Many years ago, the internet didn’t exist. Or at least, it didn’t exist in the way that we know and love/despise today.
There was no quick and easy way to upload that hilarious video of your cat to the world. A sad state of affairs, as people in China would never know how funny your precious Mittens could be.
For companies in the video game industry, this gap in the technology was a problem. How could you visualise to the public your latest game releases? Magazines would help, but they were largely (if not totally) static. And most of them would be prone to do annoying things like offer critical analysis of your games – sometimes even saying they’re not very good! The horror!
There was a solution though: the promotional VHS tape. Made by gaming companies, these tapes would often be given away free with magazines in the early nineties. Such tapes are hard to come by today, but some hardened individuals are determined to preserve them for all-time by uploading them to YouTube, so future generations can bear witness to their glory. One such man is games journalist, Chris Scullion. He has begun his own VHS preservation project, and the first upload is the artistic joy that is Nintendo’s 1993 Super Mario All Stars video:
It’s an unquestionable tour de force, and we should immediately break this epic video down into six component parts:
1. Craig Charles
If you’re Nintendo in 1993 and you wanted a hip, cool presenter to talk to “the kids”, Craig Charles made perfect sense. He was famous for playing Lister in Red Dwarf, but Charles was also a TV host and hosted kids shows such as Parallel 9 and Go Getters. And he was the presenter of the world’s first, and worst, VR game show, Cyberzone:
His presence on this video is an instant sensory hit. You know you’re in for some TV presenting gold from him, and within 30 seconds he’s already said “not ‘alf”. Your mind is subsequently blown apart by the sheer nostalgia of it all.
2. The Setting
Seeing as Nintendo secured Craig Charles, they obviously would plump for a spaceship style setting. Y’know, because of the Red Dwarf thing. We’re led to believe that Charles lives on this ship that’s in the shape of an ‘N’ (a logistical nightmare for spaceship builders), where he broadcasts footage from new Nintendo games to us earthlings. We have questions about this. Is he supposed to be some sort of alien from planet Nintendo? Or has he been sent from a dystopian future where Nintendo doesn’t exist, and he needs to inform us of exciting new Nintendo products in order to save the world? Unfortunately, his backstory remains a mystery and we’ll never truly know the answers.
3. The “Reviews”
Right, so here we get to the real juicy part of the tape – the reviews of SNES games. They’ll probably be deep, analytical masterpieces that masterfully examine… oh wait, no. They’re just promotional fluff designed to sell Nintendo games. Every game gets 85-99% in every category, raising serious concerns about ethics in video game promotional videos.
The first batch of “reviews” are accompanied by a boring voice-over (the echo sound effect fails to liven his voice up, nice try though Ninty). But at around 7:22 of the video, things seriously kick up a notch. We then get super-imposed reviewers appearing all over in-game footage, in scenes reminiscent of the weather reports on The Day Today:
It’s hypnotic stuff, and our particular favourite is the guy reviewing Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing. He clearly wishes he were somewhere else. But here he is, being graphically cloned across the bottom of the screen talking with practically no enthusiasm about a game he’s probably never played before. Take a moment to realize that he’s out there, somewhere, in the modern world today. He probably has a wife and kids, who remain blissfully unaware of his 30 seconds of infamy here in this video. Until now, when his secret shame has finally been uncovered and his life will never be the same again. Sorry, guy.
4. The Hotliners
The lack of internet also meant that players didn’t have quick access to tips for games. And so, gaming tips hotlines existed as a tasty way for companies to rinse money from kids who’d repeatedly call them. From around 5:14 in the video, we take a glimpse into this murky little world; a forgotten land of a video games career prospect that once was.
One of the hotliners proclaims he’s been working there for three years. It’s an astonishing revelation, and makes us wonder if he believed this glorious gig would ever end. Did he foresee the hotline crash of the mid-nineties, and did he get out in time? We certainly hope so.
5. The Gremlin Guys
It’s nearly ten minutes into the video, and we already feel exhausted. But it’s OK, because here come two middle-aged men in suits ready to perk us up. Yes, it’s David Martin and James North-Hearn from Gremlin Graphics. Name a more iconic duo than these two, we’ll wait.
The pulsating pair electrify our screens for what feels like forever, as Martin develops his new catchphrase “racing game” by repeatedly saying it over and over again. And North-Hearn is dressed in what many historians would describe as ‘early nineties businessman’ garb. His tie in particular, is a visual feast. They both talk about the process of making a video game, but all you can hear is the sound of your own face eating itself in amazement.
Many games featured on this video are well-known. There’s Mario, Zelda, Starwing, and… Plok. PLOK? Who, or what, is Plok?
At 8:52 in the video, a curtain-haired gentleman informs us that “not only will Plok will go number one in the game charts, it’ll go number one in the music charts as well”. Well, Hanson haircut boy, Plok has yet to do either of these things. Instead, we’re left to wonder what might’ve been for Plok. He could’ve been the next Mario, but he forever remains a mysterious footnote in this promotional video.
We miss these videos. It’s impossible not to. These days, anything promotional is probably market-tested to an inch of its life. You’ll see it again and again, shared endlessly on social media. But back then, weird little promotional videos like this existed and remained hidden in attics for years after. And they’re deeply fascinating glimpses into a bygone age, an age when Plok was king and hotlining was a valid career option.