Ever since Super Mario Bros. hit the NES in 1985, Nintendo's portly plumber has reigned supreme as a prominent face in video games. With the introduction of Mario and the gang came a new subgenre of video games, dubbed the "mascot platformer," in which a marketable lead character hops and bops his way through a colorful world. The 80s certainly saw plenty of games come and go that tried to steal Mario's thunder, but it wasn't until the 90s that game companies began to usurp Mario's throne in earnest.
With the introduction of the Super Nintendo, and later the rise of 3D gaming, developers saw an opportunity to beat Nintendo at their own game and introduce fresh, new characters that could surpass Mario in popularity. Companies tried everything from copying Nintendo's formula to blazing new platforming trails, but the results were always the same: failure. While the 90s saw plenty of characters come incredibly close to eclipsing Mario in popularity, all would eventually fall to the plumber. So join Screen Rant as we look back through the years at the avalanche of characters that tried to beat Mario at his own game, only to fall short.
With the dawn of the 3D platformer, the battle for mascot supremacy really began to heat up. While Nintendo staked their claim on the genre with 1996's Super Mario 64 on the N64, the PlayStation would quickly fire back with mascot stars of its own. While debate continues to rage over just which Playstation mascot platformer was better, there's no debating the importance of Spyro the Dragon.
Hitting the PS1 in 1998, Spyro The Dragon introduced players to the diminutive dragon, who spent the game torching baddies with his fire breath and gliding around a variety of levels. Over three PS1 games, the Spyro franchise went claw-to-toe with Mario, and genuinely gave the Nintendo star a run for his money. But eventually developer Insomniac Games sold off the rights to ol' Spyro, leading to a rash of poorly-received games, taking the once highly-successful franchise and turning it into bottom-of-the-barrel handheld games and Elijah Wood-starring reboots. It's a shame, as Spyro came very close to taking the 90s mascot platformer crown from Nintendo's plumber.
19 ALEX KIDD
The battle for video game mascot supremacy between Mario and Sonic is legendary. But the Blue Blur wasn't Sega's first crack at trying to dethrone Nintendo's goomba-stomping plumber. When Sega launched the oft-forgotten Master System in 1985 to compete with the NES, the system came complete with its own platforming mascot: Alex Kidd!
Originally appearing in Alex Kidd in Miracle World, the diminutive, jumpsuit-clad Kidd battled everything from dinosaurs to sinister wizards. While Sega was initially very gung-ho about Kidd, pumping out five sequels starring the mascot, the company eventually realized that the character just wasn't strong enough to compete with Mario, leading to Kidd unceremoniously being retired in 1990 and replaced by Sonic the Hedgehog. While Sonic would give Mario and company a run for their money, poor Alex Kidd never stood a chance of dethroning Nintendo.
During the 80s, the Amiga became one of the most successful home computers on the market, with each iteration of the little gray box topping sales charts. But by the 90s, the Amiga's fortunes had begun to fall, and the company was scrambling to find a mascot that would help the computer to become a serious contender in the video game system race. Problem was, the best they could come up with was Zool.
Looking like two black olives stapled together with pipe cleaners shoved into them, Zool didn't exactly cut an imposing figure. But this "Ninja of the Nth Dimension" (who was apparently sponsored by Chupa Chups lollypops? Yeah, this game is strange) tried to combine the speed of Sonic with a magic system, and the end result is a bloated, buggy mess. 1992's Zool would go on to spawn a sequel, but poor sales would put an end to this failed Mario wannabe.
The universe is a harsh place. Sometimes, a game can be visually interesting, feature inventive platforming gameplay, and a cute mascot character, but can still crash and burn. Such was the case with Ristar, a promising, but ultimately failed 90s platformer.
Releasing in 1994, Ristar introduced players to the titular anthropomorphic star, who utilized his stretching arms to battle baddies and traverse treacherous terrain. Unlike Sonic, Ristar featured a slower pace and emphasized utilizing Ristar's arms to interact with the environment. Initially envisioned by Sega as a successor to Sonic, poor sales quashed any future plans, and Ristar was put out to platformer pasture.
16 CRASH BANDICOOT
While Spyro certainly had plenty of fans, you'd be hard pressed to find a bigger mascot for the PS1 than Crash Bandicoot. The twirling, bug-eyed marsupial established early dominance on the Sony console, becoming synonymous with the Japanese giant's first 3D system. For a time, it even seemed as though Crash would surpass Mario, but declining quality and sales would stop this possibility in its tracks.
First hitting the PlayStation in 1996, Crash Bandicoot delivered a new style of 3D platformer, and gamers went nuts for it. Across two PS1 sequels, and a beloved kart racer spin-off, developer Naughty Dog perfected the character and his unique style of gameplay. But by 2001, Naughty Dog would sell off the Crash IP, leading to the bandicoot to going multiplatform, with subsequent titles receiving middling reviews and lukewarm sales. For a time, Crash was the '90s mascot star of choice, but much like the perfect drift in Crash Team Racing, it wasn't to last.
15 WILD WOODY
If ever there was a perfect allegory for the failure of the Sega CD, it's Wild Woody. Chock full of eye-searing early-90s CG and sporting buckets of "x-treme attitude," replete with a mascot character that communicates exclusively in screams, Wild Woody presented itself as a "cool" platformer alternative for gamers tired of the baby antics of Mario and the gang. But Wild Woody, like the Sega CD, was doomed to fail.
Starring the titular, undoubtedly insane anthropomorphic pencil, Wild Woody whisked our hero through levels based on various time periods, where Woody would use his pencil powers to draw items into existence. Problem was, the game was remarkably clunky and filled with unfair jumps and steep difficulty. Compound this with Woody's constant wailing, and you've got one lame mascot platformer that never stood a chance of giving Mario a run for his coins.
14 PUNKY SKUNK
The mid-90s release of the Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64 brought a new generation of possibility, as companies battled to create a hip, fresh character that could serve as the face of this new console generation. While there would be several characters introduced that gave Nintendo's plumber a run for his money, there were plenty of mascot platformers that barely even made a blip. Such was the case with Punky Skunk.
Originally intended for release on the SNES by developer Ukiyotei, Punky Skunk would be rushed to the Playstation when sales for the SNES began to slump. Unfortunately, by the time the game released in 1996, gamers were over colorful 2D platformers, and Punky Skunk landed with a resounding thud. Compound this failure with gameplay that stunk as bad as its protagonist, and you've got a mascot platformer that never stood a chance.
13 AERO THE ACRO-BAT
Sometimes, there are games released that just scream "We totally thought of the title first and then tried to create a game around our groan-inducing title." Such was the case with the punnily titled Aero The Acro-Bat, which, despite its truly lame title, was pushed as the next big name in mascot platformers.
Released in 1993, Aero The Acro-Bat had gamers fighting evil industrialist Edgar Ekto, who seeks to destroy the circus that employs Aero the Acro-Bat. Credit where credit is due, Aero featured tight controls and surprisingly fun gameplay, but a lackluster sequel and a head-scratching spin-off starring a ninja star-hurling rodent named Zero halted the momentum of the franchise. Originally envisioned as the new mascot for publisher Universal Interactive, Aero's big push would go DOA upon the arrival of the next generation of consoles, dooming Aero to mascot platformer obscurity.
It takes nerve of steel to not only challenge Mario for mascot supremacy but to challenge the beloved video game icon on his own console. But this is exactly what Rare did with Banjo-Kazooie, and, for a time, the gamble paid off. But time, and a poorly received sequel, wouldn't do the franchise any favors.
Introduced to the world in 1998's Banjo-Kazooie, Rare's bear-and-bird duo practically reinvented the mascot platformer genre, introducing elements such as collectibles, backtracking, and a connective hub world. By 2000, the game's sequel, Banjo-Tooie, would release to critical acclaim and big sales, cementing Rare's franchise as one of the most popular on the N64. But with Rare's acquisition by Microsoft, the series would go into hibernation for many years, eventually reemerging for the poorly received Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts in 2008. Once upon a time, Banjo-Kazooie challenged Mario for console supremacy, but these days, it seems as though Rare has forgotten all about the beloved characters.
11 JERSEY DEVIL
You're a plucky, upstart game developer, and you need a new mascot character to compete with the likes of Mario and Crash Bandicoot! Where do you turn for your inspiration? Well, why not a legendary New Jersey cryptid? Thus, Jersey Devil was born.
This 1997 platformer followed the Jersey Devil, a little gremlin tasked with surviving the spooky wilds of Jersey while battling the sinister Dr. Knarf and his army of mutant vegetables. Featuring a Tim Burton-esque aesthetic, replete with haunted houses and spooky creatures, the looks of Jersey Devil helped to set the game apart from the avalanche of mascot platformers, but clunky gameplay and poor sales halted any chance of Jersey Devil achieving mascot platformer fame.
10 TITUS THE FOX
The competition for 90s mascot platformer supremacy was so intense, developers from every corner of the globe were throwing their hat into the ring. While plenty of failed mascot characters would crop up from the West and Japan, only one 90s mascot platformer came from France: Titus the Fox.
Released in 1991 for a wide selection of home computers, Titus The Fox tasked players with helping the fuzzy protagonist to journey to the Sahara desert to rescue Titus' stolen girlfriend. Problem was, the game was aggressively French (featuring a theme song from an obscure French comedian) and featured "pick up and throw enemies" gameplay that essentially made the game feel like a watered down Super Mario Bros. 2, which caused gamers to avoid this platformer in droves. Titus The Fox stood as much chance of dethroning Mario as you stand in putting out the sun by spraying a garden hose on it.
A video game can be just about anything. Heck, one of the most prolific mascots in gaming is a blue hedgehog. But it's kind of an unspoken rule that your video game mascot should at least be visually interesting. Apparently, the designers of Glover didn't get this memo.
In case you didn't guess from the on-the-nose title, the star of this 1998 platformer is, well, a glove. Sure, he's got little drawn on eyes, but kids weren't exactly clamoring for a game starring a living fashion accessory. Despite Glover's boring design, Glover managed to be a competent enough platformer, even if the game failed to bring anything new to the platformer genre. Originally envisioned as the next big mascot star, poor sales put these dreams, along with a planned sequel, out to pasture.
8 COOL SPOT
90s kids were truly platformer crazy. Any game featuring a mascot and platforming elements was guaranteed to achieve at least modest sales, causing just about every developer in town to try their hand at cranking out a mascot platformer. But the bar for what characters could star in a platformer was forever lowered in 1993 with the release of Cool Spot.
Starring a sunglasses-clad red dot, who worked as the mascot for perennial "oh yeah, that drink still exists" contender 7-Up, Cool Spot saw the soft drink mascot bonk enemies, hang out at the beach, and jump around inside giant 7-Up bottles. Against all odds, this glorified commercial received a sequel and two spin-offs, but eventually, gamers realized a video game starring a soft drink mascot was ridiculous, and the franchise, along with the mascot, would be out to pasture.
7 ROCKY RODENT
What if you took Big Daddy Roth's classic hot rod mascot Rat Fink, gave him a bad mohawk, and made him star in a ho-hum platformer? Why, you'd get Rocky Rodent, one of the more obscure mascot platformers for the SNES.
In this 1993 game, players controlled Rocky as he battled baddies with his interchangeable hairstyles, which granted the slobbering hero with different abilities. Problem is, the game played like a watered down Kid Chameleon, and the game's story, which involved Rocky trying to save the stolen daughter of a restaurant owner in exchange for a free all-you-can-eat buffet, didn't exactly get kids excited. This forgotten mascot platformer never stood a chance of going toe-to-toe with Mario.
You'd be hard pressed to find a more 90s video game character than Gex. A sunglasses-sporting, pop culture quip-spouting, television-obsessed gecko, Gex was intended to be a new kind of mascot platformer. For a time, Gex's special brand of wisecracking antics worked pretty well, but this motormouthed hero didn't manage to escape the 90s.
Initially appearing in the 2D Gex, in which the titular gecko is sucked into a TV by baddie Rez and forced to adventure through worlds themed around TV shows, the character would return for 2 sequels, Gex 3D and Gex 3: Enter The Gecko. For a time, Gex served as developer Crystal Dynamic's mascot, and it seemed like the wisecracking gecko could give Mario and Sonic a run for their money, but by the third title in the series, sales had slumped, forcing Crystal Dynamics to put an end to the Gex franchise.
Let's call a spade a spade: Croc is an unabashed Mario rip-off. In fact, Croc: Legend of the Gobbos started as a pitch by developer Argonaut Games to Nintendo as a Yoshi-starring title, but when Nintendo declined, Argonaut kept the Mario-inspired gameplay, re-skinned the main character, and introduced the world to Croc.
Released for the PlayStation in 1997, Croc: Legend of the Gobbos served as one of the first 3D platformers for the console, causing the title to sell like hotcakes. The game's protagonist, the bucktoothed little crocodile dubbed "Croc," would return in 1999's Croc 2, but by this point, better 3D platformers had released for the PlayStation, causing the game to slip under the radar. Despite a brash print advertising campaign that saw Croc eating Mario, Croc ultimately proved to have no bite, causing the franchise to fizzle out.
4 SOCKS THE CAT
While most entries on our list at least tried to outsell Nintendo's mega-popular Mario franchise, Socks The Cat Rocks The Hill never even got the opportunity. This is because this once heavily hyped game never even hit shelves. Which may be due to the fact that the game stars Bill Clinton's cat.
Yes, Socks The Cat Rocks The Hill saw President Clinton's cat embark upon a platforming adventure, battling the likes of Russian spies and Richard Nixon. While the game was completed and even reviewed by major publications such as Nintendo Power, the game was quietly canceled for reasons unknown. While we'll never know if Socks the Cat could have given Mario and Sonic a run for their money, odds are this title would have fallen flat.
3 AWESOME POSSUM
In the 90s, kids were suddenly convinced there was nothing cooler than protecting the planet. But we bet kids would have willingly up-ended a bucket of trash directly onto the streets if they had to hear this message from Awesome Possum.
Looking to cash in on the pro-planet success found by cartoons such as Captain Planet and Toxic Crusaders, developer Tengen released the terribly-titled Awesome Possum... Kicks Dr. Machino's [Behind] in 1993. The game's protagonist, an x-treme skateboarding possum, stressed the importance of recycling and protecting the planet, all while engaging in ho-hum platformer action. But a bad critical reception and less-than-stellar sales put a kibosh on the planned franchise featuring the character, and Awesome Possum was (mercifully) never seen again.
Success in Japan doesn't always translate to the West. Such was the case with the TurboGrafx-16 which, despite finding success in the Land of the Rising Sun as the PC Engine, would subsequently flop in America. While the console never stood a chance in the West, the TurboGrafx-16 still tried to get its foot in the door with a mascot character of its very own: Bonk.
Debuting 1990's Bonk's Adventure, Bonk was a bald caveman who utilized his sizable noodle to break blocks and battle baddies. While the game was praised for its tight controls and fun gameplay and would go on to spawn a wave of sequels and spin-offs in Japan, Bonk landed with a resounding thud in the States. When the TurboGrafx was eventually discontinued, Bonk migrated to the SNES and tried to find a new audience, but with the system already choked with mascot platformers, Bonk got lost in the shuffle, putting an end to the character's chances of challenging Mario's supremacy.
Oh no, Bubsy. Take jerky, busted Sonic The Hedgehog-wannabe gameplay, add in confusing, terribly designed levels, and top it all off with a character that refuses to stop talking, and you've got Bubsy. Widely considered one of the worst mascots in video gaming, there was a time when the makers of this obnoxious bobcat truly believed Bubsy could be bigger than Mario.
Debuting in 1993's Bubsy: Close Encounters Of The Furred Kind, players quickly learned to loathe the motormouthed hero, but this didn't stop the character for returning for two more 2D sequels, before eventually making the jump to 3D with the frustratingly bad Bubsy 3D. Despite terrible critical reception, developer Accolade truly believed Bubsy to be the next big name in gaming, even going so far as to sign off on a pilot for a Bubsy cartoon. But the dreams of a cartoon, much like the reviews for the Bubsy franchise, tanked, leaving this punchline of a character to linger in forgotten mascot obscurity, far from its initial dreams of dethroning Mario.