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Animal Mascots and Why Some Did Not Work
In 1991 Sonic the Hedgehog was developed for the Sega Genesis. Due to the introduction of blast processing, an awesome variety of soundtracks for all of its levels, and a unique animal character, Sonic the Hedgehog became one of the biggest best sellers for Sega. Due to the popularity Sonic the Hedgehog gained when people first saw him and played his game, there were other attempts to create mascots that could gain Sonic's success, all to varying degrees, but ultimately were forgotten. Some mascots, like Ecco the Dolphin were somewhat successful, but could not adapt to different plays' changing tastes as to what made a good game. Some games like Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind was mediocre at the beginning, but transitioning into a different media caused it to end any chances for a franchise. And a game like Awesome Possum Kicks Dr. Machino's Butt was a more blatant rip-off of Sonic the Hedgehog and due to people not caring whether this game became popular it never expanded into additional games. While there have been more animal mascots that have experienced similar popularity as Sonic the Hedgehog, the animal mascots that came immediately after Sonic the Hedgehog's development ultimately failed.
Failure to Adapt
Due to the immense popularity of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega tried to make more animal mascots that could hopefully acquire the same popularity. One such game was Ecco the Dolphin. Developed in 1992 by Sega for the Sega Genesis, the story of Ecco the Dolphin was that one day, at a bay where you and you pod were swimming, a mysterious waterspout appeared and sucked-up everyone in the pod except you. Now alone, Ecco had to explore a vast oceanic environment, avoid enemies, and try to find information about your lost pod. Unlike the first Sonic the Hedgehog game, Ecco the Dolphin traded fast-paced game mechanic for a more open-world game. One of the more interesting aspects about Ecco the Dolphin when it was made was the more realistic approach to its development. Ecco's controls were exactly like dolphins in real-life, Ecco needed to eat the fish for health and needed air just like dolphins in real-life, and other than than the fictitious story about a waterspout mysteriously sucking-up Ecco's pod, most of the game used real-life elements to make Ecco the Dolphin the game that it was. Unfortunately, while the game saw sequels like Ecco II: the Tides of Time in 1994 and a reboot of the series Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future in 2000, Ecco the Dolphin as a franchise ultimately was cancelled. One reason for the cancellation was the failure to appeal to new players. The game was rather boring with its game mechanics and inability to allow Ecco to do anything exciting as a dolphin except jump really high. Another reason for the cancellation was that Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future was on the Dreamcast, which was an unpopular game system. It also did not help that after the Dreamcast's discontinuation Sega decided to be a third-party software developer and focus on making games starring more exciting characters compared to Ecco the Dolphin.
Mediocrity Becoming Worse
With Sonic the Hedgehogs popularity from his game in 1991 other companies attempted to gain the same popularity by creating their own animal mascot. Unfortunately, most of the atempts resulted in characters that could not become anything unique on their own. One character that comes to mind was Bubsy the Bobcat. Developed and released in 1993 by Accolade for the Sega Genesis, Bubsy in: Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind told the story of aliens attempting to steal the world's yarn balls, and Bubsy, being a cat, has to stop the aliens from stealing the world's supply of yarn balls. The game itself played similarly to Sonic the Hedgehog. Bubsy ran at a fact pace, the environments were scatted with yarn balls that the player, as Bubsy, had to collect, and make your way to the final alien and stop their plot.
The first game was considered mediocre because it borrowed heavily from past platform games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario, but it did nothing to distinguish itself beyond those two. Additionally, when one played the game, it was both difficult and confusing. It was hard to tell what was an enemy or a usable object, the player could get hurt from distances that would normally be harmless, the artwork was not very imaginative, the levels were named using lame puns, and the graphics were a major step-down in regards to aesthetic and perspective. Despite a mediocre game with poor aesthetics, the first game sold well enough to allow sequels like the 1994 game Bubsy 2 for the Sega Genesis, Bubsy in: Fractured Furry Tales in 1994 for the Atari Jaguar, and Bubsy 3D in 1996 for the Playstation. There was even a planned television series in 1993.
Unfortunately, the cartoon series only had a pilot episode to its name because nobody wanted to pick it up for a full series. Another failure Bubsy suffered was in the 1996 Bubsy 3D. Compared to another 3D game released in 1996, Super Mario 64, Bubsy 3D was the worse product. Its controls were worse compared to Super Mario 64, changing perspectives was more difficult compared to Super Mario 64, and Bubsy's voice for that game was considered annoying for most players. Bubsy was ultimately an animal mascot that started well enough, but better games produced by different game companies ultimately ended his continued presence as an official mascot and Accolade as a game company after Bubsy 3D in 1996.
During the Nineteen Nineties environmentalism was on everybody's minds. Cartoons like the 1990 edutainment show Captain Planet and the Planeteers by Turner Program Services and DIC Entertainment were made to both entertain kids and educate them on the importance of preserving the environment. Video Games were also made to educate kids about environmental safety around this time, too. One game, the 1993 platform game Awesome Possum... Kicks Dr. Machino's Butt by Tengen for the Sega Genesis embodied much of the edutainment elements other forms of media used to educate kids. The story in this game was that some point in the future of this game's Earth a man by the name of Dr. Machino has ordered certain robots to destroy the environment. Now, somebody has to stop Dr. Machino and his schemes. Similar to Sonic the Hedgehog, Awesome Possum... Kicks Dr. Machino's Butt starred an anthropomorphic animal whose nemesis was an actual human. The game plays similarly to Sonic the Hedgehog in that the characters has to run through levels, collect floating objects (empty bottles), and eventually defeating a boss robot. While the game's mechanics borrowed heavily from Sonic the Hedgehog; the story borrowed heavily from another game, the 1987 video game Megaman for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
The game basically played like a mix of Sonic the Hedgehog and Megaman. The only difference was that to make the game a form of edutainment, there were sections where the player was forced to answer environmentally-based questions before and after the boss fight. The game was essentially a way for kids to learn about environmentalism, but the stereotypical plot, annoying characters, and problematic controls ultimately made the game negatively reviewed by critics. Awesome Possum... Kicks Dr. Machino's Butt concentrated more on promoting environmentalism rather than on making a great game, and that was a major contributor to its failure.
Why Mascots Fail
Sonic the Hedgehog worked as a mascot because Sega tried to make a mascot that could reflect the cutting-edge novelty of the Sega Genesis. While there were new mascots that came after Sonic, most of them failed for different reasons. Ecco from Ecco the Dolphin did alright but due to Sega deciding to focus on being third-party software developers and more appealing characters, that franchise had to end. Bubsy the Bobcat also did alright, but the failure of Bubsy 3D when it was to games with better game mechanics like Super Mario 64 meant that Bubsy as a franchise could not go on. And a game like Awesome Possum... Kicks Dr. Machino's Butt failed due to lack of foresight when it came to balancing the environmentalist message with how to make the game legitimately fun for players.