I use yellow scores whenever I can’t officially recommend nor dissuade people from playing the game in question. The exact score I use depends on which way I would go if somebody pressed me enough with a 4/10 meaning probably avoid, a 5/10 meaning I’m not sure, and a 6/10 meaning play if you’re a fan. Either way, we’re officially done talking about bad games from this point onward.
40. Super Mario Land
The placement of Super Mario Land on this list is a little deceptive because on the 4/10 tier, it outranks seven different games. Furthermore, with Tri Force Heroes being a worse game than Modern Warfare 3, there are actually twelve entries on the master list between it and Super Mario Land. Nonetheless, I feel Super Mario Land, by virtue of having not aged particularly well, is the worst Mario game I’ve reviewed. Back in 1989, portable games got by solely by being portable. The actual quality of the game rarely mattered as long as we had a game to take with us. While that was a solid strategy in 1989, it didn’t work out so well for many of these games in the long term. The idea of having a game similar to Super Mario Bros. that was worse, yet portable meant very little when portable games that could give console titles a run for their money began popping up. And for good measure, Super Mario Bros. itself was eventually made available on portable systems. Though it has enough unique mechanics to make a playthrough worthwhile, you will probably find yourself fighting the wonky physics engine in addition to the actual enemies.
39. King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown
It’s easy to get the impression that, having been made in 1984, King’s Quest has aged very poorly. While it certainly hasn’t stood the test of time so well, it could still be used to teach new enthusiasts what adventure games are and how they operate because a lot of the worst aspects of pioneering adventure games aren’t present in King’s Quest. While some of the puzzle solutions are wildly unintuitive, a newcomer could conceivably brute force their way through, albeit at the expense of missing out on a few points here and there. For that reason, it’s a better game than Super Mario Land, though it has become somewhat bland over the years, coming across more as a style guide than a game in its own right.
38. Sin and Punishment
Sin and Punishment is an example of a decent game with a very debilitating flaw: its control scheme. Whether you’re playing the game on the Nintendo 64 or on the Wii Virtual Console, you will have to contort your hands in a strange way just to have a reasonable chance of surviving. The bad control scheme is especially egregious given how busy the game is at any given moment. You have to worry about dodging enemy attacks on top of firing upon them and later stages involve platforming. It’s kind of amazing that the game is as playable as it is, but it’s a tough recommendation given that its control scheme is unlike anything you have seen before or will ever see again.
37. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Phantom Hourglass is ranked higher than Sin and Punishment because while it has its own problems with its control scheme, they are far more manageable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t change the fact that, until I played Tri Force Heroes, Phantom Hourglass was easily the worst Zelda game I’d played. Between sticking Link with the odious Linebeck and forcing players to trudge through the same dungeon several times with a barely justified timer baring down on them, and you have yourself a recipe for disaster. Indeed, the Temple of the Ocean King, in my mind, has supplanted the Great Palace from Zelda II as the single worst dungeon in the entire series. If you can get past its flaws, there are many clever touches to be found in Phantom Hourglass and the boss fights are as creative as ever. However, I can safely say that overlooking its flaws is a rather tall order.
36. Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
While the Rouge Squadron games were good for their time, I always wished there were more Star Wars games like Shadows of the Empire because it really encapsulates why the films were so good. They were as much about space dogfights as they were ground battles, and all of that variety is represented in Shadows of the Empire. However, I can accept that the Battle of Hoth stage is by far the best designed in the game, so making games that revolve entirely around flying vehicle battles was the smart thing to do. Indeed, with Shadows of the Empire, you’re likely going to have at least one stage you adore and several you outright hate. Considering that this game couldn’t afford a single weak stage, you can see why this would be a problem.
35. King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human
King’s Quest III provided the medium with what is perhaps its first truly loathsome antagonist in the form of the evil wizard Manannan. Villains in older games were invariably one-dimensional bad guys you couldn’t really hate unless their boss fights were especially difficult. Meanwhile, Manannan is one of the first video game antagonists who is a confirmed slave owner – and that slave happens to be your character, Gwydion. With games typically seeking to empower players via their characters, King’s Quest III was the least empowering game imaginable, which it what made it so memorable in 1986. Unfortunately, once you get past its premise, you’ll realize that a significant chunk of the game is spent gathering ingredients, casting spells, then using the magical items resulting from said spells – all of which is neatly detailed in the instruction manual as a copy protection measure. It’s essentially the adventure game equivalent of tracing, only you get rewarded 140 points for it instead of being labeled an unoriginal hack.
34. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
If Super Mario Land could be described as “like Super Mario Bros. only not as good”, Super Mario Land 2 can be described as “like Super Mario World only not as good”. It is an overall more ambitious game than the original Super Mario Land, but it does fall under that early portable gaming trap in how it had few legs to stand on in the long term. While it has a surprising amount of variety to its gameplay, the problem is that there’s no substantial reason why the players are allowed to complete the worlds in any order. If Mario gained a new power with each coin, that would be one thing, but the problem is that the game has the same difficulty level throughout until the final stage, in which it spikes to truly unreasonable degrees.
33. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures
Four Swords Adventures, despite being a resource-intensive game to play nowadays, offers a better multiplayer experience than Tri Force Heroes. With Tri Force Heroes, the amount of coordination required makes it difficult to play online. Meanwhile, Four Swords Adventures requires teamwork, but the experience doesn’t require you to throw your teammates to a distant ledge – or at least not to the same degree. Furthermore, Four Swords Adventures is better as a single-player game whereas Tri Force Heroes requires friends to enjoy in any capacity. That being said, Four Swords Adventures is definitely among the weaker games in the series, having a rather disjoined story of random events and lacking a lot of what makes the series so great gameplay-wise as well. Though solid enough as a single-player game, make sure you have friends before attempting a playthrough of this game. If you can’t, don’t go out your way to play it.
32. Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Bros. is to platformers what King’s Quest was to adventure games and Dragon Quest III was to JRPGs – a defining work that managed to redefine the rules of the genre. This told developers exactly what they needed to be successful, and that focus is what allowed the genre, and by extension, the medium to evolve from there. Now, I can imagine that it would be a little controversial of me to place it higher on this list than Super Mario Land 2. After all, having been released seven years after Super Mario Bros., it stands to reason that Super Mario Land 2 would be the more polished effort, and that is mostly correct. However, Super Mario Bros. is, to me, the better game for one basic reason: it has a natural difficulty curve. Regardless of whether you utilize the Warp Zones or not, you can expect level two to be more difficult than level one, and so forth.
Ultimately though, I feel a 5/10 is the single most appropriate grade I could’ve awarded Super Mario Bros. because it did become an average effort in the grand scheme of things. By today’s standards, the controls have a lack of polish, yet nobody had anything better to offer at the time as far as 2D platformers were concerned. While it remains one of the most important games in the medium, it’s for the best that it was surpassed many times over in the coming decades.
31. Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels
There’s really not much to say about The Lost Levels that wasn’t already said about the original game. It’s virtually identical, though it’s much more difficult. Some of the new gimmicks work. Others don’t. All in all, it edges out the original by virtue of having a greater variety of stages, but the cheap difficulty makes it a tough sell.
30. BioShock 2
Though I can agree that BioShock 2 is a step down from the original, I don’t quite understand the ire that diehard fans of the series have given it. One could get the impression that it’s flat-out bad when in reality, it’s merely a little unambitious. The story beats go in many interesting directions, though it’s fairly obvious that the original BioShock wasn’t written with a sequel in mind, meaning that a significant portion of the script is dedicated to justifying why these characters who were never alluded to before were somehow major players all along. I do have to say the stage design is a bit more consistently good, but many of the problems I had with the original are present here. Fans will probably get something out of it, but if you weren’t impressed with the original, you can give this one a pass.
29. Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney
Apollo Justice is unequivocally the weakest game in the Ace Attorney franchise by virtue of having the second-worst episode in the series as well as the weakest finale. It’s a shame because I actually like the characters, and there are many interesting story beats to be found. Unfortunately, being such a mixed bag, it’s difficult to recommend to anyone other than the most ardent of Ace Attorney fans. Indeed, I have to admit the reason I wasn’t harsher on it in my review is because I know it’s not the chronological endpoint, meaning the most controversial decisions were addressed (rather well, I might add) in its sequels. Because it’s part of an ongoing narrative, I couldn’t endorse passing on this game, but if you absolutely have to skip one installment, this is the one to choose.
VVVVVV to me represents exactly what the indie scene needed to do to evolve from its humble beginnings. Indeed, I knew the indie scene became a force to be reckoned with when it began to subscribe to the ethos of people like Terry Cavanagh than that of Jonathan Blow or Phil Fish. These games were made because they were passion projects in the purest sense of the term, and any subsequent success from Papers, Please to Undertale made it entirely on their own merits – not through egoistical posturing. While VVVVVV is over before you know it, it’s an admirable effort that uses its basic concept to an astoundingly great effort not unlike Portal.
27. Super Mario Bros. 2
Yes, I am asserting that Super Mario Bros. 2 is better than the original despite the fact that it (somehow) sticks out like a sore thumb and isn’t the perfect predecessor to it – unlike The Lost Levels. Now that the obvious joke is out of the way, I can say in all seriousness that Super Mario Bros. 2, with its better level design and solid boss fights, is a step up from the original. Despite what common knowledge may suggest, it was actually intended to be a Mario game from the beginning; it was changed to Doki Doki Panic when Fuji TV contacted Nintendo and asked if they would like to promote an event they were arranging. Regardless, I can argue that between these oddball sequels (i.e. Zelda II, Castlevania 2, etc.), Super Mario Bros. 2 stands out as the best of them.
26. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All
Justice for All is probably the single most inconsistent game in the series in terms of quality. It has a weak introductory episode and a decent second episode before taking a nosedive with what is by far the worst episode in the series. Then after that is “Farewell, My Turnabout”, which is often considered the single best episode in the series. While I wouldn’t agree, I do think it plays with the series’ formula to incredible degrees, and deserves to be highly thought of. Unfortunately, even if this game expertly sticks the landing, it doesn’t change that the finale is arguably the only good thing about it. Though I’m tough on works with weak endings, it’s important to know that the best works are good throughout, not actively bad until the third act.
25. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages
Oracle of Ages is a better game than Link’s Awakening by virtue of having more creativity to its dungeon design. For that matter, while it doesn’t have as ambitious of a story as Link’s Awakening, it does fit in with the series’ identity to a far more effective degree. In fact, one of the things I like about Oracle of Ages is how proactive its villain is. You can actually see the effects Veran has on the world, which was a major problem with its sister title. Having said that, Oracle of Ages does have a problem in how it combines the dual-world gameplay of A Link to the Past with the mechanical way in which Link’s Awakening opened up with mixed results. It’s more consistently good than Justice for All, hence why it ranks higher, but it’s far from the franchise’s pinnacle.
BioShock managed to capture the attention of critics when it was released. Indeed, I have little doubt that when it came to video game storytelling BioShock was in a class of its own… in 2007, that is. Unfortunately, as the indie scene took off and overlooked pockets of the AAA industry began experimenting with video game narratives more, BioShock became less impressive over the years. As it is, it’s a shooter that takes place in several dark corridors in which it’s fairly easy to get lost. Moreover, the level design and plot both falter around the Earth-shattering twist that marks the halfway point and never really recover. I still feel it and its sequel are better games than System Shock 2, however.
23. Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth
When I was pondering where I was going to place the original Ace Attorney Investigations, I originally thought it was edged out by Justice for All. After all, the best episode in Justice for All triumphs over anything Ace Attorney Investigations has to offer. I then realized there’s something to be said for consistency, and while “Turnabout Ablaze” is needlessly drawn out to ridiculous degrees, Ace Attorney Investigations also doesn’t feature an episode as bad as “Turnabout Big Top”, which is a major point in its favor. At its worst, it’s simply kind of dull while at its best, it’s pretty good. This wasn’t a bad first effort from the Motohide Eshiro/Takeshi Yamazaki team, but they would need another try to get it right.
22. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons
I like to retroactively think of Oracle of Seasons as the spiritual predecessor to Breath of the Wild. This is because it is the first Zelda game directed by Hidemaro Fujibayashi (along with its sister title). Not only that, but Oracle of Seasons is about as close as one can get to remaking the original game without actually remaking it (if that makes any sense). You see many familiar boss fights and callbacks to the original game, yet they manage to make an entirely new experience out of them. Mr. Fujibayashi would then later use the experience he gathered making this game when he directed Breath of the Wild, which translated the original game’s ethos for a new generation. That said, Oracle of Seasons is still plagued by many of the same weaknesses as Link’s Awakening and Oracle of Ages. Even so, between the three games that use the former’s engine, Oracle of Seasons wins simply by boasting the most polish overall.
21. Metroid: Samus Returns
After a truly miserable showing in the 2010s, Samus Returns is the, well, return to form the series and Yoshio Sakamoto desperately needed to stay relevant. As a remake, it’s better than Zero Mission because the developers realized how dated the level design of Metroid II was and simply used it as a vague base rather than attempt to recreate it. It does have a decidedly mechanical approach to level progress and its control scheme is quite awkward, hence why I couldn’t exactly award it a passing grade. Still, it’s an admirable effort, and it’s a sign that the series is heading in the right direction.
20. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Skyward Sword is the weakest console 3D Zelda installment. Every now and again, I’ll run into a game that, from a technical standpoint, deserves to be on a different tier than the one on which I placed it. Skyward Sword is one such game; when you’re only considering its gameplay, it’s an easy 8/10 one could make a case for deserving a 9/10. However, it’s a lot like Justice for All in that when it’s not good, it’s actively bad. Indeed, there is so many bouts of pointless backtracking, fetch quests, and other things that serve no purpose than to waste the player’s time that it can be easy to forget that there are plenty of aspects of Skyward Sword that are masterfully done. Also not helping is Ghirahim – the single most annoying character in the franchise’s history and the worst Nintendo game antagonist since Porky from Earthbound|/Mother 3|. Yes, I did consider Tingle when I wrote that. Tingle was at least harmlessly annoying, and his character worked really well in his introductory game, Majora’s Mask. With his penchant to spew annoying meme fodder, Ghirahim is, in the worst sense of the term, a product of his time, and is a major reason why Skyward Sword has not held up as well as the series’ other 3D installments, though having to fight The Imprisoned three times didn’t help either |– even the Groosenator couldn’t salvage things|.