Long ago, before the internet had been widely embraced, mascots were an important part of ensuring brand recognition. Distinctive and often cute and/or animalistic in appearance, mascots existed to put a more relatable face on the company or product they represented – Mario, Link, and Kirby are all prominent examples… But this list isn’t about them.
It could be said that mascot-mania hit a fever pitch in the early-mid 1990’s within the games industry. The heavy-hitters of the time were launching new, sophisticated consoles that possessed the graphical power to approximate cartoons; companies like Disney and other non-gaming brands were never more eager to gain their recognizable mascots a presence on these new platforms, and burgeoning developers took to creating their own distinctive characters to help set their games apart. And, perhaps more than any other console of the time, the SNES was a veritable wild west for mascot-based brand promotion.
Several mascots native to the SNES came out of this era with serious clout as an intellectual property, such as messy-haired, hard-farmin’ Pete of the Harvest Moon franchise… But many mascots weren’t so lucky. This list is about them; the casualties of the SNES mascot wars, if you will. Mascots who began their life on the Super Nintendo, only to fall into obscurity, largely unsupported in the new millennium and unlikely to ever ascend to the pantheon of well-known gaming mascots. But we special few remember them – and today, I hope you will join me in honoring them!
Ardy Lightfoot is an anthropomorphic creature who might be a cat or a fox depending on who you talk to. But, while there is no consensus on his species, those who know the game know that this deceptively cute, overall-clad cat-thing is responsible for luring thousands of children into a challenging nightmare of controller-smashing proportions!
Bubsy is a smiley bipedal bobcat who wears a shirt with an exclamation point on it, and since the release of his first game on SNES/Genesis in May of 1993 the Bubsy series has been reviled as a blatant Sonic the Hedgehog rip-off… And unfortunately, due to its simultaneous release on both platforms, us SNES owners must take equal responsibility for harboring this fugitive from good taste!
But it’s not all bad – as a mascot Bubsy still manages to be pretty endearing, his smiling face and goofy voice clips are fodder for many a fond childhood memory, and aside from being derivative his games really aren’t all that bad either.
Congo is a half-monkey caveman-boy, (caveboy?) who wears – you guessed it – a leopard skin! Similar to the more successful Bonk of Bonk’s Adventure fame, (only with significantly more hair), this mascot hails from the game Congo’s Caper.
Congo’s Caper is actually a continuation of the Joe and Mac series, and though the series got its start in the arcades, both Congo and the game he hails from are exclusive to the SNES! Though he may not be the most distinctive mascot on the list, he has the rather interesting quirk of reverting into monkey form whenever he’s struck. Now that’s… Bananas. (*slips on shades*)
Hey, remember the 90’s? Back when replacing consonants with other, cooler konsonants was a widely accepted practice? Enter Kid Klown; an unassuming mascot from a fairly middling game, and a victim of this charmingly retro naming konvention. His game, Kid Klown in Crazy Chase, draws a lot of inspiration from playing cards as evidenced by his colorful diamond-themed clown suit, and this isometric platformer is notable to this day for having multiple endings in a genre that typically doesn’t have the narrative chops to warrant them!
Mohawk is a naked, bright yellow man with headphones, a mohawk, and sunglasses – and I wish I were making that up! Aside from the distinction of being among the most underdressed of the Super Nintendo mascots, Mohawk’s game – Mohawk and Headphone Jack – is also one of the most disorienting experiences you will ever have, featuring rotational stages that are constantly shifting in ways that either aid or complicate Mohawk’s progress toward the exit.
And the award for most unfortunately-named mascot goes to… Mr. Nutz! But despite that nutty monicker, Mr. Nutz just happens to possess the sharpest sense of style of any mascot on this list, being a red squirrel fond of wearing Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers in addition to his other clothing. Even though Mr. Nutz’s first few outings weren’t particularly well-received, this mascot ended up having a fairly successful run on handheld gaming devices in the years following his SNES debut.
Radical Rex is so radical, his identity is inseparable from his favorite mode of transportation – his trusty skateboard, which he uses to “shred pre-historic pavement” as advertised on the box. Otherwise simply a goofy-looking brown T-rex, (who, come to think of it, wears even less clothes than Mohawk), Radical Rex is given further definition by his host of awesome and biologically inaccurate powers, such as breathing fire and roaring loud enough to hurt all enemies on-screen. Oh, and did I mention that his girlfriend is named “Rexanne”?
Sadly, history has not been kind to Radical Rex, and his game of origin is not regarded as having been very “radical” at all, leaving this forgettable mascot to go the way of the dinosaur.
Rocky Rodent may not look like much at first glance, being a casually-dressed anthropomorphic being like so many others on this list… A little more manic-looking than the average, maybe. But what truly sets him apart is his backstory; while eating at the restaurant of a crime boss known as Pie Face Balboa, Rocky inadvertently eats an envelope containing the mobster’s protection money! As a direct result of his blunder Pie Face’s daughter is kidnapped, and Rocky is charged with rescuing her in exchange for an All-You-Can-Eat buffet.
…And that’s not all! Since Rocky’s main method of progression throughout his quest is the use of 4 magical hairstyles, the game was originally known as “Nitropunks: Mightheads” in Japan, proving once again that much of value is often lost in translation.
For my money, this is the best lapsed SNES mascot of them all; everyone’s favorite dapper vampire, Spike McFang! While this mascot originally came into being on the TurboGrafx-16, the first game starring this loveable bloodsucker never saw an NA release, leaving his American fans with only the SNES title, “The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang” as his lasting legacy.
Contrary to the box art of the NA version, Spike wears more of a cape-jumpsuit-top hat combo than the vest and sneakers he’s depicted as wearing, (WHAT is with these 90’s mascots and sneakers?), and he uses two of those garments to great effect in-game by alternating spinning his cape and throwing his hat at foes to defeat them! And to sweeten the deal, The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang is one of the better mascot-supported titles on the Super Nintendo… The only tragedy is that we never saw a sequel!
I hope you enjoyed this mascot-themed retrospective! If an old favorite ended up not making the list, that may be because they’re not native to the SNES or originated from a brand unrelated to gaming. Indeed, that latter category might make for an entertaining article of its own. But for now, keep those childhood memories burning bright, and take comfort in your hazy recollections of a time long since past… When animals wore cool clothes and tried to sell you things!