Back in the Wild West days of early PC gaming, there were no guidelines how to sell your game. Especially your shitty made-in-your-basement game, which is why so much game art from the time was completely insane — sometimes in a totally badass way, and sometimes in a hilariously, ridiculously insane way. So how could a poor programmer without any sensible marketing skills set his game apart in the increasingly crowded shelves of Babbage’s? Get a celebrity endorsement, of course!
This was a fallacy, because there are very few celebrity names that can sell games (e.g., Tony Hawk, Tom Clancy) and those big celebrities weren’t really endorsing the best videogame products in the ’80s and ’90s (besides, most gaming companies couldn’t afford real celebrities anyways). Bad games with mid- to nth-tier celebrities on the covers… well, that’s a recipe for failure. And here are ten of ’em!
10) The Carl Lewis Challenge
I think we all know what Carl Lewis’s challenge is here, and it’s directly related to those shorts. He’s not only won the gold in “hanging brain,” he’s won the silver, the bronze, and is occupying three seats on the judging committee.
9) Omar Sharif on Bridge
Did this sell at all? The only people who love bridge and Omar Sharif are old folks who have no use for videogames and would never play a single-player game because that robs them of precious time they could be talking about their gardens. Does bridge make sense to anyone? I mean, they print it in the newspaper but it always sounds like a murder mystery. “EAST takes two cards and looks knowingly at NORTH, who has dipped her hand to cover her nose. WEST smiles, passes a card to NORTH, who lights a cigarette and discards two. The air is smoky. No one talks of the war.” And why Omar Sharif? Was he getting so few sponsorship opportunities that when Interplay came knocking he immediately signed his name? “Once you get into the competitive world of single-player electronic bridge, you’ll find yourself more confident, more methodical in your actions, and the ladies will flock to you like Omar Sharif. Hi, I’m Omar Sharif.”
8) Kirk Cameron, The Horde
I suspect that this was one of those things that Kirk Cameron denounced as satanic once he found Jesus, but for the time being, he’s dressed as a teal knight being eaten by a meatball. For those of you who felt that his career had collapsed by the time his show Kirk was released, just remember that The Horde was released prior to that event. Also, some additional research turned up that when you installed early versions of this game on your computer, it would erase every saved document on your hard drive. God, everything Kirk Cameron touches turns to crap, doesn’t it?
7) Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat
Chuck Yeager is known primarily as being the test pilot who broke the sound barrier — not as a bloodthirsty destroyer of Axis warplanes (although he did fly in WWII). That’s why 90% of Chuck Yeager games are basic flight simulators. You take off, fly about, land, feel good about yourself, and go to bed at a reasonable hour. Chuck Yeager, the king of good, smooth flying. By 1991, though, game designers needed something more than just “Hey! Flying is cool/fun!” so they threw poor Chuck under the bus and made him kill people again. “Well, little pilots, you’ve done such a great job with my flight simulators that it’s time to kick it up a notch. Bullets ripping through an enemy plane, killing someone’s father, son, brother… the things I saw in the war… they… his head was gone but he was still moving HE WAS STILL MOVING… I… I can’t… oh, right, enjoy the game, kids!”
6) Buzz Aldrin’s Race Into Space
I think the marketing plan for this game was:
Step 1: Write to Buzz Aldrin’s publicist, ask for photo
Step 2: Put on game cover
Step 3: Blowjobtown
Buzz doesn’t even take up the majority of the box, instead it’s taken up by white (off-cream) space, a scorch mark and sexy eyes. What the hell kind of game is this? Is it Buzz Aldrin “racing to space” by seducing babes, committing arson, and (hopefully) punching nerds who insist he didn’t go to the moon? Because if that’s the case I’d start looking for a Buzz Aldrin’s Race Into Space emulator like right away.
5) William Shatner’s TekWar
This one is difficult to review, because as prominent a figure Shatner is nowadays, he was in a bit of a lull during the late ’80s and ’90s, other than the random Trek movie and his Tek War novels. Certainly he wasn’t the cult/kitsch figure he is now, and calling him a “mid-tier” celeb back then would be pretty accurate. So getting Shatner might not have been a coup, exactly, but a videogame about his Tek War series makes perfect sense. My real complaint is that unless the floating head of William Shatner (see what I did there?) appears prominently in the game, the cover is kind of a joke. That’s the only thing it really has going for it, so much so that they invoke Shatner’s name three times on the cover alone. What I’m saying is that this game is promising too much Shatner. If you don’t get to play as both Rocket Man and Mr. Tambourine Man, this game is a rip-off. Shatner Shatner Shatner.
4) Magic Johnson MVP
Magic Johnson teaches children about the dangers of sitting on a termite mound. “It’s not about who can run faster, or jump higher, or who can sink that 3-pointer. It’s about knowing when your house’s structural integrity has been compromised, and the best ways to shore up saggy supporting beams. As Magic Johnson says, ‘Shore up, or get out!'”
3) Daryl F. Gates Police Quest
Daryl Gates. Former Chief of the LAPD. Famous for not controlling the L.A. riots in 1992. Famous for saying, in front of a Senate committee, that casual drug users should be shot. Famous for saying that “blacks might be more likely to die from chokeholds because their arteries do not open as fast as they do on ‘normal people.'” Famous for racially profiling blacks and Latinos. Famous for resigning in disgrace after the Rodney King beating. That was in 1992. This game was released in 1993.
2) Virtual Pool Presented by Steve Davis and Ronnie O’Sullivan
So what does the use of snooker greats Steve Davis and Ronnie O’Sullivan buy you? According to a review I read, the game pops up videos to give you some tips on how to break and play pool better. Kind of cool, but what the fuck does snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan know about pressing keyboard buttons to make a pool game work? I don’t want to waste my time watching a video where a bored snooker star who’s out of his element tells me to “press the space bar, chap.” I’m playing video pool because I am not playing real pool, so take your tips and shove ’em. And from the screenshots I’ve seen, 95% of the game is staring at a damn pool table. No interplay from Ronnie and Steve, just pool. Get out of my pool game, dammit!
1) Allan Border’s Cricket
I could chalk this up to “The American audience of Topless Robot will surely laugh at a videogame based around a retired cricket player from Australia,” and we could all have a chuckle about computerized cricket and go home. However, it just looks like a terrible game. Bad photography, an unappealing sports celebrity, and a sickening orange and green color scheme. Hey, Allan agrees with me. “It’s a Great Game…” Those ellipses indicate that Allan has much more to say, like, “…but you should probably do something else with your time. Anything else. Really.”