Nobody likes wasting their money on a crappy game. For many, they’re a waste of time that trick us with promises of unique gameplay experiences. Often times they’ll hide behind a unique premise or a familiar franchise to lure us in before we have the chance to hear the bad word. Because of that, we harbor resentment towards them for being unfinished products that were rushed out in order to meet a publisher’s sales goals while being buggy and unpolished.
But is that really all there is to what we refer to as “terrible games”? Maybe they can be frustrating to play, or glitchy, or just plain strange, but nobody actually wants to make a bad game. Sometimes, a developer’s ambitions are just so grand that they completely miss the mark, and it becomes a spectacular failure that, in itself, becomes fun to analyze. After all, with the advent of Youtube, watching people play bad games has become the new movie riffing. We genuinely love it as camp.
With that in mind, we thought it would be good to recognize some of the greats of terrible games with our ten picks of the best that the worst has to offer. We’re not content with famously lazy or rushed games. Oh no, that would be too easy. We wanted to recognize the games that really tried to do something special, but the end results are just so bizarre that they became notorious rather than beloved.
10. Bomberman: Act Zero
- System/Platform: Xbox 360
- Publisher: Konami
- Developer: Hudson Soft
- Release Date: August 29, 2006
Games attempt to rebrand their identity more often than you think. It just happens much more subtly than what we got in Bomberman: Act Zero. Gone are the cute little bomb people and fantastical worlds of your daddy’s Bomberman. Now we’ve got badass artificially mutated Bomberman who doesn’t take no guff from anyone and fights to survive in an underground facility by killing all the other Bombermen. Or if that’s not your taste, you could even be a super sexy Bomberwoman! Who also has jiggle physics. In a Bomberman game.
The funny thing about Bomberman: Act Zero is that the gameplay is actually pretty close to the normal Bomberman gameplay that people know and love. In fact, the game even had a very small resurgence in the early 2010s after people discovered there was a bit more to the meta game than what they realized, thanks to the addition of a health system, a unique change to Bomberman’s normal “one and done” approach to health. But man, it was hard to overlook that incredibly strange tonal shift to pander to the 18-25 college male dudebro for a franchise that generally targeted more towards family fun. It serves as the ultimate proof that an art-style can really make or break your game.
9. Darkened Skye
- System/Platform: PC, GameCube
- Publishers: Simon & Schuster, Oxygen Interactive
- Developer: Boston Animation
- Release Date: January 27, 2002 (US)
There’s nothing about Darkened Skye that stands out amongst its contemporaries in Zelda or the lesser known (and better) Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy. You’ve got a pretty standard swords and sorcery story where you travel from village to village, solving their plights and encountering simple puzzles along the way. It’s a pretty light story too, with none of the enemies really presenting any sort of real threat and mildly taunting you along the way. You’ll generally solve any problem you encounter with magic and use whatever spells you learn along the way, by combining different colored Skittles to create new and different types of magic.
You read that right. Darkened Skye was actually developed in conjunction with Mars, Inc. as an advertisement for their famously fruity candy. This is the equivalent if, during Lord of the Rings, every time Frodo wanted to use the Ring to disappear he’d first have to enjoy a delightful Pay Day bar to get the energy he needs to run from the hordes of Sauron. It’s the sort of game that makes us question the lengths a game can go to for advertising to go so far as to design an entirely unrelated game just to sneak in the product in question.
8. Mario is Missing
- System/Platform: MS-DOS, MAC, NES, SNES
- Publishers: Mindscape, Nintendo
- Developers: The Software Toolworks (Mindscape), Radical Entertainment
- Release Date: 1992 (US)
Bowser’s up to no good, yet again! This time though, he’s thought his plan through. Rather than confront Mario directly, he plans to flood the world by melting Antarctica by using mail-order hair driers! In order to fund this dastardly scheme, he sends out his Koopa Troopas to steal the world’s artifacts. When arriving at his castle to stop him, Mario gets captured, and it’s up to Luigi to save the day by traveling the world to return the artifacts to their rightful place and eventually save Mario. And, who knows, maybe he’ll learn a thing or two about world history along the way!
It may be hard to remember, but there was a time when Nintendo was just a bit more lenient with loaning out its properties to outside studios. In this case, Mario is Missing became what was first in a long line of edutainment games in order to steal mindshare away from similar games like “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” and “Oregon Trail”. The MS-DOS version of the game became infamous due to its famous “Weegee” sprite, with the sprite for Luigi looking like a socially awkward version of the original character. Also featured are some of the least helpful NPCs in gaming history, responding with riddles like “Maybe I should wear a suit, because this country is shaped like a boot” when you’re just trying to ask them where you are.
7. Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror
- System/Platform: Playstation 2, PC
- Publisher: Encore Software
- Developer: Black Ops Entertainment
- Release Date: November 18, 2003 (US)
In Europe, Fugitive Hunter was actually released under the name “America’s 10 Most Wanted”. While not as catchy, it’s probably about as good of a summary as you’ll find for this game. All of the villains of this game were, at the time, real criminals wanted by the US government, and you were tasked with hunting them down.
Terribly unpolished gunplay aside, Fugitive Hunter is a game that only could have existed in a post 9/11 America. Patriotism just oozes from this game, and it’s actually pretty fascinating from a propaganda standard… if, you know, it was actually any good. It’s kind of hard to take this game seriously when the final level has you kung-fu fight Osama Bin Laden and culminates with you tiger-kneeing him into a helicopter to take him away. In a few more years, it’ll serve as a time capsule to a time of ultra-patriotism in America’s history.
6. Ride to Hell: Retribution
- System/Platform: PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3
- Publisher: Deep Silver
- Developer: Eutechnyx
- Release Date: June 24, 2013 (US)
All he wanted was a little peace and quiet. After returning from the Vietnam War, Jake Conway returns home to his only remaining family, only to discover that his little brother Mikey has been sneaking off in the dead of night to hang out with a college girl named Ellie. This doesn’t seem like it’d be a problem, until Jake’s uncle Mack explains that the biker gangs are pretty dangerous in the area and are seriously bad news. Jake rushes after Mikey, and just as they meet up, they’re confronted by the Devil’s Hand gang, who proceed to murder Mikey and leave Jake for dead. After Jake recovers, it’s time for payback.
Ride to Hell: Retribution is like a twelve year old desperately trying to impress the older kids who hang out underneath the bleachers and smoke cigarettes. It just so desperately wants you to think it’s cool by throwing kickass motorcycle chases that get interrupted with fades to black because you gently touched a wall, or show how mature it is by throwing in random sex scenes with literal prostitutes after you save them from being mistreated by their pimps; culminating in perhaps the only five-way ever to be shown in video games. Nothing about Ride to Hell comes off how it thinks it does, but that may also be what gives it its everlasting appeal.
5. Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)
- System/Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer(s): Sonic Team
- Release Date: November 14, 2006 (US)
Referred to as Sonic ’06 in most circles, the attempted Sonic the Hedgehog reboot has become a modern legend in terrible games. It takes place in the faraway land of Soleanna during its famed Festival of the Sun. Unfortunately, Dr. Eggman is, as usual, up to no good, and attempts to steal the Flames of Disaster from Soleanna’s princess, Elise. Sonic arrives in the nick of time to save her, but in the end, it’s no use! The Flames of Disaster end up reviving the dark being, Iblis, and it’s up to Sonic, Shadow, and a psychic hedgehog by the name of Silver to save the day.
Sonic ’06 is the type of game that happens when a development team clearly wants to experiment with a new gameplay system, but is forced to work on a project they don’t want to. And, you do have to hand it to Sonic ’06; in spite of all the jankiness to the gameplay, the horrendous load times (sometimes in the several minute range), and overall unpolished feel, it’s definitely an ambitious title. Each of the hedgehogs has their own unique type of gameplay, with Sonic representing the tried-and-true action platforming of past 3D Sonic games, Shadow with more vehicular gameplay, and Silver with more of a focus on puzzle solving. It’s a game that attempts to be three entirely different genres all at once. Which is at least something.
Plus, the combination of the cartoony Sonic cast and the more realistic, faux-anime style that was popular back in the mid-2000s is something we’ll never see again. It doesn’t successfully blend them, mind you, but it does give it this strange lasting appeal because of how much the two styles clash. Without it, would the now “Human-Hedgehog love scene” have the same notoriety it does today?
- System/Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3
- Publisher: Konami
- Developer: Rebellion Developments
- Release Date: January 31, 2012 (US)
“My name is Bryce Boltzmann, slayer of demons and thorn in your side!”
This line begins the E3 2011 trailer for Neverdead, and that right there should tell you everything you should need to know about the campy nature of this game. However, the game actually takes place over 500 years after said quote, though still starring Bryce Boltzmann. See, ol’ Bryce is actually cursed with immortality, and has lost the wide-eyed idealism of his youth after having lost his wife. Now, working with his partner Arcadia, he receives a mission to protect a pop idol who’s performing a concert at a museum, and it all escalates from there.
You know, actually a pretty interesting game hiding underneath all the deliciously cheesy one-liners and campy demon frog kings. Bryce can never actually die, meaning most of the challenge actually comes from protecting your partners. Meanwhile, enemies can chop off your limbs, hindering your ability to fight back and force you to run around hunting for your limbs. It actually adds a lot of tension to the gameplay in a unique way without having a standard “take so many hits and you’re dead” style of shooter. It can get so crazy that at times you’re just a head rolling around in a desperate haste to reclaim any part that you can in order to fight back. With more polish, NeverDead could have turned out to be a real cult hit.
3. Earth Defense Force 2017
- System/Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation Vita
- Publisher: D3 Publisher
- Developer: Sandlot
- Release Date: March 20, 2007
We could go on and on about the lore of the Earth Defense Force games, but it really comes down to a few simple things. Giant insects have invaded the planet. You are the last line of defense to fight off the invading hordes. Kill those bugs and claim glory for the EDF!
While other games make infinite rocket launcher ammo the very final unlockable, Earth Defense force gives it to you right from the get-go. This is a game about big action and bigger explosions. And you need it too, because each level quite literally has hundreds of enemies to fend off. But there’s no room for things like “animation” or “proper lighting”. In fact, there’s a lot of joy the first time you kill a giant ant, and it launches into the air as a still model, frozen in time during its last frame of movement. It’s a game that looks and feels incredibly low budget that it’s totally goofy.
And yet… the more you play, the more involved you realize how in-depth the gameplay is. This is a game that just never stops evolving. The threats keep getting bigger and bigger, almost comically so when you have to fight off bees that are clearly just the normal bee model expanded by three times their normal size and are expected to see it as an entirely new enemy. But then, as you play, and realize how often you’re losing, there’s a real level of strategy in the game. You actually have to think carefully about what weapons you bring into battle, the order in which you take out enemies, and how you’re going to progress through the map. You come for the campy action, but stay for the immensely satisfying tactical gameplay.
2. Takeshi no Chousenjou (Takeshi’s Challenge)
- System/Platform: Famicom, Wii
- Publisher: Taito Corporation
- Developer: Taito Corporation
- Release Date: December 10, 1986 (JP)
You ever get so fed up with your workaday life that you just want to quit your day job and go out on a grand adventure? Takeshi’s Challenge allows you to live out that fantasy with startling realism! Often cited as one of the first true sandbox titles, Takeshi’s Challenge gives you a staggering amount of options to work with, such as hiding money underneath your desk, divorcing your wife and leaving your kids, and learning to play the shamisen. Even stranger is that you can get a Game Over before you even start the game, as you beat up the NPC in charge of loading your game on the title screen.
Most notable, however, is the game’s namesake. The title actually comes from screen legend Beat Takeshi, who wrote and designed the game. He shows the real struggle you have to go through in order to achieve your own idea of escapism. Survival is almost based on luck, with enemies (yakuza grunts) that lock onto you and will assuredly hit you once they do, and no real reliable way to restore health. Much like in reality, it’s up to the forces of nature to decide your victory. Yet, you’re only reward, once you finally win, is a black screen that says “Good job!”; emphasizing the pointlessness of the struggle you went through. It’s almost as if the game is mocking the notion of games as an art form, which is… odd, because the extent Takeshi goes through to prove this in-game, shows otherwise.
1. Deadly Premonition
- System/Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
- Publishers: Ignition Entertainment (original), Rising Star Games
- Developer: Access Games
- Release Date: February 23, 2010
FBI Agent Francis York Morgan has had a rough life. His parents were murdered by a mysterious serial killer, and the only pieces of evidence he has to go on are these strange red seeds that were left at the scene. These seeds keep popping up at different locations, and the trail has lead him to the quaint little town of Greenvale, where someone referred to as The Raincoat Killer has made their mark. From there, York works together with the local police force and an invisible partner he calls Zach (don’t ask) in order to finally bring this killer to justice once and for all!
That summary only scratches the surface. You can expect to encounter zombies that shamble as if they actually didn’t have bones to support them, a delusional old woman who always has to carry a pot around, and eccentric local millionaires who pay for assistants to cart them around in a wheelchair and convey messages in limericks. And we’re not even going to go into the wandering hellhounds that pop up in the dead of night.
Yet, for some reason, you’re the one who always feels like the oddball. Maybe it’s because the game otherwise feels so true to life. What other game punishes you by having flies swarm you because you don’t change your clothes every day? Or actually make you drive through realistic countrysides to make your appointments on time? It’s a game that insists on normalcy in the face of insanity, and it’s hard not to be a little enthralled.
While we’ve ranked the games here for the sake of convenience, really, bad games shouldn’t be a competition. Much like bad movies, terrible games should be shared with others, as they slowly can become an in-joke between you and your friends. Please, let us know what some of your favorite terrible games are and what makes them so inexplicably charming!