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5 best games TV ads of the 80s and 90s

It's normal to see games advertised on TV these days, but in the early years of video gaming, the commercials were rare and often bizarre. Here are our favourite retro games ads.

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While its commonplace to see an advert for Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 5 on TV today, it was far less commonplace to catch a commercial for a console or game in the 80s and 90s. And, when they did appear, they were often more than a little odd.

Certainly, a few favourites spring to mind when we think back – so we’ve collated several retro gaming-themed ads for you to enjoy also. Just imagine how they’d be received if they appeared on television now.

Here then are our best retro games TV adverts.

Morecambe and Wise star in 80s Atari VCS ad campaign

Comedy double act Morecambe and Wise were so popular during the 1980s they were chosen to advertise the relatively new Atari Video Computer System (VCS), even though they were far from the target demographic.

It was a clever ploy. After all, the console cost £199 at launch which equates to over £1,000 in today’s money, with inflation taken into account – so it’d only be affluent parents that could afford one anyway. And that’s not even including the games themselves.

Original “outrageous” Game Boy advert

Nintendo’s Game Boy was obviously a massive success and changed the landscape of handheld gaming forever. However, it might not have been so popular if there was too much reliance on this advert from 1989.

It’s not so much the hackneyed robot/alien thing that gets zapped by the stereotypical 80s gamer that has us cringing, it’s that the voice over calls Tetris “outrageous”. Tetris is many things, but outrageous is not one of them.

To be this good takes AGES

To be fair, this UK ad for the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis in the US) is actually a really good and features some recognisable stars – but it’s very 90s.

It also says very little about the games machine itself, which was somewhat a theme in the early days of console gaming. Considering the amount of negative publicity games were getting in the press at the time, we’re pretty sure advertisers tried their hardest to avoid the actual subject and favoured fast paced visuals instead.

David Lynch’s “The Third Place”

It’s remarkable to think that Sony managed to get the sublime, at times surreal director David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet) to make adverts for the PlayStation 2, but that he did.

He made a few in the end, but its “The Third Place” that most bears his trademark style. It’s also, quite possibly, the strangest, eminently unnerving video gaming advert of all time. We’re not sure how many PS2s it sold.

Yes, that really is Jack Black in a 1982 Activision advert

Finally, back to the Atari VCS (or Atari 2600 as it had been renamed) and a great curiosity as the US advert for Activision’s Pitfall featured none other than a young Jack Black.

Who’d have thought that he’d eventually go on to be Bowser in the Super Mario Bros. Movie?

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Rik Henderson
Rik Hendersonhttp://gameslifer.com
Rik is a professional journalist with more than 35 years experience across online, magazines and television broadcasting. As well as the creator of GamesLifer, he is the News Editor of T3.com, while his previous work includes stints as editor and group editor on several monthlies and weeklies covering video games and technology. He has also been a series producer on daily and weekly TV shows, and has presented and guested on multiple TV series too, including GamesMaster, Games World, Game Over, Virtual World of Sport, Live TV, Greatest Christmas TV Ads, and The Apprentice.
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