originally published June 2, 2013
If you’re a struggling video game developer, looking for some kind of hook to propel you into the elite ranks of… of various elite video game developers (sorry, no names come to mind here), there’s a simple answer. Find yourself a celebrity who’s willing to slap their name on your product. That derivative basketball game you created would sell a lot more copies with LeBron James allowing his face on the cover. Made a tennis game? Negotiate with a Williams Sister. Want to move a few million units of that realistic skeet shooting simulator? See of you can snag the rights to 2011 world champion Juan Jose Aramburu. It probably won’t be hard.
But this is all old news. Every gamer has probably invested a few hours in a Madden Football game, Tiger Woods Golf, or if they’re old enough, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. But I’m more interested in the stranger celebrity video games.
Stuff like Shaq Fu.
Most people remember Shaquille O’Neal as one of the greatest basketball players of the 1990’s, or perhaps as the guy who popularized size-22 shoes. But to adherents of GameBoy, Super Nintendo, Game Gear and Sega Genesis, he was also a master of kung fu. In this poorly-conceived game – which happened around the same time Shaq was also pretending to be a rapper and a movie star – you play as Shaq, trying to rescue a boy from an evil mummy in another dimension.
This seems logical. Any Orlando Magic fan has no doubt wondered at some point how Shaq’s incredible rebound skills would translate to martial arts battles. This game was so awful, its current website (shaqfu.com) is dedicated solely to ‘liberating’ all copies of the game from existence by encouraging people to buy any copy they see at their local used game store and destroy them. For the sake of humanity.
If spending an afternoon watching Shaq kick people seems too far-fetched, how about watching Chuck Norris kick people? In Chuck Norris Superkicks you can do just that on your Colecovision, Commodore Vic-20 or Atari 2600. Chuck battles ninjas, goons, henchmen, and other blocky blips of color in an effort to liberate a hostage from an ancient monastery. The reviews for this game were consistent, with such encouraging comments as “more an exercise in frustration than fun.”
Chuck’s people clearly didn’t expect this ‘video game’ trend to last, or else they had a hunch they were slapping Chuck’s name on a piece of crap game. The people at Xonox Games (which folded shortly afterward for what I’m sure are totally unrelated reasons) only acquired a temporary license to use Chuck Norris’s name on their product, so when the license expired they had to hope they’d still move this garbage product with the name Kung Fu Superkicks. They did not.
Maybe you think you’d be safe going with a musician’s endorsement on your next game purchase. Like Prince – what could Prince possibly do wrong? Actually, by 1994 standards this one might not have been bad. Prince Interactive (or, “Unpronounceable Symbol Interactive”) was a Myst-like graphic puzzle game, exploring the rooms of Paisley Park Studios and featuring numerous interview clips and four complete music videos, including two previously unreleased songs from Prince’s massive vault.
Xplora1: Peter Gabriel’s Secret World looks a little weaker, featuring mostly uninspiring games like slider puzzles and a scavenger hunt to unearth a bunch of video clips meant to promote his 1992 album, Us. I’ve already explored the weirdness of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, the video game, so I’m going to leap right ahead to the oddity that is Spice World.
In this bizarre and blatant attempt to cash in on a fad, you can choose the set-list and dance steps for the Spice Girls’ upcoming TV concert, which you then get to watch. You can also choose the order the lyrics are to be sung, which sounds utterly ridiculous. When the big show starts, you get to be the director, choosing the camera angles to capture your creation. The New York Times may have summed this up best in their review, stating, “The game didn’t have to be.”
Turning to the world of the completely absurd, why not try out What’s Cooking? With Jamie Oliver? On the one hand, the game features a cookbook, albeit one you could acquire for much cheaper if you bought an actual book. On the other, you get a clunky, ridiculous game that is not user friendly and not fun. In fact, the bulk of the reviews indicate that this was marketed more at people who enjoy games than people who enjoy cooking. But even then, it’s more for people who enjoy really bad games.
If you are addicted to The Sims 3 but looking for one of those add-on packs to give you more goodies to fill up your Sim-world, you should totally buy Katy Perry’s Sweet Treats. Not only are all the furniture, outfits and hairstyles specifically modeled after stuff some programmers thought about when they were listening to Katy Perry’s music, but you also get to pay $10 more than you would for any other The Sims 3 expansion pack! What a wise investment!
Lastly, if you’re looking for the ultimate in celebrity-endorsed strangeness, you should track down a copy of the unreleased Penn & Teller’s Smoke And Mirrors, which was supposed to be released for SegaCD in 1995 before the publishing company went out of business. Just check out these brilliant mini-games:
- Mofo the Psychic Gorilla will guess your friend’s card! (as long as you deftly punch in the secret code while your friend isn’t looking)
- Buzz Bomber is a two-person shooter game, rigged so that Player 1 will always win. If your friend gets suspicious and wants to swap controllers, there’s a secret button combination that will switch the scam so that the other controller always wins. This is brilliant.
- Punch your friend’s birthday into the What’s Your Sign game before he/she comes over, and the game will guess his/her Zodiac sign and even birthday after asking a series of totally unrelated questions.
- Sun Scorcher will help you set up a scam in which your TV will appear to ‘overheat’ and you can pretend it burns when you touch it. If ever anyone has mastered subversive-asshole humor better than Penn & Teller, I would be surprised.
- Lastly, there’s Desert Bus. Oh, Desert Bus. In this game, you drive a bus from Tuscon, Arizona to Las Vegas. There is no traffic and the road is straight, but the bus tends to veer to the right so you’ll have to keep adjusting it. Also, the game is in real-time, requiring about eight hours, since you can’t go over 45mph. There is no pause button. If you run off the side of the road, you get towed back to Tuscon, also in real-time. If you actually make it, the reward is one point. I’m not shitting you – here’s a video.
Sure, this last one seems cruel. But a comedy group called LoadingReadyRun decided to run a marathon of Desert Bus in 2007, raising over $22,000 and chalking up six points in four and a half days before crashing. They have repeated this every year since, racking up more than $1.2 million for Child’s Play, a charity which delivers toys to children’s hospitals.
So maybe video games – even horrible ones with celebrity faces on the front – can do some good after all.