Polygon Man (1995)

Ahead of the PlayStation’s global debut, the company’s North American representatives started to worry the device wouldn’t appeal to Western audiences. Their solution to this largely manufactured issue was Polygon Man: a giant polygonal head designed to represent the PlayStation brand. The idea was to give the North American launch of PlayStation an “edgy” face, both in terms of Polygon Man’s constant quips about PS1 games and the competition and the literal edges of his design. 

The totality of Polygon Man’s failures cannot be overstated. Visceral reactions to the character’s E3 1995 and advertisement appearances revealed that the public not only found him fundamentally disturbing but also a poor representation of the console’s supposedly advanced graphics. Notable design flaws aside, Sony’s Ken Kutaragi suggested that no mascot should be bigger than the Sony brand. That’s a somewhat curious stance given the number of possible PS1 mascots that would emerge, though it’s an idea you can kind of see in the PlayStation brand to this day. In any case, Polygon Man was instantly scrapped and didn’t make another appearance until the release of 2012’s PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale

Gex (1995)

If Bubsy isn’t the poster child for the failed gaming mascots of the ‘90s concept, that honor would have to go to Gex. Developer Crystal Dynamics originally intended for Gex to be the 3DO’s biggest mascot. While no mascot could have saved that console from its entirely deserved demise, it didn’t help that Gex’s nightmarish development resulted in a highly flawed platformer. When a version of that game was ported to the PlayStation, though, Gex drew at least cautious praise from those who appreciated the game’s humor, creativity, and style, and those who saw the potential for the franchise to grow into something great. 

That never really happened, though. Gex’s humor lent itself well to the magazine ads at the time (including one that famously featured Playboy model Marliece Andrada), but the games themselves continued the original’s spirit by being conceptually clever and fundamentally flawed. Yet, Gex became a kind of icon in his own right. His meta-style humor appealed both ironically and unironically to multiple generations of gamers. For as impressive as Gex’s popularity was, though, the diminishing returns of his games hurt both the long-term prospects of the character and contributed to the growing stigma towards the mascot concept.

Croc (1997)

After a run of hits that notably included Star Fox, developer Argonaut Games decided to pitch a technically and conceptually ambitious 3D Yoshi title to Nintendo. Despite initial enthusiasm on both sides, the deal fell apart. When it did, developer Argonaut decided to go their own way, sever their relationship with Nintendo, and continue working on that prototype. Of course, Yoshi would need to be replaced with a spiritually similar (but legally distinct) reptile known simply as Croc. 

The results were mixed. Croc doesn’t break the genre mold, and its borrowed ideas from other N64 platformers often exemplify the slightly derivative design of its lead character. Crucially, though, Croc was released on the PS1; a console notably devoid of N64-like 3D platformers. It stood out on that console and was reportedly one of Argonaut Games’ most financially successful projects. Yet, the relative modern obscurity of the game and the struggles to produce a proper sequel suggested that Croc may have been significantly more impactful in the long run as a Yoshi title. It was a reminder that an elite few mascots had secured their cultural status and that the window for new characters to join that pantheon was either closing or simply already closed.

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