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The Ferret Talks Gaming: Screwup-on-Screwup Action

“Make the bad guys cry like an anime fan on prom night”

This was seemingly the moment when everyone who’d put money into Mighty No. 9’s Kickstarter suddenly started requesting their money back. The latest trailer, a final announcement leading up to the game’s long-awaited release, hasn’t exactly been well-received.

Then again, this could describe the game’s entire development cycle. Delay after delay, clashes between the community and the community manager, Inafune trying to Kickstart ANOTHER game before the first one was even finished, and a general sense that the game simply isn’t living up to its promises in either the graphics or gameplay departments. It’s not been going well. And now this trailer comes along and continues the train of upset.

However, the trailer does have its defenders. For those who are unaware, Mighty No. 9 is a spiritual successor to the Mega Man series, brought forward by series creator Keiji Inafune out of frustration over Capcom constantly cancelling his work. As such, the defence says that the ads are trying to emulate the crineworthy cheese of the Mega Man era, and while I get that, I still argue the trailer is terrible.

Don’t get me wrong, 90s advertising was terrible. A cursory glance around the Internet can pull up plenty of questionable examples. Here’s a selection of ads that includes such gems as Mario being arrested for his wild partying, a man recounting the storyline of Shenmue during sex, and Crash Bandicoot interrupting an awkward family dinner while Lara Croft is awkwardly CGI’ed into the background (they really couldn’t put an actress in a Lara outfit but a bulky Crash Bandicoot suit was possible?)

Beyond that, the 80s and 90s were riddled with plenty of bizarre ad choices. It was an era where the games industry was anarchic and weird, and wasn’t really sure what it was doing with itself. Its marketing was often shipped off to ad-men, who were only tangentially aware of what video games were, and decided to just make a lot of noise, and find wacky ways of grabbing the attention of kids raised on a diet of Power Rangers and Pogs.

What resulted was often a series of bizarre ad messages, many of which missed the point of the games being advertised, or inadvertently fuelled the moral panic around the industry further. Some just didn’t even make sense.

Like this nonsense:

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Or someone not being sure what video games are, but being aware that sex sells, and presenting this gem:

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Or, even better, equating video games with masturbation:

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And, being a Tomb Raider fan, I certainly can’t let this pass without highlighting the casual objectification of Lara Croft during her history, something that creator Toby Gard openly disliked:

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But what of Mega Man himself? After all, Mighty No. 9 is a spiritual successor to that franchise. How on earth was that promoted?

With Mega Man X3 being classified as a hazardous object, apparently:

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Or the ad guys being unaware of how to market Mega Man 3 at all and just tossing this out there:

In other words, nothing like the Mighty No. 9 trailer we saw last week. In fact, looking over these ads, I realised exactly why 90s ads felt charming in their cheesiness while Mighty No. 9’s felt so awful. Mighty No. 9’s trailer wasn’t weird enough. For all intents and purposes, it was presented as a modern trailer, but with a voiceover shipped in from 1993. There’s a clash there. It’s a confused corporate view of gamers in the 90s filtered through a cold corporate ad structure of 2016, so everything feels painfully forced.

And then there’s that line. “Make the bad guys cry like an anime fan on prom night.” The meaning is clear here; anime fans are sad loser nerds who can’t get a date and so will be lonely and sad on prom night. It’s perfectly in line with the tone of a lot of 90s ads, I’ll give it that, but it misses one key aspect of the whole thing – those ads were always building up players, and making them feel like they could kick ass. Meanwhile, the Venn diagram of “Mega Man fans” and “anime fans” has a large overlap and the marketers decided to call their potential audience sad loser nerds. Which, uh, probably isn’t the best way to go about it.

In fact, Inafune’s marketing team had a template they could have easily worked from if they wanted cheesy and retro. Take a look at this ad for MM10 that Capcom put out to highlight the retro nature of that game:

That captures the vibe beautifully. They abandoned all notion of presenting the game as they would any other, and threw themselves totally into the 80s/90s anarchic weirdness. For added ridiculousness, they show a game that emulates the NES playing from a Sega cartridge and being played with an Atari joystick. All with a shaky VHS filter for that added flair. It’s perfect.

Perhaps it’s symbolic of Mighty No. 9 as a whole. The trailer set out with the goal of evoking cheesy 90s advertising, but only got halfway there and ended up insulting the fanbase in the process. Just like how the game set out to evoke the feel of classic Mega Man, but only got halfway there and looks a bit rough and bland, insulting the fanbase who provided money for the game to exist in the first place.

Could the trailer have been better received if the other issues didn’t surround the game? Perhaps. If the fans and casual observers had reason to feel more excited about the game they might have forgiven the “combo-on-combo action”, but as it is, they were left crying like an anime fan on prom night.

Ultimately, it’s a lesson in how games companies really need to work harder on understanding their potential audiences, and react accordingly. Also, if you’re going to do something retro, you really need to do your research properly, and then go all the way with it, not half-arse it and inadvertently insult an already-upset fanbase with a misplaced line.

And with that, I leave you with this ad, which I feel is appropriate for this blog:

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