Everyone loves Nintendo! The same parent company responsible for Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda ushered in a family-friendly style of gaming that has cornered the market of lovable mascots and their adorable enemies. Mario himself is as universal as Mickey Mouse. If you look at Nintendo today there is almost no denying that they have built an empire on bright and colorful gaming, with innovation to boot! Their latest console, the Nintendo Switch, was outselling its competition back in July of 2018 according to an article in Gamespot. It seems that for a five-foot-one plumber, you could do a lot worse.
But, it wasn’t always the case.
No, the cute mustachioed plumber we all fawn over has a dark and checkered past full of lies and deceit. Well... maybe that is a LITTLE dramatic. Though the company has been around since the late 1800s, it took them a long time of experimenting in multiple markets to try and gain traction. Ultimately, family video-games would be their calling, but Nintendo’s journey was odd at best.
Enter the 90s. “No Fear” t-shirts were sweeping the nation. Vanilla Ice was on every portable walkman in town. Jurassic Park was hitting the big screens and The X-Files were hitting the small screens. Nintendo had swung hard and heavy with the NES in the mid-to-late eighties, and now it was time to get with the times. SEGA was dominating them in the teen market with ad campaigns like “SEGA does what Nintendon’t!”
So, Nintendo thought, “let’s try some stuff!”
Below is a list of 25 pictures from Nintendo’s run in the 90s that will make any millennial wake up in a cold sweat; a cold sweat filled with disappointment.
25 Super Mario Bros. Super Show
This wasn't the worst cartoon made from a Nintendo property, but it definitely fooled an entire generation of Mario-likers. The reason? Mario's voice!
Before Charles Martinet, Mario was believed to be an Italian man with the voice of an... Italian man.
For a lot of people, this is their canon Mario voice. The voice we think of today is more like a cartoon caricature of an Italian. Honestly, though the Charles Martinet version is second to none, it's actually not the most sensitive portrayal if you think about it.
24 Super Mario Bros. Lost Levels
Get a load of that purple guy. The U.S. never saw a proper release of the true Super Mario Bros. 2 on the NES. What we got was a re-skinned version of Doki Doki Panic. Bright. Colorful. Easy.
Japan got the REAL version of Super Mario Bros. 2 which was troll-fest filled with pro-level challenges, and, you guessed it, poison mushrooms. When America got Super Mario All-Stars (1993) we finally got a taste of what was now called The Lost Levels. Upon hitting that infamous block and seeing that purple mushroom we all thought, "hey! new power up?"
Never again, Nintendo. Never again.
23 Earthbound 64
Did you know that you almost had a follow up to the incredible SNES game on the Nintendo 64? Well, if you subscribed to Nintendo Power back in the 90s then you were probably looking forward to it. The magazine released a full spread full of details and images.
This game never came out. Instead, Mother 3 came out later for the Game Boy Advance and it was only released in Japan.
Fans of Earthbound have had a rough go since the 90s. Though the game had critical success, it just failed to meet financial interest and ultimately we lost a 3D version of Earthbound. Bummer!
22 Play It Loud - Super Nintendo
The "Play It Loud" campaign is what Nintendo used to combat the very real threat SEGA posed during the 90s console wars. SEGA had a slogan, "Sega does what nintendon't." Basically, SEGA was calling Nintendo a bunch of wimps and Nintendo responded with something they thought was just as cool. It wasn't. Nintendo isn't loud. Nintendo is soft, colorful, bright, and happy. Just play ANY of their games. The company has leaned into their promise of family friendly gaming in the last decade, but in the 90s it was like they were begging for cool kids to like them. Always do you, Nintendo.
21 Shen Long Screen - Street Fighter II
Boy, if we only had the internet back in the 90s we all would've saved so much time trying to spam our way into secrets that some kid told us during recess. Due to a translation mishap, players were certain there was a hidden character in Street Fighter II named Shen Long. Apparently, Shen Long was just part of move executed by Ryu. There never was a Shen Long, but that didn't stop waves of teens from teaching younger kids how to find him in-game. Never believe anything an older kid tells you, especially when the instructions take hours and hours.
20 Game Boy Color Tongue Ad
Absolutely not! No thank you! Hard pass.
First of all, nobody wants to look at tongues. At all. Ever. There is something vaguely "grown up" about this ad that does not belong anywhere near a Game Boy advert. If we all remember correctly, the Game Boy was a portable gaming device so children could play Tetris.
This looks like a nightmare that you might have after cursing in front of your parents.
We get the idea here, but it doesn’t work. How did they even get that paint ON the tongues? And, is that a wall of skin behind them? This needs no more analysis, it just needs to go away.
19 Mew Truck
If you are looking at the image above and your fists are not firmly clenched, then you likely didn't spend hours and hours trying to get this truck to produce one happy/healthy Mew. No. 151 on the old Pokédex, Mew was highly sought after. Rumors spread around the internet (mostly school yard) about how to obtain this rare creature, and of course they were all fake. Though there is some glitches that will get you this Poké-prize, finding Mew under this truck is not one of them. Angrily, most gamers ordered their Snorlax to destroy the truck out of solidarity. This is a joke, but if only right?
18 Kirby Is A Bad Boy?
When Nintendo was going through its "bad-boy" phase, they really pushed this idea that their available character roster had an edge to it. If there is one beloved franchise that has absolutely no edge, it's Kirby. In fact, Kirby is as round as they come! This advertisement, that appeared in comic books and gaming magazines, portrays Kirby with some kind of in-your-face attitude that doesn't fit, at all. From design to execution, Nintendo does everything they can to make Kirby the softest game in town. This is just weird. Kirby would sooner snuggle with you then end up inside your s'more!
17 Nintendo Cereal
This commercial first aired in 1989, but the spot ran for years into the 90s and the cereal was sold at various times throughout the 90s. In fact, they even tried bringing it back in the last 5 years.
You might be tempted to try it. Don't!
Talk about a bait and switch. You're telling us that I can enjoy Mario and Link during breakfast, as well?! The cereal was just bad, and it didn't stop us from eating it. Do not trust the entertainment you enjoy to also make your food.
16 Donkey Kong 64
The Nintendo 64 was all about taking your favorite games on the SNES and putting them in a 3D environment. Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Mega Man 64 are all examples of this trend in action. Donkey Kong Country was a late arrival on the SNES and did so well that making a 3D version of the game was an obvious choice. Along comes Donkey Kong 64 to smash all of your hopes and dreams. The game was terrible, which didn't make a lot of sense coming from Rare, the same studio that made Banjo Kazooie (a pretty good game). Take this one back and give us Earthbound 64, please!
15 The Legend Of Zelda Animated Series
Oh, man! If you haven't been on the internet in a while then "excuuuuuse me, princess!" This cartoon is all over the place these days. It shows up in articles and memes all the time, and do you want to know why? Because this is infamously rotten in just about every way. 90s kids know the exact feeling of waking up early to tune in to their favorite video game portrayed in stunning 4:3 syndication. What they got was a whiny semi-gross Link, and a bunch of story that doesn't really have anything to do with The Legend of Zelda, at all. This didn't just cause trust issues in gamers, it caused trust issues with Nintendo who have been very wary of licensing their franchises out ever again.
14 Contra III: The Alien Wars
Okay, so this is actually a very good game. If you have not played it yet, then I suggest you jump on your SNES Classic and give it go. However, the first thing you will notice is that the game is difficult... like really, really difficult.
This entry is more of a comment on ALL video games back in the 90s. They could be brutal. Nintendo released games like Super Mario World, yes, but they also released Contra III: The Alien Wars. Imagine you get this for Christmas. You MIGHT get passed the first level come Easter. Thank Mario we finally have save-states.
13 Graphics So Real
This is an advertisement for Gargoyles on the Game Boy. If you know anything about the Game Boy, it has notoriously BAD graphics. Even for its time, they were not as powerful as other handhelds. Part of its charm was in its simplicity.
So, what is this ad talking about?
We doubt you will "forget you are playing just a game" while hunched under a small lamp in your grandmother's den trying to make out green and black pixels. This ad is very misleading, and made Game Gear owners fume with anger... all two of them.
12 Glitches Upon Glitches
There you are just walking and minding your own business when... WHOOPS! Straight through the bottom of the level you go.
Glitches are a thing that have been around since the old days. Of course, they are still rampant in video games, but these days a game can get patched to minimize this kind of insanity. Back in the 90s, if a game shipped broken it stayed broken.
While there are some pretty cool stuff you can do with glitches, they mostly come when you least expect them and destroy your hard earned progress.
11 Super NES CD-ROM System?
Of all the lessons we learned from the 90s, one of the most important was NEVER TRUST MERGERS. At least, not at first because sometimes they can go horribly wrong. In this case, Sony had developed a CD peripheral for the Super Nintendo called the PlayStation. However, in a moment of insane hubris Nintendo decided to undercut the deal they had with Sony in favor of another deal with Philips. To make matters worse, Nintendo didn't even have the gaul to mention this to Sony before the CES back in 1991. Thus, Nintendo created a monster that day. Sony went on to develop the actual PlayStation, and the rest is history.
10 Bad First-Party Peripherals
While Nintendo is usually behind the 8-ball when it comes to graphics and processing power, they tend to innovate quite a bit. Their controllers (love them or hate them) are always the talk of the town upon release. They also strike out all of the time. The Power Glove, R.O.B., and a million fight sticks later you were completely tapped out of funds, and probably none of it worked. The Power Glove in particular was such a weird concept, and Nintendo put a ton of marketing behind it. To quote the 1989 Fred Savage smash hit The Wizard, "I love the Power Glove...it's so bad."
9 Virtual Boy
Nintendo's consoles DO NOT fail... like EVER!
Yes, some are more lucrative than others, but for a console to go belly up only a year after launching and be completely pulled from shelves is almost unheard of.
Even the SEGA Saturn (notorious failed console) did better than the Virtual Boy.
So, what went wrong? Well, the console forced players to either hunch over or find a table that would perfectly measure up to their eye-balls. It also made gamers sick to play and caused eye damage. It's like we trusted Nintendo not to hurt us, but they did; financially and physically.
8 Donkey Kong Country Animated Series
This belongs in the metaphorical garbage. This might be a little dramatic, but how dare you Nintendo! This cartoon was makes Reboot look like Frozen. Wow! Now, those are some references!
From the animation style to the voice acting, the Donkey Kong Animated Series was just all over the place. It's hard to even look at because the character models are so deranged. Worst of all, it was such a let down compared to the video game.
7 Bart's Nightmare - Licensed Games
The 90s were chock a block full of licensed games coming out for the Super Nintendo, as if they were going out of style. Well, it turns out they would go out of style. By the mid-to-late aughts licensed video games would be synonymous with hot-trash, and for good reason. So many games were rushed just to make a quick buck before fading into obscurity. At $45 to $60, that's a lot of money to shell out for something terrible. It's not wonder these days gamers hang onto their cash and wait for the Metacritic score.
6 False Advertising
The original name of the Nintendo 64 was going to be The Ultra 64. Who knows why these things get changed? More to the point, if you dig into the messaging they had surrounding the system back in the 90s, you would be shocked.
"32 bit CD machines are fine but they don't cut it where it really counts."
That is a direct quote from an advertisement back in 1995. This information is just plain wrong. Any machine running CD-based games had way more space and fidelity to work with. The N64 holds up way worse than most CD-based games, especially in the sound department.
5 Mortal Kombat Fiasco
Upon the release of Mortal Kombat, parents across the globe were having full-on meltdowns over the graphic nature of the game. Looking back, it might seem silly to us, but back then this was a real issue. It was on the news!
SEGA released a version of the game that was completely uncut. The SNES released a version that replaced the blood with sweat. Officially, Nintendo positioned themselves as the Wal-Mart of video games. Thanks! We didn't realize YOU were our parents too!
4 Bad Third-Party Peripherals
Though quality control on third-party controllers and accessories will always be a gamble, we have a feeling quality control was a lot worse back in the 90s. Besides, we didn't know any better. You take one look at this controller and think, "wow! I bet I can do all kinds of stuff with all those buttons!"
But like, what? How often do you need to slow your game down, or speed it up? Even if this controller worked great it would only matter for so few games. Oh, also... it doesn't really work that well anyways. There goes your hard earned cash, straight into the pocket of "ascii."
3 Game Boy Heads Ad
Most of us are still having fun imagining scenarios in the Nintendo Switch launch ads actually playing out, but we forget Nintendo was trying to appeal to "cool youth" culture since the beginning. Talk about Real World Season One. This is what happens when MTV's marketing department and video games have an embarrassing child. For those of us who remember living through the millions of Nintendo ad campaigns of the 90s, we can all finally stand together. In one unified voice, "this does not represent us." Unless of course you do "play it green." In which case, no judgement.
2 Super Game Boy
This is a different kind of entry on our list. This is an entry that caused gamers around the world a lot of joy, and was universally loved by all. This contraption allowed us to play our tiny pixelated Game Boy games on the big screen. It was a type of backwards compatibility that we have not seen since from Nintendo, or anyone for that matter. A console that started with the ability to play one set of games, but through a device expanded that catalogue by hundreds. Most of the time, consoles start with some kind of backwards compatibility and take that away later, like the PlayStation 3.
1 Super Mario Bros. (The Movie)
This is quite possibly the most disappointing thing to ever grace a wide release-ready audience back in 1993. Remember how we said that The Legend of Zelda cartoon hurt us from getting more Nintendo entertainment outside of video-games? Well, this film did that ten times over.
It was a disaster for fans of Mario, but also the cast and crew. Literally, no one in this process came out happy.
Bob Hoskins says this was worst film experience of his life, and to be honest it might be ours too! Just like that, we never got another Nintendo film again that wasn't knee deep in Pokémon. Everyone had trust issues after this.