Now I’ve done it. Less than a year after my piece on Super Mario 64, I managed to reach the 200-review mark in the form of my take on Persona 4 – exactly as I predicted. I am glad to have made it this far and I am truly appreciative of your support. As usual, now that I’ve reached this milestone, I now intend to talk about the games I’ve reviewed since then. Unlike last time, I didn’t revise any reviews, so there will only be fifty entries in this special. Like last time, this special will be divided into four parts. This part, which you’re reading right now, will detail all of the games that received failing grades. Part Two will showcase the ones that received middling grades. Part Three will have me talk about the games I recommend.
The finale will have me showcase the games I highly recommend. This time, I actually awarded a few 10/10s, so this will be the first time since my 100 review special that I’ll discuss every single tier on my grading scale. Once I’ve done that, I will reveal the master list so you can see where these games end up on them. Similar to my film review special, I have kept track of the scores I’ve awarded each game for a given decade. That way, you can see how frequently games from a given period pass, fail, or do neither. With the introduction out of the way, let’s dive right in.
Ballz may not have surpassed Nerves of Steel in terms of awfulness, but it was the game responsible for pushing Ride to Hell: Retribution out of my bottom ten. Anyone familiar with the game (or those who play it for more than ten seconds) can tell why that is, for it is one of the absolute worst fighting games in existence. I give the developers credit for braving 3D gaming in an era in which such a thing was largely unheard of, but it doesn’t take the power of hindsight to realize just how unresponsive the controls in this game are. In a genre that lives and dies based off of specific button inputs, you can see why this would be a problem.
49. Bubsy 3D
Bubsy 3D is actually quite similar to Ballz in that both were made by developers who wanted to make 3D games in an era when 3D games weren’t really a thing. Now, Bubsy 3D is quite a bit more ambitious than Ballz due to using the third dimension in an attempt to meaningfully elevate the medium. In other words, there was no practical reason for Ballz to have been in 3D whereas the developers of this game actually wanted to create something nobody had ever seen before. Unfortunately, Nintendo beat them to the punch with Super Mario 64, forever changing the direction of the medium in Accolade’s stead. It’s a much more tragic story than I think most people realize because Michael Berlyn knew he lost as soon as he saw Super Mario 64 in action. I can only imagine how crushed he felt. Regardless, even with this context, an abysmal game is an abysmal game, and while the genuine care that went into its creation prevents it from being the worst thing ever made, its terrible reputation is well-earned.
48. Super Pitfall
Like the previous two entries on this list, it is very easy to trace Super Pitfall to the exact year that spawned it. While I do appreciate that the 1980s was an important, formative decade for gaming, it’s inaccurate to assume it was a golden age for the medium. It’s true that one couldn’t really beat the 1980s or the 1990s in terms of innovation, but a lot of things independent critics like to complain about these days were very much present back in the medium’s ostensible halcyon era. Case in point, Super Pitfall. Thanks to the developers using a famous license and implementing it on a console that was superior to the Atari 2600 in every way, quite a few people wasted $60 on a barely functional game with some of the worst level design imaginable. This is the kind of thing developers can’t really pull off these days – at least not as consistently. All it takes is a vanguard of early adopters to take the fall in order to sound such a product’s death knell. It is slightly better than the previous two games on this list in that one can actually control it for a reasonable length of time, but this is damning with faint praise.
47. Zombie Nation
Zombie Nation is, at its core, a game that is more style than substance. One could conceivably get away with doing that in non-interactive mediums – and possibly even get critical acclaim for it in the process. However, such an approach doesn’t work in gaming. This is a game in which players (in North America, anyway) control the severed head of a samurai to stop an alien invasion and zombies. And it’s one of the most boring games out there. It takes a lot of talent to make a game with such an absurd premise boring, but KAZe found a way. Quite frankly, I don’t think that’s the kind of talent I want to support.
46. Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind
I have to admit that my review of the original Bubsy was intended to be an extended rebuttal to one of Bob Chipman’s videos (this one, specifically). He insisted that there was a lot more character diversity back in the 1980s/1990s. I wouldn’t necessarily argue against that, but the problem is that he took the argument too far and insisted that trait makes the games superior to the samey modern military shooters that dominated the late-2000s/early-2010s scene. Although the AAA industry’s creative stagnation back then was pretty dire, you have to remember that those games were, at their absolute worst, boringly mediocre. Even the worst examples of the genre such as Call of Duty: Ghosts were fully playable. If these games were truly horrendous, nine times out of ten, it was the scenario that dragged down the quality of the experiences (the remaining time was usually brought on by poor online optimization).
This is important to know because Bubsy demonstrates that there was always a “follow the leader” mentality in gaming. In this case, the genre in question happened to be the 1990s mascot-with-‘tude platformer started by Sonic the Hedgehog. And as much as old-school enthusiasts like to argue that there was a bit more visual distinction between these Sonic clones, I have to counter that a vast majority of them were usually varying degrees of bad rather than middle-of-the-road. The good ones were clearly exceptions to the rule. I can accept that Bubsy isn’t the worst of its kind, but that by no means makes it a good (or even average) game. Between its gameplay that doesn’t complement the idea of having such a fast protagonist and its seriously horrendous level design, Bubsy doesn’t have anything to offer anyone who didn’t grow up in the 1990s.
45. Bubsy II
Ever wondered what happened if you took the original Bubsy and made the terrible level design even worse? The result would be Bubsy II. Sadly, it manages to be a slight improvement over the original simply because Bubsy can actually take more than one hit in this game. How the Bubsy series has fared in hindsight is fascinating to me because I had always assumed that it was good up until Bubsy 3D killed the franchise once and for all. Indeed, a lot of professional reviews suggest the series was quite good up until then. However, when I actually took a look at these games, I realized that the series was never good. Everything bad about Bubsy 3D can be found in the series’ alleged glory days. I feel the critics were the most harsh on Bubsy 3D because that was when the flaws became impossible to ignore. It’s not really much fun to wander aimlessly around a large level when your protagonist is so fragile – it doesn’t matter how many dimensions you’re dealing with.
Widget is superior to the Bubsy games if for no other reason than because you can actually find your way around easily enough. Being better than Bubsy isn’t much of an accomplishment, though. While Bubsy tried (and failed) to rip off Sonic the Hedgehog, Widget is guilty of trying (and failing) to rip off Mega Man. Widget is slightly better optimized for the kind of game the developers were going for in that he is actually fairly durable and has a variety of tricks at his disposal. However, that means nothing when you realize just how poorly coded the game is. This is admittedly a field in which Widget is inferior to Bubsy because even going slightly off the rails will cause the game the freak out. Nonetheless, I personally would rather deal with a broken mess that at least had the right idea rather than ever muddle about the average Bubsy stage ever again.
43. Sonic the Fighters
With Sonic the Fighters, this list has mostly graduated from games that are poorly optimized and poorly programmed to ones that are just plain bad. Yu Suzuki’s attempt to inject the innovative Virtua Fighter gameplay into Sonic the Hedgehog was admirable, but the result is a mindless, button-mashing experience. It is markedly better than Ballz because the controls are actually responsive, but once you get over the novelty of having Sonic characters beat each other up, it’s clear the game has little substance to speak of. One could argue it’s intended for beginners, but a beginner is better off grabbing the bull by the horns. Playing a watered-down version of a superior product would only cause them to develop bad habits.
42. Godzilla: Monster of Monsters
Monster of Monsters is one of the few games I can think of that managed to gain a new lease on life without receiving true historical vindication. Thanks to a certain internet story, an otherwise forgettable game managed to transcend to memehood. The story itself is good, but the same cannot be said of the game upon which it is based. Like Sonic the Fighters, Monster of Monsters is an utterly mindless game that can be won by spamming the attack buttons. The game does give you actual obstacles to dodge, but it is still no less repetitive. It’s a shame because the game did have potential, but a lot of circumstantial evidence, which includes the removal of two additional kaiju, suggests the development was rushed quite a bit. It’s possible to have the development of your work be rushed and still have it turn out beautifully, but Monster of Monsters isn’t one of those cases.
41. Aegis Wing
Here it is – the very first Xbox game I ever reviewed! I realize it could be seen as a little unfair lambasting a game developed in three months by interns, so I will preface my criticism of it by pointing out its position on this list. There are games made by much larger groups of people – all of whom had more experience and a greater budget to work with – that turned out markedly worse than Aegis Wing. As bland as it is, that it’s functional is something of a miracle. The fact that it outshines every game in the previous two tiers is highly remarkable. I hope that those interns went on to greater projects because this game demonstrated a lot of potential. Sadly, even after accounting for technicalities, there’s no getting around that Aegis Wing makes for a bland experience. Due to its inability to really stand out, it currently rests at the bottom of the 3/10 tier.
40. King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!
Placing King’s Quest V on the master list proved to be an interesting mental exercise. I was ready to place it ahead of King’s Quest II, which I felt to be the worst game in the series aside from this game and King’s Quest VII. However, after typing out my thoughts on King’s Quest V, I realized I couldn’t really place it anywhere else but here. Yes, King’s Quest II was a token sequel, and yes, King’s Quest VII was a major disappointment after its predecessor, and yes, King’s Quest V was a significant step forward for the medium in terms of presentation. However, those games, for the most part, followed a diegetic line of logic. King’s Quest II featured a puzzle solution that relied on the narrative violating this relationship, but it had nothing on King’s Quest V, which featured several such instances. When you’re getting to the point where your audience absolutely needs to brute-force puzzles in order to advance, you have failed them. Plus, I couldn’t really place a game featuring a character as annoying as Cedric higher than the installments that didn’t have him – I just couldn’t.
39. Ys V: Kefin, Lost Kingdom of Sand
What is it with installments of a long-running franchise with the Roman numeral “V” dropping the ball in some way? First, there was Star Trek V, which is considered “so bad it’s good” by generous fans, then there was King’s Quest V, and in the far future, there would be Metal Gear Solid V. Admittedly, the latter wasn’t bad by any means, but its incomplete nature means we were deprived of something greater. I guess you could say Star Wars averts that trend with its own Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back, being a fan-favorite, but George Lucas and company had to cheat a little in that they created it second. Indeed, the actual fifth film, Attack of the Clones, could very well be the worst numbered installment in the franchise.
Anyway, after King’s Quest V, but before Metal Gear Solid V, there was Ys V. Ys V is proof positive the original creators can’t always do their own franchise justice. After two separate attempts by two different developers at making Ys IV, one mediocre and the other surprisingly good, Ys V manages to be a disappointing follow-up to both of them. Between its nonexistent difficulty and ill-advised attempt to get an audience on a platform that contained none of the originals’ fans, Ys V doesn’t have anything to offer even the most diehard fans of the franchise. It comes out ahead of King’s Quest V because you never have to throw pies at your enemies, but that’s not saying much.
38. Pokémon Snap
The overwhelming success of Pokémon Red and Blue inspired the creators to develop a treasure trove of spinoff games. In many respects, I can get behind that because the universe does lend itself to a lot of world building. It is very possible to find interesting ways for players to interact with this universe outside of Pokémon Battles. There is a reason Detective Pikachu is considered one of the better video game-to-film adaptations, after all. Unfortunately, even if photographing Pokémon makes for a unique gaming experience, the idea was not fully realized with Pokémon Snap, which one could complete in a single session and still have most of the day left over. There’s also the fact that, like many games of its era, it relied heavily on its 3D visuals, which looked great in 1999, but not so much now. By virtue of giving players some kind of challenge, it outshines Ys V despite being a shorter game overall.
37. Pokémon Stadium
Speaking of games that looked great back in the day but not so much now, here’s Pokémon Stadium. It does have a leg up over Pokémon Snap simply because it captures the essence of the lauded gameplay in a way that has a surprising amount of depth. Basically, the developers made a strategy game out of a role-playing experience while still using the same rules in the original games. Unfortunately, the game is painfully outdated – and not just from a visual standpoint. The fact that the materials required to enjoy this game in its intended form are no longer being manufactured and have no compatibility with the current generations thwarts any serious attempt to get into it all these years later. It doesn’t help that the mainline games would ultimately surpass this game in terms of visuals, rendering that small advantage worthless.
36. Pokémon Stadium 2
Starting to see a pattern with these last three entries? I think you can pretty much guess why I would consider Pokémon Stadium 2 an improvement over its predecessor. Because Gold and Silver were immense improvements over their own predecessors, it’s only natural that the game using the former two as a mold would be as well. It’s interesting because, if anything, a lot of the problems with the original game are even worse in this installment. Grinding levels to compete in the various tournaments will likely take you an entire playthrough of Gold and Silver and attempting to enter the Prime Cup, which requires Level 100 Pokémon, can only be done by those who have way, way too much time on their hands (and even that wouldn’t be enough). Otherwise, everything I said about the original Pokémon Stadium applies to its sequel; there’s no point in gathering obsolete materials and spending a lot of time preparing to play a game that is long outdated anyway.
35. Kirby’s Dream Land
Between the debut installments of Nintendo various prolific franchises, Kirby could very well have the weakest one. I can appreciate that this game has its fans, but Kirby’s Dream Land is a little like the original Uncharted in that a lot of its goodwill comes from its sequels (if not, all of it). I won’t take away anyone’s enjoyment of this game. I myself had a lot of fun with it back in the 1990s, being one of the first Game Boy games I ever got. Nonetheless, its incredibly short length makes it difficult to appreciate the unique take on platforming sensibilities provided by Masahiro Sakurai. Like Aegis Wing, it was an impressive effort from a person who showed a lot of promise at a young age, but he would need a bit more experience under his belt to grasp his true potential.
34. King’s Quest VII: The Princeless Bride
King’s Quest VII is similar to Ys V insofar that it its creators attempted to follow trends after pioneering them and ended up worse off for their efforts. While Ys V took obvious inspiration from Square and placed Adol in an environment right out of Final Fantasy, King’s Quest VII tried its damnedest to out-Disney Disney. Fewer things are more disappointing in terms of art than watching leaders become followers. Even so, King’s Quest VII does come out ahead of both King’s Quest II and King’s Quest V for one simple reason: it can’t be rendered unwinnable. The idea of rendering a game unwinnable is not a design decision that has aged with any kind of dignity, so seeing Sierra finally get rid of it for this installment was a welcome change. Sadly, its poorly-thought-out story beats, dubious voice acting, and horrendous animation ultimately overshadow this welcome change.