A cameo is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a brief appearance or voice part of a known person in a work of the performing arts, typically unnamed or appearing as themselves.”
There are many reasons to include a cameo in your work. Sometimes a cameo is done as an homage to a previous work, such as having the original actor appear in a movie’s remake. Sometimes a cameo is a sort of mass media easter egg, unnoticeable but to the trained or forewarned eye, like finding the director in the movie she directed. More often than not, a cameo is done with the intent of shoring up notoriety — a publicity stunt, like Bill Murray in Zombieland. (In that case, the publicity was for Zombieland, not Bill Murray. Bill Murray is perhaps the most famous and greatest living actor today.)
And then there are the cameos in this list, which accomplish none of these. They’re goofy, weird, and in many cases, utterly pointless. But much like the games, these people find themselves in, they retain a sense of fun that you just don’t get in big motion pictures, even though it often leaves you scratching your head wondering, “Well why did that have to happen?”
As you’ll find out, the reasons can be varied and bizarre.
In one way or another, here we have 15 video game cameos that were completely wasted.
15 Burt Reynolds In Saints Row: The Third
If you haven’t played the game, your reaction may be very similar to the protagonist in Saints Row: The Third, who upon seeing the mayor of Steelport exclaims, “Burt-[expletive deleted]-Reynolds?!”
Yup. Burt Reynolds makes an appearance in the wacky open-world action adventure game as the mayor of the fictional town of Steelport. In typical Burt Reynolds style, he’s introduced while macking on a cop-costumed stripper, and gives you the task of clearing out a zombie infestation.
The waste here is that the scene is pretty much it. Burt can be heard occasionally on the few subsequent missions, and depending on some choices you make, may catch him again at the end, but that’s all you get of The Bandit himself. A tragic missed opportunity.
14 Justin Bieber In NBA 2K13
When I think Justin Bieber, I think basketball. Wait, no - when I think Justin Bieber, I think bad pop music, several misdemeanor vandalism charges, a couple of DUIs, and an assault. At no point do I think of the great sport of basketball.
Publisher, 2K Sports apparently felt differently, because they decided to shoehorn the Biebs into their game anyway. Along the way, he apparently received a growth spurt (going from 5’7’’ to a whopping 6’4) and a lifetime of basketball training as he can apparently outplay any of the real world professionals featured in the game.
So how did the Biebmonster get the gig? Well, NBA 2K13 was produced by millionaire rapper and record label mogul Jay-Z, to whom Justin is personally acquainted. Not sure who called who on that pitch, but I’m sure the conversation was awkward regardless.
13 Dick Cheney And Sarah Palin In NBA Jam 2010
Sports games just seem to love their celebrity cameos. The NBA Jam franchise especially has been known to have a lot of them.
The original NBA Jam featured Bill and Hillary Clinton, Will Smith (as the Fresh Prince), Al Gore, and several Mortal Kombat personalities as code-locked characters. That was cute and fun, but for the 2010 remake publisher, EA Sports, decided they could do better.
How much better? Well, Bill and Hillary are back, but there’s also George Bush Jr., Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, John McCain, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, The Beastie Boys, every NBA Mascot, ESPN Announcers Colin Cowherd and Michelle Beadle, and even the game’s announcer Tim Kitzrow.
My only question here is: who would ever want to play basketball as Dick Cheney?
12 Duke Nukem In Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition
Oh, Duke. Will you ever die? Evidently not, as he’s back for Gearbox’s latest offering in Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition. For an extra 5 bucks, you can buy the Duke Nukem Bulletstorm Tour, which is the same game except replaces Bulletstorm’s regular hero —Grayson Hunt— with the Duke.
Why is this a waste? Bulletstorm was already released back in 2011, and asking people to pay another 60 dollars for a remastered edition is already pretty steep. Asking them for another 5 bucks just to play as Duke seems especially galling. Would it have been so awful to have Duke as unlockable content, or dare I say, a different play mode available from the beginning for free?
I suspect the Duke is going to find his way into many other first person shooter titles, along with a 5 dollar price tag.
11 Barack Obama In Mercenaries 2: World In Flames
While we’re on the topic of paying for the privilege of a re-skin, here we have Obama starring in the military sandbox action game, Mercenaries 2: World in Flames. Back in August 2008, Obama was still a presidential hopeful, but Pandemic Studios were so confident in his victory they just had to include him in a paid DLC for their game.
The political implications of an incoming US president violently overthrowing the Venezuelan government with bullets and bazookas might have been slightly lost on the game’s designers. It wasn’t lost on Venezuela though, and their government had some harsh criticism for Pandemic, saying that the game was an attempt to drum up support for invading their country. Considering Pandemic Studios had also previously made training simulations for the US military, they may not have been too far off the mark.
Given Obama’s liberal leanings, I don’t think he would have approved though.
10 Michael Jackson In Space Channel 5
Alright, let’s break this one down. Space Channel 5 is a music game made by Sega for the Dreamcast, and then eventually released on Game Boy Advance and PlayStation 2. The point of the game is to help funky space reporter Ulala (I swear to god I'm not making this up) as she grooves to rescue hostages by performing choreographed dance numbers.
This is already fantastic without Jackson, but wait - he's coming.
In 1999, the executive producer for Space Channel 5 got a call; it’s Michael Jackson. He somehow got wind of the game and asked to be put in. When you get a call from The King of Pop asking to be in your video game you do not say no, so they wrote him in as Space Michael. With his help, Ulala defeats the evil space aliens through the power of dance.
Space Michael would reprise his role in Space Channel 5: Part 2, where he becomes the new head of Space Channel 5. Later he's captured by space aliens, and once again Ulala has to save him using Jackson's signature dance moves.
9 Every Single Unlockable Character In Tony Hawk Games
Tony Hawk lent his name to what is without a doubt the largest skateboarding video game franchise in history. Since 1999 there has been a Tony Hawk game released on every single console system, every handheld system, and even for Android and iOS.
One of the hallmarks of the series has been unlockable characters. First, it was other professional skateboarders that weren’t in the initial cast, but ever since Pro Skater 2 the series has taken to throwing in celebrities, comic book heroes, video game characters, and more. A short list includes Spider-Man (Pro Skater 2), Darth Maul (Pro Skater 3), Gene Simmons (Underground), Billie Joe Armstrong (American Wasteland), Jango Fett (Pro Skater 4), Shrek (Underground 2), Call of Duty Soldier (Underground 2), and Lil Wayne (Pro Skater 5).
Of course, as a skateboarding game, these cameo appearances are by definition wasted since skateboarding games are awful. Moving on.
8 Ricky Gervais In Grand Theft Auto: 4
Running around the streets of Liberty City stealing cars and chasing hookers can be pretty tiring. What better way to unwind than to take in a stand-up act at the local comedy club? And what better comedian to fit the dark and sullied world of Grand Theft Auto than the king of black comedy himself, Ricky Gervais?
Ricky actually has three sets that you can come back to when you’re tired of your murder-fueled crime spree, each one fully animated by a believable Gervais simulacrum. The jokes are delightfully keyed to GTA’s tone, so if you enjoy the game, you’ll probably get a good laugh.
The waste here? His sets are only 4 minutes long.
7 Gary Coleman In Postal2
If you thought GTA4 was depraved, then you’ll love Postal2. The first Postal followed a nameless protagonist (if you can call him that) while he has a mental break and massacres a US Air Force base before finally winding up in an insane asylum. In Postal2, you follow The Postal Dude as he goes through a regular work week, albeit with the option of shooting, stabbing, tasing, exploding, bludgeoning, lighting on fire, or urinating on everyone he meets.
One of those people you meet (and have the option of doing terrible things to) is Gary Coleman. Apparently, he’s at the mall doing a book signing, and The Postal Dude is a Coleman fan. If you opt not to kill the former Diff’rent Strokes star, the cops will show up and kill him for you.
Coleman’s appearance isn’t a total waste though; Evil Gary Coleman clones will haunt The Postal Dude’s violent hallucinations in the Apocalypse Weekend expansion.
6 Phil Collins In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
The first celebrity to make an appearance in a Grand Theft Auto game, Phil Collins actually has a much larger role to play than Ricky Gervais. Phil actually has his own mission sequence in Vice City Stories.
In the game, Phil’s manager owes the mob quite a bit of money and needs the player’s help to make sure he gets to his sold-out concert in one piece. After arriving by helicopter (because of course Phil Collins would arrive by helicopter), everyone is assaulted by gunmen. It’s a hard-fought battle, but you eventually emerge victoriously, and Mr. Collins makes his way to the concert where yet more gunmen try and stop the show. After fending off this latest assault, Phil thanks the player and gives him the option of purchasing a ticket to his concert to see a full rendition of “In the Air Tonight.”
The waste? They didn’t pick “Easy Lover." Love that song.
5 Drew Carey In The Sims
I’ve never understood The Sims as a game. If I wanted to struggle through my day to day life, I’d stop playing video games and try and cook something without having my house catch fire. The Sims makes it look so easy, but I’ve burned down five houses this way!
In The Sims expansion pack, House Party, it’s actually possible to get the Price is Right host to crash your party. However, it’s as difficult to get Drew Carey to show up in The Sims as it is for me to cook in real life. For Carey to arrive, the player must have had a party going for 135 minutes and reached a minimum party score of 55. Just like in real life.
Also just like in real life, Drew Carey will greet the player in Simlish, ensure every attendee talks about him incessantly, and then leave.
4 The Burger King In Fight Night Round 3
Sports games are kinda like The Sims to me — if I wanted to go out and live my life, I’d do it. Similarly, if I wanted to play sports, I’d go do sports. I don’t though because-because everything I do in real life turns into a dumpster fire, including sports. On the plus side, that one time I lit the basketball court on fire got me kicked out of gym class forever.
Score one for dumpster fires!
Anyway, The Burger King is an available trainer in Fight Night Round 3, meaning he will help you into the ring and basically be your hype man. Of all the fast food mascots to cameo in a boxing game, The Burger King is not in my top 3. He might not even be in my top 5. I would much rather be hyped up by Colonel Sanders or Wendy.
Not Ronald McDonald though. Clowns are creepy.
3 Snoop Dogg In True Crime: Streets of LA
Unlike a lot of entries on this list, Snoop Dogg being in a gritty crime sandbox doesn’t actually seem all that out of place. To unlock the famous rapper, simply gather 30 dog bones from around Los Angeles. Just like in Bulletstorm, not only do you reskin the protagonist, but you also get reworked lines with Snoop as the voice actor, as well as a short mission segment especially for Snoop.
The waste here is that Snoop Dogg is a talented enough artist to warrant his own video game. We could stick with the sandbox motif and just make a GTA clone starring Snoop Dogg, or maybe a first person shooter where he runs around as a—a—
What? He does stars in a rhythm game where he’s the Rastafarian raconteur telling the player’s story.
Huh. Well, I still think the sandbox thing would’ve been better.
2 Martin Sheen In Mass Effect 2
Martin Sheen. Mass Effect. Was there ever a marriage that felt more right than that? We have the best fake president the world has ever seen, and we put him in the best Mass Effect game the world has ever seen. It’s like poetry.
Martin Sheen plays as The Illusive Man in the Mass Effect series, a character who believes the ends justify the means, and sends Shepherd on some morally questionable quests to save the galaxy. Your actions determine whether you manage to steer things in a good or bad direction, but regardless of which path you take Martin Sheen will always be there to congratulate or cajole you following your mission.
While he has a lot of screen time in terms of cinematics, he could have been in your ear a little more often as a sort of Martin Sheen Navi, whispering ethically dubious advice like “kill all the aliens.” I bet a lot more players would have gone renegade in Mass Effect if that had been the case.
1 Hideo Kojima In Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
Metal Gear is a bit of a sore spot for me. I loved the series. I loved the kooky writing and the corny jokes. I loved the quirky controls and clumsy stealth systems. I loved the utterly bonkers plot, and above all, I loved the characters.
Then they got rid of David Hayter as Solid Snake, and my love evaporated in an instant. Even just writing that I can’t help but sigh out loud.
The precursor to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Ground Zeroes follows the original Snake as he infiltrates Cuba in order to rescue a captured American operative and a former child soldier (‘cause there’s always a child soldier somewhere in Metal Gear). One of the side quests that takes place before the events of the main story (called Side Ops) has you go rescue a spy in a former US Naval prison.
Who does it turn out to be? Hideo Kojima - the creator of the series, and the guy who cut Hayter as the voice of Snake.
Had I known I would have left him to die.