History has proven many things: you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole, you can’t walk 500 miles by tonight, and you can’t make Izzy happen. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put an Olympic Mascot like this back together again. Not that they ever tried.
Izzy was born in 1991, created by John Ryan of the incredibly trendy sounding DESIGNefx. This was an auspicious beginning for the young whatizit, as, clearly, this was a creature designed by committee to appeal to the masses. Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, even more contemporary creations like Finn the Human are timeless creations that could also have been birthed from a child’s notebook margins; Izzy was made to be cute and appealing, but was neither. Izzy was officially unveiled during the finale of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and the attending crowd didn’t know if that loud farting noise was part of the creature’s shtick or the sound of the universe audibly mocking its least favored creation. Bad news, guys, it can be two things.
Atlanta had a short four years to polish the big, blue turd into a shiny state of at least tolerability for the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta, and, bad news, they couldn’t pull it off. Among various other attempts to make Izzy a friend to children, there was an Izzy rollercoaster in Bush Gardens Williamsburg, an animated movie on TNT featuring noted Ninja Turtle Rob Paulsen as Izzy’s Dad (fictional dad, not the ad man that actually birthed him), and a trio of video games. The final game was an adventure affair for PC that didn’t see release until 1996, but the twins that were released in 1995 were a pair platformers created by “US Gold” and “Alexandria” for the SNES and Genesis. For the curious, US Gold was a game publishing company that published a number of Olympics based games up through 1996 (probably not a coincidence), and also was responsible for the PC ports of a number of Capcom games, like Final Fight and Street Fighter 2. They were also based in the UK, which raises questions. Alexandria, meanwhile, is a complete mystery due to its difficult to google name, so let’s assume they’re a legion of undead skeleton programmers who walk the Earth during lunar eclipses and animate mascot platformers when they get bored.
Izzy’s Quest for the Olympic Rings, as previously mentioned, was a mascot platformer, which was basically the baseline videogame of the time. Izzy himself went through a number of physical permutations throughout his lifespan, but it’s likely no accident that, by the time he decided to hit the 16-Bit world, he was a svelte, athletic blue creature with prominent red sneakers. Izzy graduated from the Bubsy school of platforming: he was destined to parade around poorly designed, repetitive worlds with his only reliable offensive maneuver limited to hopping on the same three or four hastily designed creatures. The Olympics is Greek, right? Here’s a medusa! You don’t get more Greek than Medusa, right? And how about a fire guy? Fire is an Olympic thing, too! Oh yes, before I forget, the plot of the game is that “The Ring Guardians” (who, let’s think about this, are probably guarding the rings for a reason) have decided to stick to their title and are guarding the Olympic Rings from Izzy, who wants to return the rings to Atlanta, because otherwise there would be no Olympics, and Ted Turner would be most cross. So off Izzy goes, jumping and climbing and losing an entire dimension in an effort to prove himself useful to his Olympic handlers.
Izzy has one other arrow in his quiver, and it’s the amazing power to turn into the Olympics. Well, nothing quite as amazing as that sounds, simply the ability to morph into various 2-D interpretations of Olympic events. “Fencing” creates a straightforward, sword-adept Izzy, while the shot put is swung over Izzy’s head to create a helicopter effect. There’s also a skateboard, because it’s a 90’s platformer, and the rocket transformation, because… someone on the team liked autoscrolling bonus stages? Was there a “space” component to the ’96 Olympic Games? Could… could someone look into that? Could someone make that happen?
If I’m not being clear, Izzy wasn’t any good. Erm… Talking about the game this time, not the terrible mascot. It’s kind of weird, too, because US Gold was known for making Olympic based sports games, so, assuming that’s the one thing US Gold was good at, why didn’t they just take the route of going with what they know? You can’t blame Izzy’s utter lack of popularity on everything, I feel like if you got even just one or two popular mascots together, forced them to compete in the Olympic Games, and then just plotted everything after the real Olympics, you might have a hit on your hands. Hell, maybe you could still include a blue mascot in red sneakers. I realize this line of thinking is a mere pipedream, as I doubt any worthwhile game company would bother with the Olympic license nowadays, but maybe there could be a popular franchise to grow out of the oldest global sporting event in human history. Hell, it’s not like people line up to buy the same stupid sports game year after year. Nobody who likes videogames likes sports.
Perhaps Izzy (back to talking about the mascot) was simply not meant to be. Izzy was followed by The Snowlets, a quartet of adorable owls that look less like they were designed by committee and more like something that would be seen on a proud parent’s refrigerator (even if they share a similar corporate origin). Later mascots seemed to follow suit, with the next American mascots looking very much like a trio of vaguely anime-ish Hanna Barbera characters. Perhaps to stave off the focused failure of Izzy, nearly all Olympic mascots since ’96 have been “groups”, save WENLOCK, THE ALL-SEEING EYE, LONG MAY HIS GAZE LINGER ON THE DIVINE of the 2012 London Olympics. Izzy seems to have become a cautionary tale for Olympic Wranglers: never put all your eggs in one blue blob of a basket.
Izzy was terrible. Izzy’s game was terrible. But, since we’ll never see a game based on the adventures Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat, he’s about all we’ve got for Olympic Mascot platformers. Aero? Bubsy? You now have a buddy in mediocrity that can turn into a javelin. Try not to poke an eye out.
FGC #44 Izzy’s Quest for the Olympic Rings
- System: Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis.
- Number of players: The can be only one Izzy.
- Version Differences: Wow, yeah, I can barely play twelve minutes of this on the SNES. Let’s assume the Sega Genesis version was equally bad. That’s probably accurate.
- Could you check Youtube or something? Oh, fine. Oh, yeah, look, it is exactly the same. Geez, Izzy has the stupidest walking animation. Maybe that’s the source of the failure here: he’s the main character, and I just want to see him fail… or at least get hit in the face with a boot. Worn or unworn, doesn’t matter.
- Any ’96 Olympics Memories? There’s a really popular pizza place by here that everyone raves about, but I’ve never been a big fan (and I live in an area with absolutely no lack of good pizza places). I remember distinctly the last time I was in said popular pizza place, the ’96 Olympics was on the TV, so I can very accurately recall the last time I ate there. That… is about how much I’ve ever paid attention to the Olympics.
- Favorite Olympic Mascot? Miga, the 2010 Canadian “Mythical Sea Bear” that is a cross between a bear and an orca, and is possibly the best thing to ever come out of the Olympics. Aw, she has a lil’ scarf and enjoys surfing. Miga, you are the anti-Izzy.
- Did you know? There’s a sort of “animation test” feature available right from the options menu of Izzy’s Quest for the Olympic Rings. It’s kind of neat to see that a lot of effort was put into making Izzy at least remotely memorable in his movements and “morphs”. It’s less neat to notice that maybe this is where the entire game’s budget wound up getting flushed.
- Would I play again? Complete disclosure? This might be the least I’ve played any FGC game thus far. It’s not even that it’s particularly bad (which it is), it’s just so repetitive and boring. I would liken it to driving through the most boring state (or province, Miga) you can name. That is not something I want to do for recreation.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Tournament Fighters for the SNES. Now there’s a palette cleanser! Let’s get some Wingnut vs. Shredder action going for the good of turtle power. Please look forward to it!