The Best (And Worst) Super Bowl Video Game Ads

The Best (And Worst) Super Bowl Video Game Ads

You might be wondering why a video game website like Kotaku is writing about sports, but the connection between games and sports runs much deeper than the annual release of Madden. One of the most prevalent cultural links between video games and football, even to those who don’t care about the sport, Super Bowl ads are annual conversation pieces thanks to their high-concept ideas, celebrity appearances, and big-budget production value. Companies spend millions of dollars to get their products in front of people because the event draws nine-figure viewership every year, so whether they’re shilling chips, cars, or crypto, Super Bowl ads tend to pull out all the stops. Video game ads during the big game are no exception, and developers and publishers have put out some real standout commercials during the Super Bowl over the years. Let’s look at five of the best video game ads to ever grace a football intermission.

God of War: Ascension

When Sony Santa Monica released God of War: Ascension on the PlayStation 3 in 2013, it was during the era when Sony was putting out a lot of high-quality live-action ads that for some reason didn’t actually include any gameplay. But Ascension’s Super Bowl ad still remains one of the most moving live-action trailers for any video game. Set to Ellie Goulding’s cover of “Hanging On,” the trailer shows Kratos’ daughter Calliope running up to her father. When he picks her up, she immediately turns to ash, which is grafted onto Kratos’ skin as a punishment for his crimes. It’s an incredible tone setter for the character, and feels more reminiscent of the prestige storytelling the series would go on to have in the Norse mythology series that began with the 2018 game. Ascension hasn’t had the same shelf life as the rest of the series, as the prequel lacked a lot of the set pieces that have kept the memory of its predecessors alive and well and had a story many found lacklustre and superfluous. But this trailer? It’s still a beautiful, tragic take on Kratos’ legacy.

The Order: 1886

Ready at Dawn’s PlayStation 4 exclusive about a steampunk London overrun by werewolves and vampires has largely been lost to time in the grand scheme of Sony’s IP, but there are dozens of us who look back fondly at the game as a strong foundation for a sequel that never came. However, it could have maybe been a more memorable game if its Super Bowl ad hadn’t been so ordinary. Companies are spending millions of dollars to put their products in front of people, and The Order: 1886’s commercial was a pretty bog standard gameplay trailer. Sure, given that the God of War: Ascension and Dante’s Inferno ads have no gameplay whatsoever, there’s merit to trying to show people what they’re actually going to buy, but it’s just missing the pizzazz that makes Super Bowl commercials memorable in the long run. Like the game itself, The Order: 1886’s Super Bowl ad deserved better from Sony.


The Pokémon ad during the 2016 Super Bowl wasn’t an ad for any specific game, but rather for the series’ 20th anniversary. This was just a few months before the release of Pokémon Go, which would have made for a pretty sensible commercial, but really the Pokémon 2016 ad is more about a feeling than it is about any one thing. It shows multiple characters training across different disciplines, including chess, football, and eventually Pokémon battling to be the very best “like no one ever was.” It’s pure hype, and it makes you feel like you can take on the world.

Xbox Adaptive Controller

One of the best examples of a video game company doing more than just advertising its latest thing to buy occurred when Microsoft made an ad for the Xbox Adaptive Controller that showed kids with disabilities demonstrating how the deeply customisable controller accommodates people who weren’t able to play games with a traditional controller. Aired during the 2019 championship, it’s a commercial like any other, but anything that advocates for making video games more welcoming to more people, especially on a stage as big as the Super Bowl, is a-ok in my book. Hopefully when PlayStation releases its upcoming Project Leonardo controller we’ll see more companies advocating for accessibility in games like this.

The Nintendo Switch

If the job of an ad is to sell you on something, Nintendo’s Super Bowl ad for the Switch during the 2017 game was a colossal success, offering a grand tour of why the company’s upcoming console at the time was going to be such a game changer. It demonstrated every perk of a console-and-handheld hybrid device by showing people playing the Switch in bed, while cooking, at the laundromat, in the public library, and at parties, both in handheld mode and on the TV. It does lose points for being set to Imagine Dragons, though. Alas, that was just par for the course for companies looking for music to accompany their commercials in 2017.

World of Tanks

Six years removed, I’m still not quite sure what Wargaming was going for with its 2017 ad campaign for World of Tanks. While some games on this list don’t include gameplay in their ads, they’re at least thematically in-line with the product they’re selling. World of Tanks’ Super Bowl commercials included parodies of reality shows like the Real Housewives franchise and Million Dollar Listing, all interrupted by a tank rolling through them while a voiceover that sounds like something out of a 90s ad for fruit-flavored gummies says the tagline, “Tanks rule.” If it weren’t for the console logos and the ESRB rating, I would have no idea what was happening here.

Dante’s Inferno

The 2010 Dante’s Inferno ad is similar to the God of War: Ascension one, in that it forgoes any gameplay for a very evocative cinematic trailer. It shows Dante jumping down into Hell to save his lover Beatrice, and as he fights all the demons and other ugly beasties in the underworld, Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” plays in the background. Now that I find myself writing about two Super Bowl ads with similar themes, it dawns on me that video games of the early 2010s sure loved to put trailers about man pain on at the biggest sporting event of the year, huh? I guess men brutalizing each other in real life and men in video games brutalizing others make for an effective combination.


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