The Video Game Critic Banners Unplugged: The Originals

With commentary by
graphic artist Mark Jewell
and the Video Game Critic

Updated February 29, 2012

The banners featured on the page were the banners used on this site
from June 1999 until the site changed its format in January 2012.

In 2007 I issued a challenge for readers to come up with a replacement for the tired-ass banner I had been using since the turn of the century. Enter Mark Jewell who stepped up and impressed the heck out of everyone with a professional-looking piece of artwork that perfectly encompassed the old-school/new-school feel the site embodies. Since that time Mark has provided me with a steady stream of fresh and often quirky banners. These are displayed at random whenever you refresh the page, and they add some much-needed eye candy. These banners have become so popular that readers requested I place them all on a single page so they can all be seen together. Here they are, along with some "director's commentary" from Mark and myself.

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"The Original"

VGC: This banner was provided to me by my friend Steve See who also designed the site's color scheme and general layout. Before taking on the "Video Game Critic" moniker in 2002, the text read "Dave's Video Game Reviews". I always had mixed feelings about this banner. The guy from Halo looks awesome but the Galaxian screen looks sparse and I never did find out what that racing game was. People have apparently grown quite attached to this banner because whenever I'd try to ditch it readers would insist I place it back "in the rotation". I had Mark redo the fonts to make it consistent with the other banners, but this is the original version.

Key: Galaxian (Atari 2600), Halo (Xbox), Unknown racing game

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"Random I"

Mark: Well, this is was the first one I put together after Dave made a forum post asking if the site needed some new banner graphics. I tried to get a broad cross-section of gaming, with easily recognizable characters across several generations of consoles. Pac-Man, Breakout, and Sonic were easy choices, as was big-hit newcomer Marcus Fenix from Gears of War. Wario, however, wasn't everyone's favorite representative for Nintendo games. This would be quickly remedied however.

VGC: I was really impressed by how Mark squeezed so many types of games from different eras into such a small space. The Gears of War graphic made the banner feel timely, but like many readers I wasn't totally sold on the choice of Wario.

Key: Wario (GameCube), Pac-Man (Atari 5200), Breakout, Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis), Gears of War (Xbox 360)

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"Random II"

Mark: Version 2.0! Lead by Mario (sporting his vintage Donkey Kong look), this banner includes one of my favorites growing up - the Yar from the classic Atari 2600 game Yars' Revenge. Ivy from the Soul Calibur series, and one of the colossi (I think it was number 2...) from the PS2 game Shadow of the Colossus round out the banner.

VGC: It was good to see a pixelated Mario and the familiar artwork from Yars' Revenge, but clearly the highlight is the Colossus on the left - that thing looks imposing! Unfortunately, Ivy gets a bit lost in the shuffle. Originally Mark used Chung Li instead, and just between you and me, I think she looked a little better. Hopefully she'll make an appearance in a future banner.

Key: Super Mario Bros. (NES), Yars' Revenge (Atari 2600), Ivy of Soul Calibur, Shadow of the Colossus (Playstation 2)

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"Winter" (Seasonal. Displayed December through February)

Mark: Being January, Dave suggested a winter themed banner. I enjoy the ice racing stages from Xbox game Rallisport Challenge, so that was an easy one. For some reason, I remembered Dave reviewing Torino 2006 for PS2, so I "borrowed" that wintery screenshot. Arctic Thunder seemed like a good idea at the time, but looking at the partial screenshot now, it seems kind of hard to tell what it is. The Empire Strikes Back's AT-AT versus snow speeder game for the Atari 2600 was a good fit too, so there it is!

VGC: This one is my personal favorite. Much like Google, I want the site's graphics to reflect the seasons and holidays. This banner really hits the mark with plenty of snow and some truly eye-catching color combinations. I advised Mark to use Empire Strike Back (Atari 2600), and it looks awesome. The snowflakes are also a nice touch. The only thing I would change is perhaps substituting a platform game for Arctic Thunder.

Key: Rallisport Challenge (Xbox), Torino 2006 Olympics (Playstation 2), Arctic Thunder (Xbox), Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Atari 2600)

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"Random III"

Mark: Ayane from the Dead or Alive series kicked-off the fourth banner, but I wanted to give some different types of games a nod as well. Vertical shooter Ikaruga for Gamecube and lightgun game House of the Dead 2 for Dreamcast brought a couple of new genres into the mix. Space Invaders makes a well deserved appearance, and the Metal Slug series was just too much fun to ignore.

VGC: The House of the Dead zombies look spectacular, and you can never go wrong by incorporating a hot babe into a banner. Maybe one day Mark will modify the graphics so the Metal Slug guy will "fire" when you highlight "Links"! That would be pretty cool.

Key: Ayane of Dead or Alive, Ikaruga (GameCube), House of the Dead 2 (Dreamcast), Space Invaders, Metal Slug (Neo Geo)

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"Obscure"

Mark: The fifth banner was meant to present some more obscure, overlooked, or flat-out forgotten games. None of them are too hard to find or especially rare (or at least I don't think they are, I own them all!) Laser Gates for the Atari 2600 is a simple horizontal shooter I enjoyed as a kid. No One Can Stop Mr. Domino has to have one of the worst titles going, and the very Japaneseness (is that a word?) of it makes it one of the most unique Playstation games out there. Nitrous Oxide is a trippy PS1 shooter that reminds me a lot of Tempest, but on acid. Maken X is a weird first-person sword fighting game for Dreamcast, and In the Hunt is a fun little scrolling shooter for Saturn and PS1.

VGC: We made this into a little contest on the message board, challenging people to name each game represented. It's tough because the second two games sort of blend into each other. Nobody could guess them all at once, but after about three days they were all identified individually.

Key: Laser Gates (Atari 2600), No One Can Stop Mr. Domino (Playstation), Nitrous Oxide (Playstation), Maken X (Dreamcast), In the Hunt (Saturn)

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"Controllers"

Mark: For banner six I wanted to present another part of gaming that is often overlooked - the controllers. It started out as a controller 'evolution' type image, with the Atari 2600 joystick, NES, PS1, and Xbox gamepads, and the new Wii controller going across the banner. Then I thought about some of the other ways games can be controlled and added the Guitar Hero guitar, Donkey Konga bongos, Eyetoy camera, Samba de Amigo maracas, and Dance Dance Revolution dance pad. I wanted to include a picture of my first controller, a nice beige and brown (with chrome knob) paddle controller for my Roberts Volley VI pong-clone, but I couldn't bring myself to excavate it from the depths of my closet for a picture.

VGC: I was glad to see that Mark included the Atari 2600 joystick and NES pad, and the Wii remote is a real eye-catcher. He went a little heavy on the musical controllers, but they do add variety and color.

Key: Guitar Hero controller, Atari 2600 joystick, NES control pad, GameCube bongo drums, Eyetoy camera, original Playstation controller, Xbox Controller "S", Wii-mote, Dance Dance Revolution pad

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"Man Evolution" (and alternate version)

Mark: Remember how 70's and 80's rock groups would try making "concept" albums? Remember "Kilroy Was Here"? Styx? Anyone...? Okay, maybe you don't remember; unfortunately I do. This particular "concept banner" shows the evolution of game characters (guy ones, at least.) Starting off with a Pong paddle (that was a character, right?), moving on to your basic Odyssey 2 non-descript blocky little dude, followed by Atari 2600 Pitfall Harry. Mario (this time during his NES years), Ryu from Street Fighter, one of the combatants from Unreal Tournament, and of course Master Chief from Halo finish-up the banner. Kinda makes you wonder if there'll be a "female" sequel...

VGC: Mark later updated the banner to replace the Unreal character with Lau from Virtua Fighter. I think you'll agree it's a better fit.

Key: Pong, generic character (Odyssey 2), Pitfall (Atari 2600), Mario (NES), Ryu (Super Nintendo), Unreal Tournament (above)/Virtua Fighter (below), Halo's Master Chief

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"Woman Evolution" (and alternate version)

Mark: Well, after the videogame dude "evolution" banner, it was only right to give the girl characters of gaming a chance. Ms Pac-Man is one of the earliest characters that is apparently female, so she starts things off. The next step was a little harder to decide upon. The girl from Donkey Kong has more of a female look than Samus from Metroid, but Samus might have been a better next step due to when her game was released. In the end, I wimped out and sent two versions of the banner to Dave. I thought Chun Li from Street Fighter was a good 16-bit era choice. Laura Croft from Tomb Raider was a good 32-bit representative, and Hitomi from DOAX represents the modern era - for better or worse, depending on how you look at that sort of thing.

VGC: There's something both twisted and ironic about these. I think the first version looks better, with the girl from the original Donkey Kong. Still, the second one makes more sense chronologically, since the 8-bit period is represented with Samus from Metroid. I opted to use the first but switched to the second under the intense pressure of my readership.

Key: Ms. Pac-Man, girl from Donkey Kong (top)/Samus from Metroid (bottom), Chun Li (Super Nintendo), Lara Croft (Playstation), Hitomi from Dead or Alive Volleyball (Xbox)

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"Spring" (Seasonal. Displayed March through May)

Mark: For the spring banner, Dave had mentioned some things he wanted in the banner - Dig Dug and baseball. The rest was a hodge-podge of screen shots that included spring-ish flowers/themes: Fantasy Zone, Harvest Moon, and Rayman. This banner would have probably benefited from a little restraint, it's kind of busy...

VGC: My favorite part of this one is Dig Dug. When I think of Spring, I think of digging, planting, and inflating monsters with air until they blow up! I advised Mark that the rest of the banner was a little hard to make out, and he might want to consider using fewer images next time. Still, this banner serves it purpose and the flowers are a nice touch.

Key: Dig Dug, some baseball game, Fantasy Zone, Harvest Moon, Rayman

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"Summer I" (Seasonal. Displayed June through August)

Mark: Ah, summer! When I think "summer" I think going to the beach, which is exactly what I did with this banner. California Games (Lynx) surfing came to mind, as did beach volleyball with Gamecube Beach Spikers. Good old Outrun rounds out the banner (along with a, um, "filler" beach ball.)

VGC: I'm thrilled with the way this one turned out - it captures the essence of summer! California Games is a natural for this one - the surfing looks fantastic! The girls look pretty hot, although it's not readily apparent that they're playing volleyball (does it even matter?). Outrun was also a great fit - glad he included a good shot of the beach.

Key: Califorina Games (Lynx), Beach Spikers (GameCube), OutRun (Genesis)

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"Summer II" (Seasonal. Displayed June through August)

Mark: What's this? More summer? Sure, why not? Sonic hauling tail through the Green Hill Zone starts things out, with a nice shot (and unintentional McDonalds plug) of Wave Race: Blue Storm (Gamecube) filling the middle of the banner. And what's more "summery" than watching some fireworks after a baseball game or on Independence Day? Thank goodness for the screen shot from Fantavision (PS2) - arguably the only good thing that came out of that game.

VGC: As much as I loved the first summer banner, I really wanted to see Sonic and those scenic waterfalls of the Green Hill zone, and Mark used them to good effect. The jetski makes sense, and the fireworks are an original idea that works well.

Key: Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis), Wave Race Blue Storm (GameCube), Fantavision (Playstation 2)

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"Halloween" (Seasonal. Displayed during October)

Mark: I wanted to give the Halloween banner a little horror (Resident Evil 4, the Big Daddy from Bioshock), a little whimsy (Boo from Super Mario 3, Scooby Doo), a little 'retro' (Atari 2600 Haunted House) and a little T&A (Morrigan from Darkstalkers). Not sure what kind of crazy 'vampire magic' she's using to keep that get-up on, but it must be some powerful stuff.

VGC: Halloween is my favorite holiday, and the look of this banner is right on target. I especially love the "glow" around the bats and the red text. I probably would have used Big Daddy (far right) in a summer banner, but in retrospect, he does look pretty scary. I hope one day Mark treats us to an additional Halloween banner as well, because there's a lot more ground to be covered here.

Key: Morrigan from Darkstalkers (Playstation), Resident Evil 4 (GameCube), Haunted House (Atari 2600), Scooby Doo, Bioshock (Xbox 360)

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"Cube-ular"

Mark: No real 'theme' to this banner, just showing some overlooked games/characters a little love. Good old Q*bert, Princess Peach, Crazy Taxi, Crash Bandicoot, and Combat (Atari 2600). It was January or February, and I was bored...

VGC: Mark had offered up a similar banner around Thanksgiving '07 similar to this, but I thought it was too cluttered. But this one really manages to capture the flavor of many old favorites without looking too busy. The scattered cubes effectively pull the images together, and I love how he incorporated Combat in the far right. Good stuff.

Key: Q*bert, Princess Peach of Mario fame, Crazy Taxi (Dreamcast), Crash Bandicoot (Playstation), Combat (Atari 2600)

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"April Fools?"

Mark: A more refined version of a 'bad videogame' banner that I had toyed with for a while. ET and Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 are painful memories from my youth. Shaq-Fu and Bubsy are a couple of 16-bit stinkers. Link (nice hair) looks like he's about to get the snot knocked out of him in one of the CD-I Zelda games. And Superman 64...well, what more need be said?

VGC: Mark sent this to me just as I was pondering doing something special for April Fools '08, and it fit the bill nicely. The only thing I asked him to change was the Link graphic, which didn't properly convey what an effeminate idiot he was in the Philips CD-i games. He came back with this finished version, and I think it's a masterpiece. Readers asked me to keep this up year round (instead of just April), but I compromised by displaying it during April and May.

Key: E.T. (Atari 2600), Shaq Fu (Super Nintendo), Link: Faces of Evil (Philips CD-i), Pac-Man (Atari 2600), Bubsy (Genesis), Superman (Nintendo 64)

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Halloween 2

Mark: The wealth of scary games necessitated me making another Halloween themed banner. The little pumpkin guy from Peggle (360, DS) starts things off humorously, but things get a bit more ominous with a Resident Evil zombie (various) clawing his way into the banner. More zombie goodness comes from House of Dead: Overkill (Wii). Mr. Bones (Saturn) is a more light-hearted take on the undead, and a "nurse" from Silent Hill (various) finishes the banner.

VGC: I love this one, especially the jack-o-latern and the zombie digging his nails into the text.

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"Atari 2600"

Mark: I had thought about making console-specific banners for a while, and decided to start with the good old VCS. Took some creative liberties with the VGC text and incorporated it into a 2600 Missile Command box. Berzerk, Space Invaders, and Night Driver were some other VCS games that I spent quite a few hours playing back in the day. I even found a 2600-inspired font for the links on the right side of the banner, which I thought helped tie it all together.

VGC: There are some classic images here, and the fact that the box has an imperfection makes the illusion all the more convincing.

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"Random IV"

Mark: This started as an excuse to put Cats ("All your base are belong to us") from Zero Wing into a banner. I filled in around him with Galaga and M. Bison (Street Fighter) to the left, more Galaga, Brutal Legend, and Radiant Silvergun to the right.

VGC: It's not my favorite banner, but I was sold on the Galaga mutants dancing around the text.

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"Bosses"

Mark: I wanted to make a boss-centric banner, and this was the result. Robotnik runs into the new (at the time) "Independent Reviews Since 1999" tag-line. A berserker from Gears of War seems amused by the destruction. The mothership from Phoenix represents one of the earliest "boss" battles. One of the mid-bosses from Wolfenstein 3D, and Bowser from the Mario games complete the banner.

VGC: Frankly I didn't recognize the berzerker or the Wolfenstein guy at first, but I like how Robotnik is wreaking havoc with the text and Bowser is lighting up the links. Very creative.

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"Christmas"

Mark: It took a while, but I finally got around to making a Christmas themed banner. The Mario and Sonic images were taken from some cartoons from the 90's. Master Chief (Halo series) looks kind of goofy with a Santa hat over his helmet. Add some lights, snowflakes, and a pixilated tree... Merry Christmas, VGC-style!

VGC: This one is a little crazy, but it was nice to give the readers an added treat around the holidays. The colored light trim across the top looks terrific, but Mario's outfit looks too orange.

Also check out
Video Game Critic Banners Unplugged: The New Ones

The Video Game Critic Main Page