So, I have been researching and writing my book on British game developers, and the whole thing brought back memories of many of the gaming mascots I grew up with – so I thought I’d share some of those right here.
Gaming mascots seem to have fallen out of fashion in recent years. Back in the 80s and 90s they were everywhere. Some of the old guard are still around with the likes of Mario and Sonic (is Sonic still around?). But we don’t really have gaming mascots anymore do we? Yeah we have returning characters – but they are not as celebrated as they used to be.
Anyway, being English and a gamer in the 80s – we were not short of gaming mascots. There was a pretty dedicated and (sometimes) high quality gaming industry here in Blighty which has sadly all but disappeared (someone should write a book on it). There was a good reason us in the U.K. were not affected by the infamous video game crash of 1983…because we had a steady and worthy gaming industry that successfully continued following the fallout from the 83 catastrophe. That British gaming market brought its own set of gaming icons and mascots. So right here, I’d like to take a look at a few of the collection of pixels I remember so fondly today (mostly British creations, a few not) and all without any Italian plumbers or speedy blue hedgehogs in sight.
The daddy, the one that started the whole gaming mascot idea. This little hungry, round ball was introduced into arcades back in 1980 and is considered the very first gaming mascot. Created by Tōru Iwatani who came up with the idea of the Pac-Man character from a pizza with a slice missing from it – at least that is one story. Another one says that Pac-Man is derived from the Japanese character for a mouth, kuchi.
Now to be honest, I have already pretty extensively covered Pac-Man on this blog in the past with a multi-part look at his entire career in gaming (one of my earlier and messier articles before I learned about formatting and image resizing), so I really don’t want to dwell too much on him here. But I really can not express just how important to my childhood Pac-Man was. The original and still one of the most recognised gaming mascots ever.
From one of the most influential platform games of the 80s, Manic Miner comes Miner Willy. Created by programmer Matthew Smith in 1983 for the ZX Spectrum. Manic Miner was an absolute beast of a game infamous for its high level of difficulty and Miner Willy would return in Jet Set Willy and Jet Set Willy II from 1984 and 85 respectively.
Another game was planned called Miner Willy Meets The Taxman, but was never released. Yet this was not the end of Miner Willy as he also appeared in The Perils of Willy and Andre’s Night Off – which to be fair was never a full game but more of a demo created by Matthew Smith as just a bit of fun. Still, Miner Willy has endured over the years and regularly appears in fan-made sequels, remakes and new games today…unofficially of course. He even had his very own Mario Kart style racer called Jet Set Racing in 2005.
Miner Willy is one of the biggest British gaming mascots ever, fondly remembered by anyone who owned a ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 in the early 80s.
Originally starting out as a satirical swipe at the whole Arthur Scargill/UK miners’ strike debacle of 1984–85. Monty was created by Peter Harrap of Gremlin Graphics and first appeared in the game Wanted: Monty Mole from 1984.
More Monty Mole games followed with Monty is Innocent, Monty on the Run, Auf Wiedersehen Monty, Moley Christmas and Impossamole (1985-1990). Monty became a platforming game icon in his time and if you owned one of the popular micro computers of the 80s, then you most probably owned at least one Monty Mole game. There were rumors of bringing Monty back in a new game from Steel Minions Studio, but their website hasn’t been updated since 2014 – so I doubt that is going to happen.
It was the Monty Mole games that really got me into platforming games back then and will always be one of my all time favorite mascots.
Jack the Nipper
Naughty baby Jack the Nipper made his first appearance in his self-titled game from 1986. He was based on the classic British comic strip Sweeny Toddler. With you playing as the titular Jack you have to explore a town causing as much trouble and mischief as you can as you attempt to fill up your “naughtyometer”. Find yourself in a false teeth factory armed with a pot of super glue or maybe wondering around a lush garden with a can of plant killer? You get the idea.
Jack continued his naughtyness in the sequel Jack the Nipper II: In Coconut Capers where Jack finds himself in the African jungle doing what he does best and create mischief.
The two Jack the Nipper games were cracking good fun and much loved among gamers at the time. Playing as a naughty baby is a lot more fun than it sounds and Jack is well worth remembering today.
One of the true giants of the 8-bit micro computer era. Horace’s first appearance was in 1982’s Hungry Horace, created by William Tang. A simple Pac-Man clone with you controlling Horace as he gathers food from a maze while avoiding enemies. Horace was a blue…thing that kind of looked like a depressed ghost.
Horace appeared in several other games including Horace Goes Skiing, Horace and the Spiders and Horace in the Mystic Woods. There was another game planned called Horace to the Rescue but development on the game cancelled when programmer William Tang suffered a collapsed lung…ouch! Horace made an appearance as an enemy in the 1987 game Inspector Gadget and the Circus of Fear for the ZX Spectrum. Plus he also has a cheeky reference in Dog’s Life for the PlayStation 2 in 2003 with a store called d Horace’s Ski Shop (a fun reference to Horace Goes Skiing) which uses a font similar to the one used in the Horace game and a ZX Spectrum style logo.
Horace is a name any ZX Spectrum owner will recognise, a true legend of gaming mascots of his time.
Before the mighty Rare were bought by Microsoft and became a shadow of their former selves, before their glorious Nintendo partnership that spawned so many great games, they existed as a company called Ultimate Play The Game and their very first game was called Jetpac. An arcade shooter that is fast, frantic and damn good fun too, created by the legendary Tim and Chris Stamper featuring the character of Jetman.
Jetman would go on to star in Lunar Jetman, Solar Jetman: Hunt for the Golden Warpship and an awesome remake of the original game Jetpac Refuelled. Jetman was another one of those popular and iconic ZX Spectrum characters who’s games are still playable today.
Does this guy really need an introduction? Designed by David Crane for the Atari 2600 and making his fair appearance in 1982’s Pitfall!, Pitfall Harry is an action hero massively inspired by Indiana Jones.
The success of Pitfall! led to numerous sequels and spin offs. Pitfall II: Lost Caverns, Super Pitfall (which was awful). There was the damn good Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure which was a 16-bit upgrade that featured the original game as a hidden Easter egg. Pitfall 3D: Beyond the Jungle featured the voice acting of ole’ chinny himself, Bruce Campbell then to finish there was Pitfall! released for iOS and Android as one of those endless runner type games.
David Crane started a Kickstarter in 2012 for a game called Jungleventure, which was set to be a a spiritual successor to the original game – but the Kickstarter failed so the game never came about. Pitfall Harry is one of THE gaming mascots of the 80s and 90s that I’d love to see return in a new game.
Depicted as a funny clown, though he comes across more as a scary Pennywise type. Mr. Do made his arcade debut in 1982 from Universal Entertainment Corporation in his self-titled game Mr. Do! A game that is often confused with Namco’s Dig Dug from the same year.
Mr. Do has had quite a life in games, his first sequel Mr. Do’s Castle was followed up with Mr. Do’s Wild Ride and Do! Run Run in 1983 and 83 respectively. An updated remake of the original game called Neo Mr. Do! was released for the Neo Geo in 1997 as well as being adapted for the Game Boy and SNES.
Mr. Do’s fast and frantic arcade style games always brought a smile to my face as a child and he managed to cement himself in my mind as one of the gaming icons of the 80s.
Ultimate Play the Game are back with another one of their characters. First appearing in Sabre Wulf from 1984. With you playing as Sabreman who has to explore a jungle-like maze to gather parts of an amulet while trying to avoid the titular Sabre Wulf.
Sabreman returned in Underwurlde, an action platformer with three different ending that each lead to the next three games in the series. Knight Lore was the first where Sabreman was infected with lycanthropy after being bitten by Sabre Wulf from the first game and he has to find a cure. Then there was Pentagram in which Sabreman is tasked with obtaining a magic artifact. There was a fifth game planned called Mire Mare but it was never released. There was a new Sabre Wulf game released for the Game Boy Advance in 2004 but no one like to talk about that one.
Sabreman had a pretty good run in the early/mid 80s and for a while was the main mascot of Ultimate Play the Game. Sabreman even had a cameo in Rare’s Banjo-Tooie. Plus the character Sabrewulf in the Killer Instinct franchise is based on Sabreman’s werewolf appearance from Knight Lore. I loved the Sabreman games and still do thanks to the Rare Reply collection I can still play them today.
Only us Brits could make an endearing game character out of an egg. Dizzy was the brainchild of Andrew Nicholas Oliver and Philip Edward Oliver, collectively known as the Oliver Twins. His first game Dizzy – The Ultimate Cartoon Adventure (to give it its full name) was a smash hit when released 1987. The Dizzy games were a collection of action platformers and light puzzle solving.
The fact the first game was a big hit meant a slew of sequels and spin offs would soon follow. Treasure Island Dizzy, Fantasy World Dizzy, Dizzy Prince of the Yolkfolk, Crystal Kingdom Dizzy, Dizzy Panic!, Dizzy Down the Rapids and Go! Dizzy Go! to name just a few of the Dizzy games…there are more. There are around fifteen Dizzy games, not including specials made exclusively for gaming magazines at the time.
Yup, this little egg fellow was a big hit in the 80s and 90s. The Oliver Twins really made one of the biggest and much loved gaming mascots in British gaming history. Dizzy is still a big fan-favorite today and has dozens and dozens of fan-made games staring him today – the most recent one from last year, something the Oliver Twins have openly welcomed.