Video game announcements and news are usually just a few clicks away these days, but it hasn’t always been that easy. The way gamers first learned about a game was often through commercials—yes, actual TV ads—and they needed to grab your attention in as little as 30 seconds. Not all of them have been successful, but there have been some downright fantastic video game commercials over the years, including less-than-fantastic games. From the early days of the Atari 2600 to the most recently released game, GameSpot has compiled the best video game ads and ads of all time.
Halo 3: “I Believe”
One of the most effective video game commercials of all time featured no pre-rendered gameplay or cutscenes. In fact, there was practically no movement in it. Dubbed “Believe it,” this Halo 3 ad consists of panoramic shots on a thumbnail screen of terrified UNSC Marines awaiting their fate as a massive swarm of Covenant surround them. At the top of the hill, their leader is holding the Master Chief, thinking that the Spartan has been defeated, but the plasma grenade in the Master Chief’s hand lets us know that this battle has only just begun.
Gears of War: Mad World
Before the release of Halo 3 on Xbox 360, Microsoft had another great series of shooters to please gamers, and its trailer has been with us for over 16 years. The Gears of War Mad World trailer paints a grim picture of an Earth where much of the world is destroyed as the Locust Horde and humanity continue their devastating war. The song – a cover that first appeared on “Donnie Darko” – suggests the game will be a bit more…low-key than it ended up being, but cutting an enemy in half with a chainsaw still takes us back to that announcement on the tape.
Assassin’s Creed: “Tear”
Before the Assassin’s Creed series became an action RPG with huge combat, it was a social stealth game that prioritized quick, efficient kills and silent escapes. In this ad for the original game – Massive Attack’s Teardrop – we see Altair running across the rooftops before taking the famous “leap of faith”. He lands behind the Templar’s target, his hidden blade extended just as the scene ends. It’s the perfect introduction to what would become one of the most successful gaming franchises of all time, and it certainly makes us feel differently about the song that was also used as the House theme.
Brothers Super Smash. : live fight
There are plenty of world-clash fighting games out there these days, but when Super Smash Bros. was released for the Nintendo 64 in 1999, it was a fairly new concept. That’s what made this live ad for the game so fantastic, because no one expected our favorite Nintendo characters to go from frolicking in the meadow to frenzied fighting. The music makes the commercial even better, as does the way Donkey Kong spins Pikachu around like he’s about to throw him 400 feet. We are pretty sure that Donkey Kong was completely killed by Yoshi’s hammer after a few seconds.
Wii would like to play
Nintendo certainly has a way to create a new brand – just look at the instant recognition we’ve all received from the Switch signature clique. But a decade earlier, ads could have worked even better with one phrase: “I would like to play the Wii.” A simple ad featuring two men in suits (we assume or hope they worked for Nintendo) shows the family opening the door and inviting them to play the Wii. It’s generally not a good idea to invite strangers into your home, but when they have the latest Nintendo console and games for it, that’s probably fine. Both men are busy introducing the Wii to more people and ushering in one of Nintendo’s best eras.
Genesis does what Nintendo doesn’t
If Nintendo had been called almost anything else, Sega would not have been able to make this ad, but at the time it was true: Genesis does what Nintendo doesn’t. In famous commercials, the singers reminded us that we couldn’t play Genesis games on the Nintendo console. Picking Columns is the best Tetris – and Buster Douglas’ boxing game might not have been the best choice, but the fact remains: Genesis had a whole bunch of games that weren’t on the NES and SNES. It was a system for tough guys with character, and you didn’t want to be left behind.
Hockey by Activision
Early video game commercials were often among the best because there were no boundaries or expectations for what ads should be. In the case of this classic Atari 2600 ice hockey commercial, watching SNL’s future all-time player – the late Phil Hartman – go crazy over video footage of the game on a small CRT screen was the perfect way to sell the game. the game is even shouted out in a heart-rending scream at the end of the commercial, just so you never forget about it.
Kingdom Hearts: “Simple and clear”
Today, the words “Kingdom Hearts” conjure up memories of one of the most convoluted video game stories of all time to play with a dozen games. But in 2002, many of us were introduced to the story of Sora’s universe colliding through this commercial. Along with the already famous song “Simple and Clean”, the montage of various Disney characters instantly caught the attention of the audience. “You never know who you will meet next,” says the narrator. The rest is (very complex) history.
Trap: Jack Black commercial
What is your favorite Jack Black role? rock school? Maybe HighFidelity? True fans know that before fame, young Jack Black starred in commercials for the classic Atari game Pitfall. Appearing before anything (or anyone) in a commercial, Black talks about how he got into the dangerous jungle with Pitfall’s hero Harry. He wears a safari hat that appears to have been shared with other players. One girl says she’s drawn to Harry’s Pitfall, which is a bit odd for a faceless pixelated character, but the novelty of meeting Jack Black before fame is enough to make the list.
Goat Simulator 3 Trailer
One of the commercials for a new video game that impressed us was for a completely different game. Parodying the trailer for Dead Island 2 a few years earlier – a game that still hasn’t been released – the trailer for Goat Simulator 3 doesn’t state that it’s the first part of Goat Simulator 3. In fact, who would have thought there was no Goat Simulator 2? It’s a brilliant work of deceit and substitution that fits in perfectly with the show’s goofy aesthetic, it’s all good, and it’s really funny to see how other people react to it for the first time.
Sneak King: Who is behind the mask?
There was a time when the vast majority of video games were sold on physical media, and one of the strangest decisions we can think of was that one of the places you could get these games was Burger King. The fast food chain released several games for just a few dollars each, and the most infamous was the stealthy Sneak King. This chilling trailer shows a video game world that appears to be terrorized by a stalking predator. It turns out that the mean man hiding in the shadows is the king himself, and he just wants to serve people hamburgers. We are very uncomfortable seeing this again.
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