All of us have seen our fair share of hilarious, disturbing, and surreal advertisements for mobile games. It seems almost impossible to avoid them while you’re watching gaming videos on TikTok or scrolling through your Twitter feed.
Mobile games aren’t the only ones with bizarre and deceptive marketing. If you’re old enough to remember print magazines, they used to feature really cringe advertisements for console games. One advert informed readers of the number of climaxes in a game’s narrative (13!). And is this a gaming ad or a porno page? You decide.
If anything, it feels like mobile ads are a continuation of how marketing for games have always worked: salacious advertisements or gameplay that has little to do with the content they’re advertising. AAA showcases often feature cinematic gameplay that isn’t representative of what ultimately ships in the final product. The main distinction is that these big-budget advertisements didn’t veer into uncanny valley territory.
Mobile ads on the other hand, often inspire a feeling of unease or visceral disgust. I trust that these publishers will one day figure out how to sell their games in a way that doesn’t feel embarrassing. In the meantime, it’s the rest of us who suffer. When stumbling across these weird-ass videos, most of us have a giggle, roll our eyes, and then go on with our lives. But not me, your local sicko who enjoys mobile games. I’ve not only been watching these ads about cheating, farts, and baby death—I’ve actually played these games.
Are today’s mobile game ads representative of the games that they’re advertising? I decided to find out.
What the ad is: A nurse attempts to administer a covid swab, except he’s immediately pulled away by a zombie. The patient hits the zombie over the head with her stool, and the two of them escape into an underground shelter, where they build facilities to become self-sufficient. There’s also a different version of the ad where a man knocks someone out while lifting weights, zombies break into their home, and he has to drag the man to safety by his feet.
What the game actually is: Last Fortress is a base building game with a more serious plot than its ads might suggest. I excavate rooms, build sleeping quarters, and make food in the kitchen. There are some turn-based battles against zombies, but they’re unremarkable to anyone who’s ever played a hero battler. The heroes do capture and eat “gophers” that are the size of adult pigs, but it’s still pretty tame for what I was expecting.
What the ad is: A couple lay together in a moment of sweet post-coital bliss, only for a snake to bite the unsuspecting woman in the leg. The man attempts to suck the poison out of the wound, but it’s too late. She turns into a zombie and immediately chases him out of the room on all fours. An honorable mention also goes to the ad where a man’s flatulence turns a nearby woman into a deadly zombie. This is just proof that men should never fart, ever.
What the game actually is: This is another zombie apocalypse game, but with a focus on solving match-3 puzzles. You defeat zombies and dinosaurs by matching gems in rows and columns, just like in Candy Crush. The gameplay was fairly enjoyable, even if the gacha characters were kind of ugly. My biggest issue is the aggressive monetization, which reminded me to buy gems any time I tried to perform an action. I felt so gross that I dropped off the game fairly early.
What the ad is: Where do I begin? You play as a near-naked little guy defeating little insect monsters on top of a giant woman in a swimsuit. To make it worse, another little guy (the game’s protagonist) is the only thing holding the two sides of her bikini top together. I…actually want this game to be real? It feels like postmodern art. I feel like I’m having some kind of out of body experience when I watch the little guy beat up insects on the woman’s abdomen.
What the game actually is: A side-scrolling RPG where you occasionally tap your party members to use their skills. Sometimes you’re even asked to solve the occasional puzzle. The plot is unremarkable, the art reminds me of those shady web games that you’d see on internet banner ads (RIP Adobe Flash), and the gameplay loop is incoherent. I mean, I can definitely see why the publisher needs sick minds to click the download link, rather than relying on word of mouth!
What the ad is: A group of doctors are trying to save their dying patient in an emergency room, and the prognosis doesn’t look good. Suddenly, the medical intern claims to have the power to save the patient. The voice over makes a big deal out of how “a mysterious disease has torn civilization apart, and only you can save them.”
What the game actually is: This feels like cheating because Arknights is one of my favorite live service games of all time. How much time my colleagues spend on Marvel Snap is probably the same amount of time I spend on this gacha tower defense game. That being said, the video really undersells both the artistic merits and the gameplay complexity of Arknights. If you weren’t paying close attention, you might have entirely missed that it has anime characters in it.
There’s another huge inaccuracy in this video. The Doctor in Arknights is a military tactician, and they have callously sacrificed their patients on the frontlines. They also murdered someone that a protagonist had loved dearly. So you’re neither heroic nor a medical practitioner. That’s double false advertising.
What the ad is: A mother is gathering laundry in one arm and carrying an infant in the other. She turns on the laundry machine, only to realize too late that she’s still holding the dirty clothes. Afterwards, the player redecorates a nursery into a living room. It’s a subtle, yet disturbing story about a mom who accidentally killed her baby in the washer.
What the game actually is: A match 3 game where you simply click on linked tiles instead of swapping their positions. You’ll receive a star for each puzzle that you solve, and you can redeem them for pieces of decor. As you decorate, you’ll also unlock parts of the story. I was pleasantly surprised at the game’s empathy towards the struggles of an ordinary woman. I’d trust this game to handle a topic like infant mortality.
What the ad is: Lesbians smell each other’s farts. An honorable mention goes to the video where a woman’s boyfriend leaves her because of her smelly feet.
What the game actually is: You play as a fashion director dressing people who can’t dress themselves. In order to pay for these makeovers, you earn coins from simple match-3 puzzles. There’s also a storyline, and it’s not afraid to get campy. Within seconds of booting up the game, I am treated to a line of dialogue that will go down in gaming infamy: “You’re ugly for life!” So far, I’ve seen zero lesbians. Nobody’s farts are green. But I’m having such a pleasant time that I don’t really mind the false advertisement.
What the ad is: A girl kills her boyfriend for the audacious crimes of *checks notes* having too many exes, not being able to give proper compliments, and being set up to fail. The overall tone of the ad feels vaguely misogynistic, which is a little strange for a game presumably aimed at women. Other ads feature crises in which the protagonist finds out her boyfriend is gay, finds out that her boyfriend is cheating, steals her boyfriend’s new girlfriend, and other wild antics.
What the game actually is: A clothing gacha game. You pull outfit pieces that have certain stats assigned to them, such as elegant or mature. You face off against various rivals by dressing Nikki, the protagonist, in the most suitable outfits.
What this ad is: A white Saitama walks into an American diner and starts rapping. Background characters join him in rapping and dancing incredibly awkwardly.
What the game actually is: It’s a turn-based hero battler featuring the characters of One Punch Man, who you obtain by rolling in the gacha. Despite the ad’s claims that you don’t need to pay for “Super Super Rares” (SSRs),that’s technically true of every F2P game. The game has a gimmick where you can get Saitama to one-shot kill enemies automatically, but I don’t love OPM enough to make room for it in my gacha rotation just for that.
The verdict: Most of these horrible ads seem to have an actual game underneath, they’re just causing you massive amounts of psychic damage in order to compel you to download them. I assume this works better than showing you actual gameplay, since these publishers keep making these videos.
What’s the worst mobile ad you’ve ever seen? Did the game live up to the anti-hype? Let us know in the comments.