Friday, April 15, 2011

Sega's Wasted Mascots

Nintendo has Mario, sure, but they also have Link, Samus, Fox McCloud, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Megaman (sorta) and Kid Icarus (retroactively). All of these characters (and more) are uniquely Nintendo, and Nintendo uses them extensively to promote its brand.

What did Sega have? Well, they had Sonic! Hell yeah, Sonic!! Oh, and they also had... Uh... Um... Well, hey had uh... They had Tails--no, that's the same franchise he doesn't count... Um... Crap.

That's what I want to talk about. Something that's been on my mind since I was a kid. Why didn't Sega have more signature characters?

I always root for the underdog, and Sega sure gave Nintendo a run for their money in the 90's, but let's face it: Nintendo made better decisions. Nintendo improved on the Gameboy, Sega left the Gamegear unchanged until it got outmoded. Nintendo spent its time and money developing new hit games and systems, Sega spent its time and money on ads that bashed Nintendo. Nintendo expanded its mascot line, Sega pretty much stuck with Sonic.

Maybe Sega would've done better if it spent more time expanding its mascot line and less time making fun of the competition. These are my top three mascots Sega could've had. Why only three? Because I can't think of 10.

#3 Vectorman

Although little more than a rushed attempt to compete with Donkey Kong Country, Vectorman had something Sega fans liked: attitude. Nintendo was refined and noble, Sega was just plain cool, and that's what Vectorman banked on.



Vectorman is one of the robots built to clean up the Earth's pollution while mankind is away. (Wall-e, anybody?) But of course something goes wrong, one of the robots goes nuts and gets the other bots to stop cleaning up and start making weapons to attack mankind when they return. That's where Vectorman comes in. He alone must stop the madness.

The game itself is totally off the wall. You've got your usual levels: the spaceport, an underwater level, railroad tracks, hydroponic lab. Then you've also got levels like a bamboo mill (?), a disco floor (??), and a piece of parchment (???).

Yup, apparently one of Vectorman's useful abilities is to change into a frog and hop along a huge roll of bamboo parchment. Thank God he can morph into a dance-o-matic to survive the disco floor. Like, who came up with these levels?!

There was little unique about the game. All you do is run and shoot. Vectorman can morph into different forms (bomb, car, train, fish), but only for very limited periods and in very specific areas. Nothing special to it at all, but it looked cool, it was challenging, had a style all its own, and Vectorman had attitude! Yeah! Ha-HAH!

Sega almost used him as a mascot, too. He even starred in a sequel, but be honest. Did you hear about it? I didn't.


#2 Ristar

A cute, childish but deceptively challenging game. It's a standard save-the-galaxy story, but instead of using weapons, Ristar head-butts his enemies!



It looks so kiddie. So happy and cheerful...so lighthearted. So quirky... But it's actually a pretty serious game. Each level is unique, every boss requires a different technique to conquer, and you must figure this out while fighting them. This kiddie game is a real challenge!

Ristar could've been big, but maybe his colorful graphics were actually a downfall. To look at the game, anyone would dismiss it as kid's stuff, and given Sega's image, it wouldn't be a good idea to use such a character as a mascot. Too bad. Maybe Ristar could've been like Harry Potter, gradually maturing and becoming more grown-up as the years progress. That would've been a trip, watching a shooting star grow up.

Or maybe that's just plain dumb.

No wonder Sega didn't use him.


#1 Ecco the Dolphin

After Sonic the Hedgehog, it's the best Sega exclusive ever made. Ecco is a special dolphin who must stop an alien invasion. Dolphins and aliens... it's such a unique approach. An alien invasion that does not include humans, and the aliens themselves are sea-dwelling! It's an amazing achievement and I adore the unique perspective. Ecco's games are unique, challenging and a lot of fun.



If you ever play them, hunt down the Sega CD versions. They feature outstanding CD soundtracks by Spencer Nilsen.

Sega did make an attempt to use him as a mascot; I remember seeing Ecco on some Genesis boxes, right beside Sonic, so Sega at least tried to take advantage of him.

But Sega still failed. If you're gonna use a character as a mascot, he needs to have more than just two games. Yeah, Ecco got two games, unless you count the educational Ecco Jr., which I don't. He should've been like Sonic, getting 5, 6 or 10 games on Genesis, but no, we only got two.

I also don't count Ecco: Defender of the Future for Dreamcast because it was not made by the same studio, completely retcons everything that happened in the first two games and has nothing to do with the Ecco storyline. DotF also does the one thing the Genesis Ecco games avoided at all costs: it includes humans. FOUL! The most unique and engaging aspect of the franchise's storyverse, and they destroy it!

DotF is a beautiful game, no questioning that. It shows what the Dreamcast was capable of and how underused the console was. But the controls, the controls! That damn thumb stick is so sensitive you can't make any precise movements. Just a little nudge sends Ecco spinning out of control! Everything about the game is wrong--the controls, the story, the premise... It was not the long-awaited third Ecco game fans longed for.

I think the franchise would've done better if DotF had been a continuation of the second game's cliffhanger ending. I could probably forgive the lousy controls if the story had remained consistent.

Sega dropped the ball. They were a one-trick pony. Sonic was the only thing Sega had, but they could've had so much more. Learn from Sega's mistake: diversity is the key to survival.

5 comments:

  1. Was Shinobi exclusive originally? I think he could have made it! And I'm really disappointed that Ninja Gaiden (was he Ryu?) didn't earn a spot as a mascot for the NES. If only Earthworm Jim would have been a Sega original. That dude had personality.

    I never owned any of the Sega systems, though I always wanted a Genesis. But there was always so much more hype surrounding NES and SNES games. I'm not sure if it was just the circle of friends I had or what. I think back to the Genesis and I can't remember many games beyond those you mentioned that were considered greats. Altered Beast maybe and a handful of others. But when it comes to SNES I can think of countless awesome games.

    What's your system of choice these days James? Do you play portable? I just started revisiting Final Fantasy games (I & II) on the PSP.

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  2. I don't think Shinobi was exclusive, no. Neither was Earthworm Jim, though he should've been SOMEBODY'S mascot because he was just fucking great! Love his games.

    Altered Beast would be a great candidate for a franchise reboot, just like Kid Icarus got. The idea behind that game was cool, but the controls were so stiff I couldn't stand that game. But if Sega remade it today, it would be badass!

    I had a Genesis, and there weren't a lot of good games on it. Sonics... the ones I mentioned here. There weren't too many others. But there could've been. Ecco was dying for more!

    These days I'm PC gaming. Gave up on consoles after the 16-bit days were gone. Though when a new Ratchet and Clank comes out, I steal my roommate's PS3 and play the hell outta it. It's the only console game to hook me since my Genesis days. I bought all of the PS2 and PS3 games!

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  3. I'm a huge video game addict. I have an Xbox 360, but primarily because my wife plays Oblivion and games like that. I like Gears of War, but don't play much else. The 16-bit era was great though. I was also big into games when PS1 first hit the market. Lunar on the PS1 was great.

    Did you play Sega CD? Vay perhaps? That game was wonderful and the soundtrack was great. I loved it.

    As for NES, I played Double Dragon II, Ninja Gaiden II and the Super Mario Brothers games. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was another fun game, but if there's anything I've learned from the Wii, it's that those old games were only fun because there was nothing else available at the time.

    I remember another key point in the Sega vs. Nintendo battle was on SNES when Mortal Kombat II hit the scenes. SNES released the game with full gore.

    I'm jumping all over the place.

    I haven't tried the Ratchet and Clank games. I have Dexter on PSP, which I'm heard is similar to the Ratchet and Clank series. I'm currently hooked on 3rd Birthday for the PSP (which has shitty targeting intuition and a protagonist who whines and sighs about everything) and just beat Final Fantasy I, which was a total pain to beat.

    So what do you play on the PC?

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  4. Owned an NES when I was a kid. Parents wouldn't let me have a SNES (they thought the games were "too adult"), so I got a Genesis instead once the NES got phased out. Parents wouldn't let me play Mortal Combat either ;-) But they did let me play DOOM. Guess mommy never caught on to what that game was about!

    I have only played Sega CD on emulator. I own a couple games, Sonic CD, and the Ecco games. Adore the soundtracks, but I'm a game music junkie so that's my motivation. I'm looking at Jurassic Park for Sega CD.

    I still go back and play the original Turtles games on NES, the Mario games, all the Sonics. I even played Ristar through again :-) They're fun, but only when I'm in the mood for those kinds of games. Played Link to the Past, Earthworm Jim...bunch of games I missed when I was a kid. Many of them are still a lot of fun.

    My favorite on the Genesis was Ecco 2. Great game, took forever for me to beat, and I liked that there were no instructions. You had to figure out where to go and what to do, and there were no humans! I loved that idea.

    Jak and Daxter is similar to R&C. In fact, it was first, but I like R&C better. Better writing.

    and if ya wanna know what games I play on PC, just click on the "games" and "indie games" tags in the cloud. That's a pretty good sample of what I've played recently. I love FPS, myst-like adventure games (when they're done right). Dead Space, Bioshock. Fallout (all four of them).

    In fact I was more of a gamer than a reader as a kid. These days I like to think I have some balance.

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    1. No one ever talks about Ecco 2: The Tides of Time probably one of the better Ecco the Dolphin games out there, and by far the best one. But if you think Ecco for the Sega Genesis was scary, you should try the one for Sega CD great music, and a few more added levels. By far the one all gamer's should try first.

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