Make no mistake, video games are a lot of fun. Sometimes, they are fun for all the wrong reasons; namely, because they are terrible. Here are five exceptionally bad video games that have gone down in gaming history as embarrassments to the whole industry.
Superman 64 – Gamers of a certain age will remember how legendarily awful this game was. Released in 1999 by Titus Software on the Nintendo 64, Superman 64 boasted poor quality right from the start. Superman is trapped in virtual reality by Lex Luthor, whose greatest challenge for the Man of Steel is…giant rings floating in the air! Really, there are huge rings in the sky that Superman has to fly through in order to advance to the next level every single time, like he’s playing the ship sections from Kingdom Hearts. Ridiculous as that is, it’s not enough to distract you from the green fog hanging over Metropolis, pointing out the painfully minimal draw distance on the game. Clipping issues and other similarly hilarious glitches abound in this game, which, according to the creator, is in part because of licensing issues from Warner Bros. and in part because of the hardware limitations of the N64. While the console never did human models well at the best of times (one reason why StarFox 64 still holds up compared to other games on the N64), the artwork in this game is incredibly sub-standard. It’s an all-around mess but is definitely good for some laughs.
If you want to watch an informative Let’s Play of Superman 64, I recommend the one done by Proton Jon. While his LP is not done and has been on hiatus for about two years, he provides a great deal of insight into the game, much more than most LPs of this game. In fact, he had an interview with Eric Caen, the developer behind the game, where they talk about the development process. Proton Jon also shows footage of the beta and what this game could have been. It’s not substantially better than the final product but at least it has fewer rings all over the place like Sonic has been dropping his inventory everywhere.
Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) – Speaking of Sonic, what list of terrible video games would be complete without mentioning this five-alarm disaster? Yes, it pains me as a Sonic fan to have to include this on the list, but Sonic ’06 reached heights of infamy that had not been seen on a next-gen console. There are at least a half-dozen Sonic titles that could go on this list but Sonic ’06 is the one everyone remembers as being bad beyond words. Meant to celebrate Sonic’s fifteenth anniversary, this game is about…a lot of things other than Sonic, which is a big problem. It’s actually the story of Sonic, Shadow, and newcomer Silver. Silver was originally an orange mink called Venice and was supposed to be in a different game altogether when someone at Sega decided, “Why not slap him in a Sonic game?” It’s like Sega executives were drinking heavily, came up with a handful of terrible ideas, and yelled at someone to assemble a video game out of them. Clipping, glitches, unimplemented controls, broken controls, absurdly long load times, and a relentlessly hostile camera made this game bad. What made this game bad for the annals of history was the disconcerting implication of a romantic relationship between Sonic the Hedgehog and a human, Princess Elise. Nobody was asking for this (outside of deviantArt, anyway) and then, to cap it off, Sonic dies and can only be revived by a kiss of love from Elise. As a Sonic fan, I felt nauseated to watch the franchise sink so low for absolutely no reason. The development team was crippled when Yuji Naka, famed programmer behind the Genesis games, quit at the start of production and then the team was halved so an ostensibly similar product could be released for the Wii. That turned out to Sonic and the Secret Rings. Perhaps that was not a great deal better, but at least it looked like a finished product. Sonic ’06 is so blindingly awful that it is best viewed through smoked glass.
If you are looking for a playthrough of this abomination, I recommend the classic playthrough by Hellfire Commentaries. You will spend an eyewatering amount of time looking at loading screens throughout the playthrough, which will give you an idea of how poorly made this game was. It defies explanation. You simply have to see this to believe it. Just smile.
E.T.: The Extraterrestrial – No list of terrible video games would be complete without a mention of the game that tanked the Western market for video games, would it? Famous for the burial myth, E.T. was one of those games that did not need to exist and did an inexplicable amount of damage to the market on orders of magnitude worse than perhaps anyone had even conceived at the time. To be sure, there were plenty of horrible things released on the Atari 2600 (Custer’s Revenge, I’m looking at you), but it was E.T. that was a direct hit to Atari’s seemingly-invulnerable reputation. Reportedly assembled in five or six weeks, this game almost defies explanation. Your job is to guide E.T. to collect 3 radio parts scattered in various holes in the ground while avoiding a scientist who will throw you in a jail cell that you easily walk out of and an FBI agent who steals your radio parts. In theory, this game should last no more than three minutes. In practice, this game is such a blight on the eyes that it is hardly possible to put this into words.
In order to get an adequate understanding of how utterly painful E.T. was, I recommend the reviews by The Spoony One and The Angry Video Game Nerd. They present quite a contrast, with Spoony lamenting the horror of the game’s bad design and AVGN calling this a strange, inscrutable, but not irredeemable game. Having never played this game, I have no horse in this race, but any game that is pointed to as the tipping point for a market-wide crash probably deserves to be derided just a tiny bit.
Bubsy 3D – Bubsy never stood a chance, did he? Accolade Software attempted to capture the early ’90s zeitgeist that only Sonic seemed to get (and then lose somewhere around 1996) with its own platformer mascot, Bubsy. I remember kids’ magazines talking up how big Bubsy was going to be but he never got a time to shine in the sun, probably because his games were never really anything more than average. Mario and Sonic had already sewn up the platformer genre and it would take more than Bubsy’s voice acting by Rob Paulsen to be the next great revolution in platforming. However, it was in 1996 when Bubsy made the leap to 3D. Now, that was an awkward time for video games in general, it being the clumsy teenage years of looking terrible, not having the right hardware to support ambitious projects (see also Superman 64), and generally being one of those aimless moments where developers had grand visions and no idea of how to implement them. Some, like Mario, made the transition smoothly. Some, like Bubsy, did a complete pratfall in entering the third dimension. This game has you collect atoms and…not much else. Yes, there are enemies to stomp and the objective is to assemble your rocket ship pieces, but the controls are dreadful. You can only move straight forward and back; turning requires you to orient Bubsy in the direction you want to go and then moving ahead in a straight line. To the game’s credit, it pans the camera around to let you see where you’ll land when you jump, but the game looks like an unfinished fan project, not a full commercial release. Bubsy 3D completely torpedoed any chance of the franchise continuing. It has since lain dormant for nearly twenty years, waiting…
If you are looking for a playthrough of Bubsy 3D, you are a sick individual. Don’t do it! But seriously, there is a pretty good and hilarious retrospective on the Bubsy games done by JonTron. Naturally, the Bubsy 3D portion illustrates how awful that particular title was. It makes Sonic ’06 look like a masterpiece.
Daikatana – What can one even say about Daikatana? It seemingly had everything going for it, it being the brainchild of John Romero, who was the brains at id Software behind Quake, Doom, and Wolfenstein 3D. Romero moved on and founded a new company in 1996, Ion Storm, which was planning to unleash his magnum opus within months. Originally, Daikatana was going to run on the Quake engine, but when it became clear that the development team was not going to make its original deadline, the game was overhauled to run on the Quake II engine. Advertising for the game was mindlessly aggressive, with an infamous trash talk poster repelling anyone with the slightest iota of self-respect. As if that were not embarrassing enough, the game that was supposed to be ready for the 1997 holiday season did not see release until early 2000, by which time the Quake III engine had already superseded Daikatana technologically. Romero was accused of cronyism for hiring his girlfriend as a level designer and a huge chunk of the development team quit en masse. The only way to redeem Daikatana for all its woes was to be made of diamonds and set the new industry standard now and forever. Did it do that?
Daikatana was lambasted for being everything bad all at once. It was graphically behind the times, ran on an obsolete engine, had poor and uninspired level design, suffered from slippery and unintuitive controls, and most sinfully of all, was not fun. Games that are not fun are breaking the cardinal rule and defying their raison d’etre. Daikatana was so pitiful that it ensured the closure Ion Storm’s Dallas office and even now, fifteen years later, it is remembered as a modern-day Icarus story. The ancient Greeks would have called this hubris; Romero was not only full of himself but was also demeaning others, the two components of hubris. The downfall of Daikatana was therefore full of poetic justice, as great a story as anything written by Aeschylus or Euripides.
If you are unwell enough to want to see this game in action, I recommend the series by JonTron, an act in two parts. John Romero later apologized for the intensely aggressive ad but it, like everything else about the game, was indefensible. The game was met with criticism at every turn. I suppose Romero had no choice but to suck it down.
And if you were fancying the torture of playing these games yourself, a friend recommended this gaming laptop from Razer (https://www.razer.com/gaming-laptops/razer-blade-stealth). It can play everything from the AAA titles of now all the way back to these horrendous blemishes on gaming history.
What would you add to this list?