topple Sony’s Playstation. As much as a Saturn fan that I am, I have to concede that it was the Saturn that was “not ready”.
Other Saturn era ads, like this week’s featured commercial for SEGA-AM2’s Virtua Cop, went with the gritty “is this a game, or is it real life” route. While 3D games were quite impressive at the time, and Virtua Cop is a fantastic game, it was far from being “a little too real”. In fact, those who bought and played the game would discover that Virtua Cop, much like AM2’s other games at the time, existed in a quirky arcade-like world where over the top things like a seemingly endless army of identical henchman and criminal leaders in helicopters shouting “meet your maker!” are common occurrences in the life of a cop. Had SEGA played up the frantic over-the-top gameplay of Virtua Cop, showing that the game is far from “a little too real” and was in fact like nothing you have ever played before, then maybe they might have had a better ad.
After the break, check out some Virtua Cop print ads from around the world! Could somebody explain that “Bum Bum Bum” ad to me?
If you asked me to make a list of what characteristics define the SEGA of the 90s, at the top of the list would undoubtably be “mocking the competition”. In an era where Nintendo was the family friendly choice, SEGA’s decision to be the rowdy cool kid in town who wasn’t afraid to shake things up and shit talk the competition got people’s attention. During the Genesis era, this sort of practice paid off. The Genesis made SEGA a household name in North America, and the company reigned supreme in the early 90s. However, due to unsuccessful launches of the 32X and Saturn, SEGA slipped in the market and in turn, attack ads like the one above lost much of its bite. Regardless, SEGA soldiered on with such ads, attacking the Playstation in claiming its single processor can’t handle a game like NiGHTS into Dreams and stating that the Saturn kicked Pretendo’s ass when it came to the respective console libraries.
As the Dreamcast entered its second (and final) year on the US market, SEGA moved away from their awesome “inside the Dreamcast” ads and went back to a style somewhat more conventional. These later Dreamcast ads are reminiscent of some of the better Genesis era stuff, albeit they are typically cleverer and better written.
Here, we’ve got a man who’s clearly been playing too much Shenmue. I’ll admit this is a funny ad that conveys the immersion factor of the game pretty effectively, but at the same time I can’t help but think that this would have been a game better advertised as a dramatic, epic masterpiece than as a game you’ll be thinking about in bed.
There was an ad made in this vein…though I’m unsure if it ever aired on television. It’s a direct translation of the Japanese ad and a pretty epic piece of advertisement. It features a great vocal track called “Song of the Bay”, which was only ever featured on the Shenmue orchestral soundtrack. Check out this ad below the fold!
If there’s anything SEGA learned from the Saturn, it’s that it was important for their console to have an identity. The system wasn’t just a box that played a selection of games, it was a gateway to hundreds of worlds and thousands of characters, all of whom had the little white box in common. Through these commercials, the Dreamcast was able to establish an identity for itself as a quirky and colorful system that was more focused on fun and good times than anything else. What’s even better is that it wasn’t just SEGA characters who got into the action.
These commercials were fun and hilarious, and I’m surprised we haven’t seen more campaigns like this from the other console makers. The only company since SEGA that has really tried to sell their console in a similar fashion is Sony, with its PS3 and PS4 commercials, which is strange when you consider that Nintendo has the largest selection of recognizable characters and brands of any console maker.
The Dreamcast had numerous ads like this in its first year on the market, and all of them are still great to watch now. These commercials are filled to the brim with Dreamcast characters both notable and obscure, some of whom wouldn’t even get their games until the Dreamcast was on its death bed. How many characters can you spot in this ad? Let us know in the comments. I apologize for the poor quality of the ad, but just do your best, okay?
The Dreamcast had one of the best advertisement campaigns in video game history. Period. Its ads took all of the best parts of SEGA’s Genesis era advertisement and infused it with fun and consistent quality. Every single time I click a Dreamcast ad and expect something ho-hum, I’m surprised by yet another kick-ass ad.
Here we have a parody of the classic Reagan re-election ad, “Morning in America”. With narration by Seaman. And whistling by guys from Quake 3, NFL 2K and NBA 2K. And a bunch of SEGA characters screwing around inside people’s Dreamcasts. And while Seaman gives a beautiful speech about Americans coming together so they can whoop each other’s asses, you’ve got gamers celebrating and raging over victories and losses. You’ve got house fires, decapitated teddy bears and exploding trailers. This ad is a perfect example of a great SEGA ad: well written, well directed, well voiced, plenty of game footage and plenty to get you pumped.
This ad is a thing of beauty. I hope you enjoy it, have a fine Saturday morning and play some Dreamcast.
Alright, we haven’t been too kind to SEGA’s marketing campaign for the 32X, so I thought it would be great to end things on a high note: the Doom ad. The Doom ad is fucking awesome, embodying everything that was great about SEGA marketing in those days.
Is it edgy? Yeah. Does it match the tone of the game? Hell yeah. Does it make you want to go out and buy the game? Fuck yeah. Doom was known for being a gory, violent, bloody game, and on the higher difficulties it could be a hell of a meat grinder. Placing it in a slaughter house, with lots of kid friendly gore and even an actual meat grinder? Having butchers who are surrounded by real gore every day talking about how intense the violence in Doom is? Genius. This is an ad that understood its product and knew how to sell it, easily making it the best 32X ad SEGA’s produced. It’s simple, smart and doesn’t get into any of the distracting weirdness or camera mugging of other ads. Most importantly, this ad didn’t just tell, it showed, something every other 32X ad failed to do.
So enjoy, and be sure to tune in next week, as we start taking a look back at a considerably better advertisement campaign for another, more successful SEGA platform…
That awkward sexually infused ad we featured at the beginning of the month wasn’t the only 32X ad rapper Chill E.B. starred in. He also featured in this other, considerably better advertisement that focused on the math rather than the weird sexual innuendo one could infer from two consoles hooking-up.
That math is pretty sketchy though, as it often was in these ads. Much like how bits and blast processing were little more than marketing terms that oversimplified complex technology, the math here seems to have very little basis in fact. I could believe the 32X being significantly more powerful than the SNES, but I sincerely doubt that the 32X was four times more powerful than the 3D0. The console that was two and a half times more expensive at the time, and even though it was being sold for a significant profit by companies that didn’t see a dime in software profits I find it hard to believe that the 32X could have simultaneously over-powered and underpriced the competition, at least without magic. The fact that the 3D0 produced better looking games doesn’t help SEGA’s case, either.
Of course, the 32X died off so quickly we likely never got to see what the hardware was truly capable, so who knows? Either way, this ad is one of the best that the 32X got. It emphasized what the consumers cared about: graphics and games. It highlighted the right and actually demonstrated what the 32X was capable of. The math may have been bullshit, but at least the games weren’t!