03/05/2013

KONAMI'S ARCADE FLYERS 1986-96

Many moons ago, when arcade games were something the big developers still made, each new title was advertised by means of a flyer. These little adverts, paper booklets usually only two or so pages in length, generally showed a bit of the game's artwork, maybe a few screenshots and several wild exhortations on the stunning new advances in gaming technology to be found within. You know, things like REVOLUTIONARY EIGHT-WAY JOYSTICK or SIMULTANEOUS TWO-PLAYER ACTION or DEFINITELY NOT ANOTHER STREET FIGHTER II CLONE THIS TIME I'M SERIOUS YOU GUYS. Industry legends Konami took a different approach, however. Starting in the mid-Eighties, they decided that the way to really push their product was to give it a little humanity. Giant-haired, neon-clad humanity, to be precise, and for the next decade Konami's American arcade flyers featured real live human beings. A chance for a cheap laugh at the expense of the fashions of the Eighties will never be allowed to pass by here at VGJunk, so I present to you a selection of Konami's arcade flyers from 1986-96.

WEC Le Mans 24 (1986)


(click pictures for a bigger view)
One of the earliest examples of this trend (possibly even the first) is this flyer for WEC Le Mans 24, and it really does provide an excellent overview of the kind of thing we're going to be seeing a lot of in this article - attractive women cocooned in an impenetrable barrier of hairspray, gormless men and an overall sense that perhaps the director of this photoshoot did not have a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve.
The rather Matthew Broderick-ian race official seems reasonable enough, his slack-jawed faced either hanging loose in amazement at the realism of Konami's latest racing game or the fact that despite all the odds that genetics and circumstance have stacked against him, he's somehow ended up hanging around with these two models. Less apparent is what's going on with the young lady sitting on the floor. Has the Le Mans cabinet crashed into her, hurling her to the ground? She doesn't seem to be in any pain. She looks pretty happy down there, in fact. Maybe WEC Le Mans 24 is so good that playing a game of it will make your legs stop working. Who knows?
Actually, the feeling I get from this flyer - and I'm aware that this is going to make me sound like I have mental health issues - is that the arcade cabinet almost seems like another person who has become belligerent and knocked this poor young lady to the tarmac. Look at the way the blonde woman appears to be shouting at the cabinet as though it could understand her. Don't you see? She's trying to calm it down and halt its terrible rampage. A futile effort, in the end. WEC Le Mans 24 cannot be stopped.

Top Gunner (1986)


Let's all say it together, shall we? Trigger discipline. Also, you, behind the wheel: hands at ten and two, pal. Just because you're a merciless renegade with the fighting prowess of an entire army, it doesn't mean you can ignore proper driving techniques.
That guy on the right needs to lighten up, though. He's not nearly as into it as the other two. What do we think, last-minute replacement? That he's the photographer's assistant, pressed into service when the original model didn't show up? Yeah, that sounds about right.

Top Gun VS (1987)


Now, this one I have to appreciate for its sheer pointlessness. You've got a perfectly good picture of a plane there already, was the bored looking man with the miniature toy lightsabers really necessary?
I do wonder what those patches on his jumpsuit are, though. I can't imagine they're real naval insignia, and I'm pretty sure that flight deck crew don't wear hats with a picture of the planes they're in charge of drawn on the front. So, the hat came from an air and space museum's gift shop, and the patches are old Boy Scout merit badges. I think the one on the bottom-right is the badge you get for appearing in dismal advert for a lacklustre videogame, and boy has this guy earned it.

A-Jax (1987)


So, I see you're reusing the crop-top from the Top Gunner flyer. Good work, Konami, that'll save some money. Actually, on closer inspection I think they might actually be the very same piece of clothing. I hope they washed it between shoots.
Of course, the real point of interest in this flyer is just how incredibly phallic that gun looks. I know I've been feeling a bit ill recently so my brain's not exactly firing on all cylinders, but there's no other way to read this image beyond "I have a huge metal penis and I'm very happy about it," right? Right?


Boot Camp (1987)


Nothing sarcastic to say about this one, I actually think it's a well-staged photo, even if that raw recruit does appear to be staring straight down the drill sergeant's throat. Maybe he thinks he can hide in there until the war's over.
I'd like to imagine that the sarge is literally hollering "and you thought you were going to summer camp!" at the poor lad. Maybe he did think he was going to summer camp, only for his parents to drop him off outside the Konami photography studio.

Contra (1987)


Jesus, that crop-top doesn't half get around. Those are the same shorts from the A-Jax flyer, too. I admire Konami's commitment to keeping costs down, but they should also take hygiene concerns into consideration.
You know, there's something about this flyer that just screams "Rob Liefeld" to me. Is is the slender woman in the revealing outfit whose feet are conveniently obscured? Could be.

Haunted Castle (1987)


From one classic Konami series to another with this flyer for the Castlevania game Haunted Castle. Of all the wonderful images on display here, this one is my favourite, for reasons I can't adequately explain. It's just utterly fantastic, all of it - from Dracula's ill-fitting fangs and expression that immediately lets you know he's thinking "how did it come to this," to the polystyrene wall and scattered skulls, to the victim who looks more "embarrassed" than "terrified" and who seems to have come to the shoot straight from the office and without getting changed into something, I dunno, appropriate for a Castlevania game, maybe?
Dracula is definitely the star of this one, though. He just looks so... pathetic. She's right there, Vlad! C'mon, son, with that amount of product in her barnet I could smell her from there, and I don't have the advantage of your heightened vampire senses. Speaking of which, you know what sense didn't become heightened when you became a child of the night? Your fashion sense. A bow tie, a sash and a giant chocolate-covered-in-gold-foil-looking medallion? Sort it out, Drac.

'88 Games (1988)


"Congratulations, Debbie! How does it feel to take gold in the Women's Freestyle Data Entry?"
Although I must be honest, whenever I see hair like that, all I can think of is British kid's TV presenter and mullet aficionado Pat Sharp.


That's right, I saw an attractive woman and my mind instantly leapt to Pat Sharp. Welcome to my dismal world.

M.I.A. Missing in Action (1989)


Here's a fantastic way to promote your upcoming arcade game - with an image of two grimy men leering at a scantily-clad woman as she releases them from a deadly jungle prison. These flyers have been overall surprisingly good at not being too creepy or lecherous, but this one goes over the edge. It's that bloke at the front that does it. I don't like to make snap judgements about people, especially not judgements based on how they looked in an arcade flyer from the late Eighties, but that guy definitely have something on his mind beyond maximising Konami's profits through effective advertising.
Also, two things about the lady model: firstly, is it just me or does she look a bit like Anne Hathaway? Secondly, her pose has the fluidity and natural air of a hatstand. I guess someone's parents couldn't afford ballet lessons.

Punk Shot (1990)


Well, this is certainly something. The very essence of the early '90s condensed into a single image, an image that serves up more fascinating details each time you look at it. Are those identical twins on the fire escape? What has enraged those two chaps at the back so much that they're about to batter each other? Who is the old lady, and is she just yearning for her chance to prove herself on the court and show these young whippersnappers that they can learn something from the elderly, even if that something is "attempting sick dunks at this age will only end in heartache and broken hips"?
The clothes are the star attraction in this one. Every colour of the rainbow, as long as those colour are intense enough to cause searing migraines in anyone within a fifty-metre radius. Patterns and prints only spoken of in the most blasphemous grimoires of the Old Ones. Yes, I see you hiding in the back, Mr. Pink Vest. No wonder that girl you're with needs shades.

Lethal Enforcers (1992)


"Freeze, dirtbag! Someone has used a bingo pen to gently dab a line of black spots up the side of our extremely beige car, and we won't rest until we find the punks responsible!"
This time the car is the star, but unfortunately that star is Randy Quaid: fleshy-looking, beat-up, over the hill and the target of a shadowy conspiracy. Actually, I think the car is in the clear on that last one. Could the person in charge of props for this shoot really not do any better than this wreck? Did a lightbulb go on in their brain once they realised that arcade owners feel an affinity for nothing so strongly as they do for a clapped-out old motor that looks as though it should be gently rusting on some redneck's front lawn? This poor car should have been allowed to die with dignity, not spending its final hours being rubbed up against by Sergeant Mullet and Lieutenant Acid-Washed Jeans.

Martial Champion (1993)


Ah ha ha. Ha ha ha. Man, I know kabuki isn't as popular as it once was but this is one hell of a low. Judging by how miserable that guy looks, I think he's an actual kabuki dancer, ashamed and horrified that his chosen artform has been brought so low. When the girl in the vinyl thigh boots and fingerless gloves looks less ridiculous than you do, it's time to call it a day, and by "it" I of course mean the hollow mockery that is your life.

Dead Eye (1996)


Finally for today, Dead Eye - the lightgun game that James Bond himself uses to seduce the many female agents he meets on his travels. I'm struggling to think of an arcade-related Bondian double entendre, but the film title parodies are coming thick and fast: You Only Continue Twice, On Her Majesty's Top Score Table, Q*Bert of Solace, The Spy Who Beat Me at Mortal Kombat... okay, admittedly that last one's a little weak.
This was one of Konami's final "live-action" flyers, and it's amazing just how closely they stuck to the formula for the idea's entire duration. A skimpily-dressed model, a man who either looks spectacularly redundant or (as is the case here) a bit sleazy and some tenuous link to the game in question, bang, job's a good 'un. The connection here is obviously that James Bond shoots things with a gun and an unlicensed 007 copy is therefore the perfect spokesmodel for this game about shooting things with a gun. The alternative theory - and I do so love an alternative theory - is that whoever took this booking at the modelling agency somehow misheard "arcade game" as "elegant ballroom" and sent the models along dressed like this.

Well, that's it for today's batch of these glorious historical snippets. There are more. Oh yes, there are plenty more, and one day I may return to this topic because lord knows sometimes you just need a good honest laugh. Konami's attempts to advertise their arcade games through the medium of the human meat-body may seem laughable now, but that's only because they're kind of... laughable. They're goofy, silly and knocked together, and in the modern age of ultra-slick PR materials coming from almost everyone in the games business they're an endearing reminder of the past. The faintly sleazy, half-arsed, big-haired past.

All flyer images taken from The Arcade Flyer Archive, which is an excellent website that you should check out.

14 comments:

  1. How about:
    "The SpyHunter Who Loved Me"
    "Namco Tokens Are Forever"
    "Live and Let Die, X-CHICKEN"
    "GoldenAxe"

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    Replies
    1. Damn, those are all pretty solid - although I'm disappointed in myself for not coming up with GoldenAxe, ha ah!

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  2. They just don't make those flyers like they used to. Makes me wish they used them for...say...the first few mixes of Dance Dance Revolution before calling it quits?

    Also, I wonder if any of the models in these flyers were ever identified. If so, where are they now? Konami certainly tried to be unique with the flyers here - heck, Lethal Enforces definitely make me think of shows like In The Heat of the Night, Hunter and the like.

    Definitely loved these, and looking forward to seeing more of these one of these days!

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    Replies
    1. By the law of averages at least one of these models mist have gone on to some degree of fame, however small. Maybe that'll be a task for the next installment, trying to find out who these people are.

      Delete
  3. Classic low budget high concept advertising. You know what I really like? The tombstone that says "Stone" on it. The fact that someone has gone to the trouble of actually making that thing and didn't have the gumption to come up with a decent comedy name to put on it, like "Bram Stoker" or something. Actually, that isn't funny at all, but you get the idea.

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    Replies
    1. Hey, maybe Stones is a common family name in Transylvania?

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  4. Is that Jason Alexander in the driver seat in the Top Gunner flyer?

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    Replies
    1. Ha ha, it *does* kind of look like him, and he did do some ads in the 80s... but I don't think he had that much hair even back then.

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  5. Is the woman soldier with the bandana and crop-top playable in any games? I knew her from the Contra ad, but didn't knew she was such a mascot of Konami ads.

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    Replies
    1. I think the closest you're gonna get is Konami's take on Ripley in the Aliens game.

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  6. Wait, that title - 1986 to 1986?

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    Replies
    1. Yep, it was a very narrow period of time.
      (I've fixed it, thanks for the heads up)

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  7. They actually revived this style of advertising briefly for a Castlevania flyer handed out at 1999's Electronic Entertainment Expo. I had the foresight to scan my copy... I need to see if I can find the file.

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  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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