Remember a time when a game character was a cute little furry animal?
The early 90s was a peak time for platformers, which were popping up on every known platform, in every guise possible. From movie tie-ins to the classics, there was a lot of love for the humble platformer. Thanks to the rise of Mario and Sonic, many games in the genre were starting to become more character orientated. The term “mascott” is used quite frequently to describe the characters in these games. Each company seemed to have one, or at least an attempt at one. A good mascot meant that many first games could lead into a franchise. Many of the franchises which originated in the 16-bit era have long since gone. There are many factors which can account for characters no longer starring in games. Many of the original companies have long since stopped making/publishing games, Acclaim springs to mind. A bad game can kill a franchise in one swoop, and it seemed to happen quite quite a lot in the transition to 3D. Earthworm Jim is an example as it was a huge series in the 16-Bit era, but his ventures into 3D are not so fondly remembered. Another reason which is plausible, is that gaming has simply moved on. Many of the hardcore gamers are looking for realistic experiences, one which poor old Bubsy the bobcat is not able to offer; although I’d like to see them try! The difference between now and then, is that many of those platforming mascots had elements of “cute” about them. They were usually kids or animals, and could be marketed as plush toys and other merchandise.
Some people these days tend to see “cute” as a product meant for children, but that does not have to be a negative thing. Like a good kids TV show, there is always something in there for the adults. If it’s not the subtle adult jokes, it’s the adaptability and simplicity of the games. They are very easy to pick up and play, and offer a friendly gaming option. What I want to do here, is pick out a few “cute” platformers from the “golden age” of platforming, and analyse the game a little, along with it’s star.
Super Alfred Chicken
Published by Mindscape in 1994, this game was another in the popular series, which had seen different games released on multiple platforms. This, I could argue, is the strongest in the series. Featuring over 20 levels and a mix of platforming with the occasional puzzle, it offers great value. The colours in this game are beautiful, and bring the character of Alfred to life. He appears a lot smoother than the 8-bit version, where it looks like he needs a good hairdresser. Although he seems to lack the personality of some of his contemporaries, the game is solid enough without it. The occasional cheep is about all you will get out of him, no wise cracks here. Quite what Alfred was intended to be, is up for debate. He certainly was not a super hero, as he did not have the power to breathe under water. This game simply offers the traditional platforming elements, with a few little quirks thrown in. Quite why a chicken has snails for enemies, is anyone’s guess!
Alfred is sadly no longer a part of the gaming industry. He’s probably cheeping in a retirement home somewhere awaiting his return. They tried to bring back Alfred in 2002 for the PS1, but it does not seem to bare much in common with any of it’s predecessors. It lacked the charm and cute effect of the 16-bit version
“What could possibly go wrong?”, many things in the case of Bubsy. We all know about the failure of Bubsy 3D, and just how wrong it went. This is not about that ill-fated game though, this is the 16-bit game with the catchy theme song and the crazy mascot. Published by Accolade in 1993 for both the Nintendo and Sega consoles, the game was a first in a series that would last for just three years. The game had a mix of bizarre traits which would go on to inspire other video games, an example are the crazy deaths (Crash Bandicoot). It was quite clear that there were some familiar influences in the creation of Bubsy, including the lightning fast speed normally experienced with Sonic The Hedgehog. Some players complained that this was an insanely hard game, but there is some fun to be had. Unlike Alfred, Bubsy just oozed character. Whether he was the kind of character that was likeable, is really down to the players personal preference. He’s the kind of character that likes jumping on rabbits and collecting yarn balls for fun, sounds like a riot. If you’re looking for an interesting and zany platformer, look no further.
As previously mentioned, Bubsy spawned a few sequels, including a notoriously hard game on the Atari Jaguar. Interestingly, they tried to make a cartoon series but it was not to be! Bubsy has not been seen since 1996, and it seems plausible to suggest that it will remain that way for a long time to come.
If we were to ask you to identify a character that shoots his body parts to destroy enemies, the answer would most definitely be Rayman. This is an understandable conclusion considering the amount of success which the character has achieved in recent years. Plok, however, pre-dates the popular Ubisoft platformer by a few years. Developed by the legendary Pickford Bros in 1992 for the SNES, Plok is a gem of a game. Upon loading the cartridge, the player is greeted by Plok playing a harmonica and a kicking soundtrack to accompany it. Plok may not say anything, but he’s instantly cool; like an older brother with a car. The game, unlike the other two mentioned, follows a much more distinctive narrative; plok has lost his flag and he wants it back. The player then guides their way through many colourful stages, which always end with a flag pole. It’s a game which takes elements of Super Mario Bros and Sonic, and makes it’s own. The enemies are a little random, they include a blue head and some other very weird creatures. Plok, up to this point, seems like an invincible being but he isn’t. He may not say anything, but he does scream the moment he comes into contact with anything nasty. This adds a venerability to the character. After all, all he wants is his flag back; give the guy a break! The game itself is a solid platformer with enough intrigue and occasional puzzle solving to keep the player busy. Add to that a challenging difficulty, and a kicking soundtrack; and you’re onto a winner.
Out of all of the games mentioned, this is probably the most solid game overall. The mascot is cool but venerable, with a colourful world to interact in. It’s nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it’s memorable. The surprise is that there was never a sequel made. There have been rumours down the years, but nothing concrete. The Pickford Bros did revive the character however, and he’s currently starring in a series of comic strips and artwork. So despite not being in games any more, Plok is still alive and kicking somewhere.
The early 90s saw many different mascots appear on the gaming scene, too many to mention in this article. These were the three that sprang to mind when considering this article, but lots more are still roaming in the shadows. Early Sega mascot Alex Kidd has appeared in one or two Sonic games, so revivals are possible. However, it is a a lot simpler for someone like Nintendo or Sega to revive old characters. This is because they have the franchises such as Mario Kart and Smash Bros, to put them in without too much fuss. Characters such as Bubsy, are not tied to any big company and thus are less likely to be featured again on the main stage. We may one day be surprised when Alfred Chicken makes a comeback as an indie game, for that is very possible. The rise of retro gaming and kickstarter, has allowed cute platform games to be made again. Games such as Shovel Knight, which feature a prominent character, are on the rise. Quite what is next, who knows!
Do you have a gaming mascot which you remember fondly? Let us know below!
I’d like to give a special mention to ROLO!