These days, video game announcements and news are generally only a few clicks away, but it wasn’t always so easy. The way players first discovered a game was often via commercials–yes, the kind on actual TV–and they needed to get your attention in only about 30 seconds. Not all of them succeeded, but there have been some absolutely fantastic video game commercials over the years, including some for less-than-fantastic games. GameSpot has rounded up our picks for the best video game commercials and advertisements of all time, ranging from the early days of the Atari 2600 to a game that just came out recently.
Halo 3: “Believe”
One of the most effective video game commercials ever didn’t feature any gameplay or pre-rendered cinematics. In fact, it barely even featured any movement. Dubbed “Believe,” this commercial for Halo 3 consists of panning shots across a miniatures display, with terrified UNSC marines awaiting their fate as an enormous swarm of Covenant surrounds them. On top of a hill, their leader holds the Master Chief, thinking the Spartan has been defeated–but the plasma grenade in the Master Chief’s hand lets us know that this battle is just getting started.
Gears of War: “Mad World”
Before Halo 3 released on Xbox 360, Microsoft had another stunning shooter franchise to keep players happy, and its trailer has stuck with us for more than 16 years. Gears of War’s Mad World trailer paints a bleak picture of Earth, with much of the world destroyed as the Locust horde and humanity continue their devastating war. The song–a cover that first appeared in Donnie Darko–does suggest the game will be a little bit more… reserved than it ended up being, but chopping an enemy in half with a chainsaw gun still sends us back to this trailer.
Assassin’s Creed: “Teardrop”
Prior to the Assassin’s Creed series’ transformation into an action-RPG with enormous battles, it was a social stealth game that prioritized quick, efficient kills and silent escapes. In this commercial for the original game–set to Massive Attack’s Teardrop–we see Altair running along rooftops before doing the famous “leap of faith.” He lands behind a Templar target, his hidden blade extending just as the scene ends. It’s the perfect introduction to what would become one of the most successful gaming franchises ever, and it sure makes us feel differently about a song that was also used as the House theme.
Super Smash Bros.: Live-Action Battle
These days, there are plenty of “worlds colliding” fighting games out there, but when Super Smash Bros. hit the Nintendo 64 in 1999, it was a fairly new concept. That’s what made this live-action commercial for the game so fantastic, as no one expected our favorite Nintendo characters to go from frollicking through a meadow to beating each other senseless. The music makes the commercial even better, as does seeing Donkey Kong whirl Pikachu around like he’s about to toss him 400 feet. We’re pretty sure Donkey Kong was fully murdered by Yoshi’s hammer just a few seconds later.
Wii would like to play
Nintendo sure has a way of establishing a new brand–just look at the instant recognition we all had for the Switch’s signature click. But there was a commercial a decade earlier that may have worked even better with just one sentence: “Wii would like to play.” A simple ad featuring two men in suits (we assume, or hope, they worked for Nintendo), it shows a family answering their door and being invited to play the Wii. Inviting strangers into your home isn’t usually advised, but when they have the latest Nintendo console and the games to go with it, it’s probably fine. The two men stay busy, introducing the Wii to many other people and ushering in one of Nintendo’s finest eras.
Genesis Does What Nintendon’t
If Nintendo had called itself practically anything else, Sega wouldn’t have been able to make this commercial, but it was true, at the time: Genesis Does What Nintendon’t. The famous ad featured singers reminding us that we couldn’t play Genesis games on a Nintendo system. Picking Columns–the Great Value Tetris–and Buster Douglas’ boxing game may not have been the best choice, but the fact remained that Genesis had a whole bunch of games that the NES and SNES didn’t have. It was the system for the cool kids with attitude, and you didn’t want to get left behind.
Ice Hockey by Activision
The earliest video game commercials were often some of the best because there was no framework or expectation of what the commercial should be. In the case of this classic advertisement for Ice Hockey on Atari 2600, watching future SNL all-timer–the late Phil Hartman–absolutely go bananas over footage of the game on a little CRT display was the perfect way to sell the game. The name of the game is even screamed with a blood-curdling shriek at the end of the commercial, just to make sure you never forget about it.
Kingdom Hearts: “Simple and Clean”
Nowadays, the words “Kingdom Hearts” evoke memories of one of the most complicated video game stories of all time, with about a dozen games to play. But in 2002, many of us were introduced to Sora’s universe-colliding story via this commercial. Featuring the now-famous “Simple and Clean” song, the montage of different Disney characters instantly grabbed viewers’ attention. “You’ll never know who you’ll run into next,” the narrator says. The rest is (a very complicated) history.
Pitfall: Jack Black commercial
What’s your favorite Jack Black role? School of Rock? Perhaps High Fidelity? The true fans know that before the fame, a young Jack Black was in a commercial for the classic Atari game Pitfall. Appearing before anything (or anyone) else in the commercial, Black talks about being in a dangerous jungle with hero Pitfall Harry. He’s wearing a safari hat, which seems to have been shared with the other players. One girl says she’s attracted to Pitfall Harry, which is a little weird for a pixelated character without a face, but the novelty of seeing Jack Black before the fame is enough to make the list.
Goat Simulator 3 announcement trailer
One of the newer video game advertisements that impressed us appeared to be for an entirely different game. Parodying the Dead Island 2 announcement trailer from several years earlier–a game that is still not released as of now–the Goat Simulator 3 announcement trailer does not make clear that it’s for Goat Simulator 3 at first. In fact, who would have suspected that, given that there was no Goat Simulator 2? It’s a brilliant work of bait-and-switch trickery that fits perfectly with the series’ goofy, anything-goes aesthetic, and it’s very fun to watch other people react to it for the first time.
Sneak King: Who’s behind the mask?
There was once a time when the vast majority of video games were sold as physical media, and in one of the oddest decisions we can recall, one such place you could get these games was Burger King. The fast food chain released multiple games for just a few dollars each, and the stealthy Sneak King was the most infamous among them. This creepy trailer shows a video game world apparently being terrorized by a stalking predator. As it turns out, the sneaky person lurking in the shadows is the King himself, and he just wants to serve people burgers. We feel very uncomfortable watching this again.