Their next starring appearance? Your dreams
For those who aren’t old enough to remember, the 90s were a very different time in the world of videogames. When Sonic the Hedgehog was released in 1991, Sega positioned the character as a totally extreme narrative to the relatively bland Super Mario. Sonic was everything the plumber wasn’t—fast, aggressive, and in your face. The blue hedgehog became a physical embodiment of the spirit of the 1990s, and Sega’s marketing campaign traded on this fact, claiming that the Genesis “did what Nintendon’t.” This kicked off the “console wars,” a period producing arguments both numerous and vociferous on playgrounds everywhere as Sega and Nintendo fought for dominance of the recently-revitalized video game market.
Of course, success stories always inspire copycats, and Sega’s rise was no different. Sonic’s ascendance inspired countless developers to try their hand at their own edgy mascots, with varying results. Some of these characters went on to find success—most notably, Sony’s Crash Bandicoot. But most were relegated to the trash heap of history, to be revived only briefly by riding the wave of 90s nostalgia to limited success on Kickstarter campaigns in recent years.
If you missed these guys the first time around, you might have seen them on lists enumerating their hopeful appearances and inevitable crashes back in the golden age of game mascots. But none of these lists has asked the truly important question—which would make the best boyfriend? You might think this is a non sequitur, but think about it—they’re out of the spotlight, they’re probably just working steady jobs somewhere, they’ve got time on their hands. And unlike Sonic, they’re not online—the dream.
Now, there are a lot of these boys kicking around, so to make things simpler I’ve grouped them by personality and appearance. There are your Bad Boys, your Jokers, and so on. Most mascots fall into an archetype, and can be considered in relation to others in their grouping. I’m also not including some lesser-known mascot characters who, despite their relative obscurity, have starred in a number of games—your Klonoas, your Sparksters, your Conkers. I’m talking mostly one-and-done characters here, those who, for better or for worse, never got a second chance—until now.
The Bad Boys
These are the mascots you don’t take home to mom, unless you’re looking to freak her out. They’re the ones who tried to ride the edgy Sonic wave, eschewing the simple look of a Super Mario for smirks, crossed arms, and skateboards. And they’re nearly all anthropomorphic animals, so they may hold special appeal for a certain segment of my readers.
Check out my original character: rabbit with gun—too bad Bucky O’Hare already did it ten years earlier, and he wore pants. Learning from his mistakes, Jazz’s creator Cliff Bleszinski would go on to refine the design in later works, created such beloved characters like Gears of War‘s “angry large man with gun that is also a chainsaw.” Jazz does have a hot sister, but that’s outside the scope of this piece.
Aero the Acro-Bat
Beating out Rouge from Sonic Adventure 2 as a dextrous bat mascot by nearly ten years, Aero nearly made it to the big time. His first game was successful enough to get a sequel, and he almost had his own cartoon. What held him back? Maybe it was just bad luck. Maybe it was the fact that his whole motivation was a little too close to Sonic’s—saving animals from an evil industrialist—but with the weird twist of trying to keep a circus open. Whatever the case, he’s limber—and check out those teeth. The only issue is that he’s used to being the center of attention. Could he rein that in to have a successful relationship?
Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel
A villain turned ally from the Aero series, Zero—no relation to the Mega Man character—is an edgier version of the acro-bat, snarling on his game’s cover as he hurls a shuriken directly towards the viewer. In Sonic terms, he’d be the Knuckles or Shadow of the Aero-verse. Like Aero, he’s also at war with the greed of man—specifically, a French Canadian lumberjack looking to deforest Zero’s home to make counterfeit money. I was going to talk about how Zero is probably the kind of guy who’d show up for a few hours to really give it to you before wandering back into the woods to chain himself to a tree, but it turns out he’s got a girlfriend. Her name? Amy—a full year after the Sonic character of the same name debuted in Sonic CD.
He’s a skater, which appeals to a certain kind of person. But he already has a girlfriend, named—what else—Rexanne, so unless things have soured with her since his one and only appearance in 1994, he’s off the market.
Okay, Amiga, we get it—you had a dude. You had a gremlin ninja dude name Zool, who was originally named Pootz. We’re all very happy for you. But Zool just doesn’t have any personality—all we really know is that he loves swords, which is a major red flag. We barely even know what he looks like. Maybe you have to be British to get his whole deal, but I just don’t see the fuss.
Holy shit, this guy is fucking nuts. Just look at him! On the Sonic Spectrum of Badness, he tripped over the Shadow the Hedgehog end and came out as a lunatic competitive eater waving his tongue around like some kind of reject from Chameleon Twist. What that tongue do, though?
This marsupial took Sonic’s vaguely-environmentalist theme to its logical conclusion, tasking the player with collecting trash and answering environmental trivia—because nothing says “radical dude” like learning about acid rain. I don’t know. I fucking hate this guy.
High Seas Havoc
With a name that sounds like a Donkey Kong Country level, Havoc is an anthropomorphic seal—points for originality—of the “good pirate” persuasion. I like his jaunty outfit, and anyone who owns a boat is doing something right. He hews a little close to Sonic in having a kid sidekick and pursuing a magical “Emerelda”, but I think you can forgive that of an anthropomorphic seal.
Winner: High Seas Havoc
He knows how to dress himself, has a job, and his name actually wouldn’t be out of the ordinary in Brooklyn. I think I know like three Havocs already.
Surprisingly devoid of baditude at a time when it was king, these mascots tried for a more friendly approach. But does their simple, straightforward charm translate to relationship material?
You might mistake Ristar for a bad boy based on the cover of his game, but nothing could be further from the truth. Even after being subjected to a Kirby-esque Americanization process that left him with a permanent scowl, Ristar is a cute little guy who sometimes even teams up with former enemies. And he’s got stretchy arms, which means never having to worry about tall bookshelves or high cabinets ever again.
The star of a game intended to be a 3D Yoshi platformer but rejected by Nintendo, Croc actually did pretty well in his first outing—well enough, in fact, to get a sequel that was weirdly cross-promoted with a gummy version of Life Savers. Croc seems like a sweet guy, albeit one without a whole lot of personality.
He’s already got a beloved named Suzy. Plus, who cares.
Originally, James Pond was nothing more than a bad joke—a superspy fish in a third of a tux. But things get interesting when Pond gets the Robocop treatment, turning him into a fishy hunk with a perfect metal body. Think The Shape of Water, but with the power to stretch almost indefinitely. Your gutters will be leaf-free as long as he’s around, and replacing smoke detector batteries is a snap. Like your men tall? How about 60′ tall?
Poor Blinx. After a disappointing showing in his early, eponymous Xbox title, Microsoft ditched him in favor of the featureless, boring Master Chief in an effort to promote the console as the mature gamer’s choice. He’s got a softer side but a devilish streak too, and he evidently isn’t afraid of a little housework. Shame about the teen boy anime protagonist goggles, but the rest of his look is so chic that I think I can let them slide.
He’s just really cute, okay? Plus he’s the only one that actually wears pants.
The “Definitely Not Ninja Turtles”
These teams of anthropomorphic animals are absolutely not attempts to cash in on the TMNT craze. Frankly, how dare you?
If you don’t know who these guys are, my good friend the Angry Video Game Nerd has got you. They’re the most failed of failed mascots, characters launched with the unchecked ambition of a mortal in a Greek tragedy and now consigned to minor Deviantart accounts. They’re even named after Greek gods! The game seems a little confused on the issue of whether these guys are distinct beings or forms taken by the teen boy character who gets sucked into the game world in the introduction then is never seen again, so regardless of their possible merits I’m going to disqualify them on that basis alone.
I’m lumping them together because they’re basically indistinguishable to me. They definitely take care of themselves, and they’re totally comfortable with their bodies. But you know they’re total bros at the gym, the type who let the barbells drop and don’t wipe off their equipment. They probably say “babe” a lot. They can probably lay pipe but the conversation is going to be so insufferable that it’s not worth it. You might respond when they send a “u up?” message at midnight on a Tuesday, but they’re not BF material.
Only by default, and because they could maybe get you the Dark Queen’s phone number.
Distinguished from their attitude-driven peers by their their wry, comedic approach, these characters soon stumbled upon a massive problem—hearing Dana Gould deliver the same one-liner every time you hit an enemy rapidly becomes annoying. They’re talkative, consider themselves the life of the party, and can make you smile—but would they make good boyfriends?
Get this—what if Super Mario, but he was a sarcastic lizard? Say what you want about Gex—he’ll certainly say what he wants about literally everything—but he has at least two very important things going for him. First, he owns a tuxedo. Second, he is the only video game mascot who has canonically touched a tity.
On the bright side, he’s surprisingly cultured and enjoys the work of James Turrell. Unfortunately, he’s Porky Pigging 24/7.
Pro: he’s got a tight little tuchus and isn’t afraid to show it off. Con: unsettling floating eyebrows.
Just stuff a sock in his mouth and you’re good to go.
Anthropomorphic animals were the easy go-to for mascot designers in the 90s, but some weren’t content to wade in these shallow waters. These characters tried something different, and while they didn’t win the hearts of the nation with their weird ways, maybe they’re just what you’re looking for.
The head-throwing Treasure character’s game was framed as a stage show, so I guess you could call him an actor. By all accounts, it was a great title, but Headdy never quite got his due. He is saddled with an unfortunate bowtie, but he’s got one big feature to make up for it—he can switch out his head, making “putting on my face” more literal than it’s ever been. Most mascots never change, but Headdy can always keep things fresh.
It’s been two decades and I still don’t know what Plok’s deal is. He’s kind of a Rayman in that he fires his limbs at enemies, except those enemies happen to be fleas.
He might not be much for conversation, but he’s got a lot of experience handling orbs. And without getting too blue, he’s probably not going to balk if you ask him to, uh, exert a little pressure in the bedroom—I mean, he doesn’t really have many other options in that department.
Winner: Dynamite Headdy
He’s creative, he’s expressive, and you know he gives good head.
There can be only one. And amidst all our contenders, there is a clear standout—my boy Blinx. He vacuums, he’s got a winning smile, and he’s got time powers—esprit d’escalier will be a thing of the past with him on your arm. He wears enough clothes to be presentable in proper society, and they’re so fashionable you’ll probably want to borrow them. Blinx wasn’t given a fair shot back in the day, but he deserves one now more than ever. Just watch out for those barbs.
Correction 12/6/18 11:29 PM: This article originally stated that Bug wears a bowtie. He actually has a pair of bowtie-like wings.