originally published November 3, 2013
Philistines may mock and deride, but some of us possess a truckload of warm memories playing bad video games. I remember when my friend Josh obtained a questionably legal Japanese multicart (that’s a single game cartridge with dozens of crappy games on it) for his Nintendo Entertainment System. We were in high school, and I welcomed in the dawn after a long night of inebriated attempts to conquer the cat-vs-mouse world of Mappy.
Not that I’m suggesting Mappy was a bad game. But of the 51 or 81 or 101 games on that cartridge, most were repetitive platformers or half-ass variations on Pac-Man. But I played those too, if for no other reason than they were there.
I am fortunate that my game hobbying never steered me to the depths of the world’s worst video games. Okay, I dabbled with ET: The Extra-Terrestrial on the Atari 2600, and I still maintain that one or two of those text-based Infocom games I owned for my PC were designed to be impossible without the hint book (sold separately!). But I never had the misfortune of flushing my own hard-earned dollars down the poop-encrusted drain of a rotten gaming experience.
Here’s some of the drek that I missed.
In 1991 a legitimate multicart was dropped upon the Nintendo crowd. It was called Action 52 because it had 52 games and each of them involved some form of action, even if it was only the act of you slapping your own forehead in frustration for having bought this thing. I’d list off some of the games on Action 52, but you haven’t heard of any of them. Perhaps you remember The Cheetahmen, which was launched in this pack with the intent of sparking a Ninja-Turtles-like synergistic frenzy: action figures, comic books, a TV series… no, you don’t. This game was so loathed (as was almost everything on the cartridge) that The Cheetahmen fled for the hills.
Perhaps the $199 price tag wasn’t helping either.
Most of the games featured a bevy of glitches, crashes and freezes to ensure no consumer was in danger of having too much fun. The Sega Genesis release featured a different lineup of games with fewer technical issues, but still it wasn’t enough of a seller to be considered a success. A Super NES version was announced, but Active Enterprises was tired of losing money, so the plug was mercifully pulled.
I never played Hotel Mario, but the consensus among gamers is that this was Mario’s low-point in a massive chain of games that more often than not didn’t forget to include the semi-crucial aspects of “fun” and “not sucking”. It’s a puzzle platform game in which Mario must search through seven hotels for Princess Toadstool, which strikes me as an odd plot choice, suggesting he was trying to save her from a life of Koopa prostitution or something. On each stage the object is to shut each door within the allotted time limit. That’s right, you aren’t battling enemies in this one, or exploring strange worlds – you’re closing doors, everyone’s favorite fun-time activity.
Nintendo can graciously ignore this steaming turd in the Mario canon, as it was released only on the unsuccessful Philips CD-i in 1994, not on the Super Nintendo. The fully animated cut scenes were outlandishly poorly-made, and the voice acting choices were bizarre. It was as though Nintendo handed off permission to use their characters to Philips, but only if they concocted a game so completely unplayable it would force gamers to toss their consoles in the trash and buy new ones. Preferably new Nintendos.
No, we’re not deviating off-topic here. If you were one of the lucky three or four people to have purchased a 3DO game system in 1994, you might remember Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties. This adult-oriented game may be the most ill-conceived attempt at interactive storytelling in the history of the medium. The game consists of DVD-style menus, with which you can use your controller to decide which of the two or three choices you’d like to take to move the story forward. Then you’ll get another still photograph, with a voice-over narration explaining the next plot point.
This is like a Choose Your Own Adventure game, but with less imagination and more boobs. Also, the narrator arbitrarily changes mid-way through the game, only to change back a few scenes later. This game was so low-budget it’s amazing you didn’t have to travel to the factory where it was made to purchase it. It’s a glorified slide-show, a wretched piece of narrative, and a bad idea from start to finish. Luckily, it was released for the 3DO, which meant hardly anyone wasted their money.
I was never big into the Mortal Kombat, Streetfighter-type battle games, though I appreciate the skill involved in smushing the right combination of buttons to deliver a grotesquely devastating hit combo. On the weird side of this genre we can find Catfight, which was released by Atlantean Interactive – a front for porn-peddlers Vivid Entertainment. This is an all-girl battle, only without any of the enjoyable elements of its peers.
The gameplay of this CD-ROM game for 1996 Windows-95 computers was horrendous. Controls were unresponsive and the so-called action was a mile away from what was advertised. PC Gamer may have delivered the most succinct and delightfully wicked review of the game, claiming “being caught masturbating to it would actually be less embarrassing than being caught playing it.”
Poor, poor Aquaman. The guy just can’t catch a break. He’s the butt of so many superhero jokes, and considered to be the Potsie of the Justice League. Okay, he can communicate with fish. That’s not going to make him the darling of the comic book world, except where it overlaps with the world of marine biologists. But could we at least have given him a decent video game?
Aquaman: Battle For Atlantis splashed into stores for the GameCube and Xbox in 2003, and most who bought it wanted to throw it back. The game consists of Aquaman scooting around the ocean, battling bad guys with his handful of moves and impressive combo attacks. It sounds interesting, however simply smashing the A button will kick most enemy asses if your thumbs are quick enough. The graphics make Aquaman look like a dirty hippie, and the animations are choppy and clunky.
Nevertheless, to those wide-eyed kids (or red-eyed teenagers at the tail-end of a wild night) who poured hours into any of these games, don’t feel bad. You glommed on to a piece of infamy for a while – we’ve all done it. It’s all a part of the lifestyle.