By Damien Wilkens 20 December 2007 The world has a fascination with things that suck. Allusions to the adult film industry aside, there's a "so bad, it's good" mentality that's pervading through our culture, the very same one that made Snakes on a Plane an Internet sensation and Cιline Dion into a millionaire. I'll admit, I tend to dabble in the awful myself on occasion, shaking my head to the infectious pop grooves of Ashlee Simpson or laughing at the inoffensive preteen humor of That's So Raven, but, for the most part, I like to think that my tastes are more consistently on the side of "decent." There are those times, however, I just can't help it.
Now I've played a lot of video games, probably more than anyone should, but it hasn't always been a smooth ride. Occasionally, a game will come along that is so awful, so bewildering, so mind-numbingly bad that I can't help but be drawn to it sort of like an ex-girlfriend, only you don't need an outpatient visit the next day.
Despite that, I'm about to embark on a journey of self-discovery that will no doubt be painful, as I've chosen 10 of these games, in an effort to find out what the hell I love about them. Feel free to join me, dear reader, but be forewarned, I may need to be held at some point.
10. Mega Man Soccer (SNES) Concept: Despite its ambiguous title, this game was actually about Mega Man playing soccer, of all things.
Why it's so bad: Depends on who you ask, really. A lot of people these days will just explode into a series of f-bombs and hand gestures the second the blue bomber's name is even mentioned, as if an over-saturation of Mega Man games is tainting what is clearly a very honorable industry. People in the gaming community overreacting? Hard to believe, I know, but try to stay with me here.
You see, while all of these people cry foul, as if Dr. Wily himself personally broke into their houses and stabbed their dog, most people seem to be oblivious to the fact that most Mega Man games are GASP pretty great.
Mega Man Soccer is not one those games.
It's hard enough trying to convince people that this game actually exists, as for the longest time, most everyone I told was convinced I just made it up. But lo and behold, not only did I own this game back in 1996, but I paid $30 for it. Adjusting for inflation and the fact that I was 11 at the time, that's approximately $7052 that I will never get back.
Don't get me wrong, it's not that horrible of a game, and compared to some of the other games on the list, it's freaking brilliant. Its inclusion in this case stems from the sheer guilt I have from enjoying it so much. Why the guilt? The reason is simple. For all of my naysaying about cheap Mega Man cash-ins, well, that's exactly what this game is. The development cycle for this Soccer was approximately 20 minutes. I would have guessed 10, but I imagine they probably took a break for doughnuts in there at some point.
It's clear from the moment you start the game. The title of the game is Mega Man Soccer, as evidenced by the box art and the game label itself, but the title screen tells a different story, and lets you know that you're playing Megaman's Soccer.
It harkens back to the days of youth when a simple pick-up game of stickball in the streets would go awry whenever the kid who owned all the equipment would get called back into the house for dinner, thus taking the bat and ball with him. It became clear at that point that you weren't playing stickball with Joey, you were simply playing Joey's stickball. And if you were beating him too badly at any point, your game was over. In this case, Joey is a blue robot who never needs to eat dinner, since, you know, he's A) a robot, and B) not real but the point still stands.
The game itself is pretty much a carbon copy of Nintendo World Cup, an older NES game, only with Mega Man characters plastered in there, with wacky attacks abound, such as the Bubble Man "Bubble Ball," the Ice Man "Ice Ball," and Cut Man's... well, actually Cut Man's attack is pretty graphic. If you've always craved dismemberment in your soccer, this game is for you.
Why I love it: It is, without a doubt, the greatest soccer / robot crossover in existence. Had Metal Arms: Glitch in the System actually involved something called the "Yellow Card of Doom" attack, well, let's just say I wouldn't have been able to type that statement. Thankfully, for the sake of this little feature of mine, that isn't the case, mostly because Metal Arms was a great game, chances are you haven't played it, and the whole thing makes me depressed just thinking about it.
Moving on, I'd say a good 99% of the enjoyment of this game comes from after you've scored a goal. It's not just the simple act of a changing scorecard, oh no. These robots bask in their glory like few others would dare. Namely, they dance.
Dare I say you have not lived until you've seen the greatness of Skull Man's variation of "The Sprinkler," Dust Man's "Funky Chicken," and of course, my personal favorite, Gemini Man's tribute to the "Hopeless White Man Arm Thrust."
Highlight: This video. It brings a tear to my eye.
09. Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero (PlayStation version) Concept: A pretty good one on paper, actually. Take the one part of the Mortal Kombat franchise that wasn't completely deluded to utter krap at that point (the story) and expand on it, using arguably the series' most popular character as its star.
Why it's so bad: John Tobias.
Alright, that's a tad unfair, after all, good old Johnny was pretty much the only reason the MK story was still coherent at the time, as we later found out that he came up with the entire thing himself. After he left Midway, the remaining members of the MK team reinforced the theory that they didn't have a clue as to what happened in their own series canon (Shaolin Monks anyone?). Regardless, Mythologies was one of John's pet projects, the other being MK: Special Forces, a game so awful that the initial loading sounds suspiciously like the screams of dying children.
What about the game itself? Well, for starters, there's no jump button. See, since Mortal Kombat is a fighting game, they rationalized that Mythologies should have the same controls. Translation: you press up to jump. That's not a typo. No doubt you're saying to yourself, "At least they didn't make the entire game a series of jump puzzles." Except that's exactly what they did.
Alright, that's not entirely true. There is a fair share of kombat involved, though it's less towards the mortal and more towards the mundane. Hope you like jump kicks, 'cause that's the only move you'll ever need to beat anyone in the game.
Oh yeah, and you have to press a shoulder button whenever you want to turn around. I'm not going to lie; I know exactly why people hated this one.
Why I love it: Being a shameless Sub-Zero mark definitely helped, but really, that can only take one so far. I suppose the argument could be made that with different controls and improved AI, it would actually be pretty good. But that'd be the equivalent of saying that Mortal Kombat: Annihilation would've been a pretty good movie if only it had a different director, cast, script and was never allowed to be seen by human eyes.
No, only one man was able to salvage something resembling entertainment from this scrap heap of digital doo-doo. His name: Richard Divisio. It's a name that probably doesn't ring a bell, but you've no doubt seen his face. Rich is a guy that's been with the MK family for quite a while, doing mo-cap work as Baraka and Kano in previous MK games, but it's his work on Mythologies as Quan Chi that is no doubt his career highlight. In fact, Mr. Divisio may very well be the greatest bad actor I've ever seen, and this is coming from someone that owns several seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
You see, unlike all of his peers at the time, Rich knew full well that Mythologies was going to be a complete flop, so he did the only thing he could in that situation: played Quan Chi so over-the-top and with such enthusiasm that I almost wish Tobias would come back and grace us all with Mythologies 2. Almost.
Highlight: The horrid Darth Vader voice effect for Quan Chi that sounds as if Divisio delivered his lines at the bottom of a well with marbles in his mouth while being raped by Satan.
08. Night Trap (Sega CD, 32X CD and 3DO) Concept: Full Motion Video is the future and Dana Plato is a great actress. Further proof that we were a bunch of goddamn idiots back in the 1990s.
Why it's so bad: You know, it's strange; I must have removed and replaced Night Trap from this list about six or seven times. Oh, make no mistake, it's awful, but it's also something of a cult classic among the hardcore gaming community, so it can't be that bad, right? Well, to answer that question, why don't we look at what is usually needed for something to be considered a "cult classic."
A) Bruce Campbell
B) Overt amounts of blood and gore, to the point of comedy.
C) Singing Transvestites.
D) Being absolutely fucking terrible.
Unfortunately, Mr. Campbell decided to sit this one out, so that's one down right off the bat. There is blood though, just ask a Congressman, he'd be more than happy to tell you. You see, back in the day, Night Trap was the source of a hefty amount of controversy for it's content which involved ninja freaking vampires hunting a group of girls having a slumber party, all while being thwarted by traps so primitive that a Home Alone villain would be able to explore the place unscathed.
Things got so frantic at one point that Night Trap was actually pulled from store shelves for a while, as Congress loved to come up with a list of Games Most likely to Turn your Children into Mindless Killing Machines every six months or so. Most people didn't seem to mind the fact that these lists would often contain games that were cancelled, hadn't been released yet or simply didn't exist. But hey, it helped please the very large lazy parent voter demographic, so at least we can look at our current legislative body and understand that a decade of half-truths and blind scapegoating was all done for the right reasons. All that said, the much publicized violence was a few blood-soaked nightgowns that pale in comparison to the gore of today, and the sex was pretty much limited to the occasional grainy underwear shot. Truth be told, I've seen more sexual content in an episode of the aforementioned That's So Raven. What can I say, that Chelsea is a total floozy.
As for the whole transvestite thing, I don't recall ever seeing a grainy shlong at any point during the proceedings, but I'll also admit to never actively searching for one, though there was a fair share of singing.
Oh, god, was there singing.
Remember when I said I'd need to be held?
Our spunky slumber party girls, oblivious to the ninja freaking vampires in the house, will take a break between bad acting and bad dialog to engage in a lip-synced rendition of the Night Trap theme song. To call it a song is to call candy corn a food; you use the word only for lack of a better term. I recall that someone once described the Night Trap theme song as "the musical equivalent of raking a car alarm down a chalkboard, then taking the whole thing and jamming it into the asshole of a screaming cat." I can't beat that one, so I'm not even going to try.
As for our cult criteria, I think one and a half out of four is good enough in this case.
Why I love it: Someone actually made a video game where you use a Sega Genesis controller to activate traps against extremely slow moving ninja freaking vampires that will slip on a banana peel and fall into a revolving door for your satisfaction. This simple fact amuses me greatly.
Let it also be recognized that the inclusion of ninjas of any sort automatically makes any game exponentially better. This is a lesson that will most definitely be revisited as we go on.
Highlight: Dropping the controller as soon as the girls begin the singing and just letting them get slaughtered. Serves 'em right, really.
07. WCW Backstage Assault (N64 and PlayStation) Concept: A wrestling game in which there is no ring. If this makes any sense at all to you, by all means, go to the tool shed and take the nailgun to your testicles. You don't deserve to reproduce.
Why it's so bad: Well, it's WCW, so there was your first clue. Second, it came out during one of their worst periods of programming (the Russo Era). Actually, that could've made for a pretty good marketing campaign. Backstage Assault: At Least It's Better Than Watching Nitro! If people could ignore the fact that forced sodomy with a tuba was, in fact, better than watching Nitro at that point, who knows, maybe they could've gotten some extra sales.
Further hindering them is that many of WCW top stars weren't even in the game. Take Ric Flair for instance. Sure, he's on the selection screen. Hell, there's even a picture of the man, but choosing Flair somehow causes you to play as a mass of polygons in something vaguely resembling boots and tights. It's as if the development team consisted of three people, and the guy in charge of graphics had one eye, arm spasms and no sense of color, shape or movement. They actually found a way to make Tank Abbot uglier, which is an accomplishment in itself really.
As for the game, it basically consists of traveling through locker rooms, parking lots, bathrooms and a lot of other places that aren't a wrestling ring, hitting your opponent with as many random objects as possible. There are plenty of hidden objectives such as "hit guy with table" and "light guy on fire" which allow you to unlock ever more unreasonable facsimiles of WCW stars like... um... Doug Dillinger? Sadly, former world champion David Arquette doesn't make an appearance.
Why I love it: You can light Jeff Jarrett on fire. 'Nuff said.
Highlight: You know, it's funny. This one time I chose Vince Russo, and you'll get a kick out of this I went through the season mode and had him win the world title! Isn't that crazy? I mean, the real WCW wasn't even stupid enough to do...
06. Chiller (NES) Concept: A light gun game that's 100% compatible with no light gun in existence. There's some kind of horror theme involved here too, but really, the whole thing just seems like an excuse to resolve the developer's mommy issues.
Why it's so bad: Pretty much everyone was making games for the NES back at the height of its popularity. It's hard to imagine these days, but back then people just made unlicensed games whenever they wanted to. Most of them sucked, but those oddly shaped cartridges gave us plenty of warning ahead of time. Chiller was made by a group called Exidy, who, surprisingly enough, aren't making games anymore.
What of the game itself? Well, I suppose I could describe it as wanton violence for the sake of violence, mostly because I've never been able to use the word "wanton" in a sentence until now. The story is limited to a screen in the opening. Here is the epic narrative, word for word, unedited.
Back in the middle ages a castle on the outskirts of town has been invaded by an evil force which is causing the dead to come back to life! You need to stop this force before it can create a large army and take over the town. ... Each level also has 8 talismans hidden in it; you need to find and destroy these to stop the monsters from appearing.
Might I add that this "story" was added to the NES version of the game. Seriously, was this needed? Once you start the game, none of it matters anyway, mostly 'cause you're too busy exclaiming, "What the fuck was that?!" You're given the choice between using the standard controller or a light gun. Funny thing, light guns don't work with this supposedly light gun-compatible game. How dare you try to use a light gun with this game, what do you think this is, a shooter?
You just proceed from one creepy mindfuck level to the other, shooting everything you see. Everything. Not just ghosts. Not just skeletons. No, you shoot everything. Humans, too.
"But wait, Dubs, didn't they just say you had to stop the monsters?"
Wake up, damn you. You've gotten this far; don't start expecting it to make sense now.
So you open in one of the four levels and start shooting at everything for about 30 seconds. Those poor naked people can lose a lot of limbs and viscera in that time, I should point out. Then your "Ectoplasmic Tabulator" calculates how many monsters you've destroyed. Doesn't Ectoplasmic imply, you know, things that aren't human? Ah, but what you should really be asking yourself is, "Who the bloody hell designed this in the first place?" Someone very clearly needed a hug back in 1986. And no, I don't mean Michael Jackson.
Highlight: Hunt down a copy of this game and make a friend try to play it with a light gun. Now laugh.
Next week I'll return to regale you with more wit (and pain) as I finish recounting the worst games I ever loved.