Greg Wilcox' "Did YOU Know?" will be your ticket to all that has been hidden from you in the vast universe of video gaming. Whether it be titles released in distant lands, gems that were snubbed by attempts to bring it to the public eye, or simply games your mother told you you couldn't play, Greg is on the case to shine a big bright spotlight on all of the dark corners of gaming.
Embracing the Badness
(or Justifying & Enjoying That “Special” Chunk of Your Collection)
No matter what system you collect for, there will come a point in time when you come across a game that’s not very good. While I’ve learned over time that one person’s bad game is another’s guilty pleasure, there’s still some really awful software that’s compelling in its lack of quality. As I’ve said before, I don’t think a game developer wakes up one sunny morning, stretches and leaps out of bed saying “let’s make a really crappy game today!” A number of factors contribute to those titles that make jaws drop and eyes pop for the opposite reasons they’re supposed to. While bad US-developed games are legion, I’d have to say that bad Japanese games rule over them with an iron boot pressed on their collective neck. We’ll peek at a few of my favorites in this column. As most of my cartridge stuff is stored away, I’ll have to go to the wall and grab a stack of CD-based badness.
I had to flip a coin to see what system went first and the Sega Saturn lost the toss. However, to keep things fair and not seem biased against a particular company, I’ll bounce from platform to platform as I type. While the Saturn is home to plenty of excellent imports, there are games like Banpresto’s 1996‘s JSWAT to make you do a few double-takes once you’ve played for about ten minutes. No relation at all to the fun Mega Drive classic, E-SWAT, this is a bizarre futuristic first-person shooter that mixes FMV cutscenes with choppy gameplay. While the game has some interesting ideas (a tactical map showing where your enemies are and a visor view similar to the one in Metroid Prime), the HUD and lousy hit tracking are so intrusive that they make the game harder than it should be. Then again, the enemies aren’t the smartest sticks in the pile and the game has a strict grading system that makes it annoyingly easy to fail some of the later missions.
The PlayStation didn’t fare much better in terms of Japanese-developed first-person shooters. Nichibutsu’s Expert is one of those games where you’ll need to keep an open mind throughout your time with it. Think Duke Nukem meets Die Hard, but with none of the humor or fun found in either. I actually like the game somewhat (it rather grow on you after the initial shock), but lending it out to a friend offered up a hilarious new perspective on the game. I got the disc back the next day from my not-too impressed pal who shook his head and said “this game is like something that came out of a cereal box” I don’t know why, but that comment made me laugh like a fool for pretty much the rest of the day. It’s a good thing I didn’t lend him Exector, from Arc System Works (yes, the same company that produced Guilty Gear). While it’s not really a first-person shooter, you can choose to play the game from that perspective, which renders it nearly unplayable. If there’s anything worse than a game with terrible art, a near-useless adjustable viewpoint, regenerating enemies and a strict time limit that forces you to replay the entire thing over if you run out of time no matter what stage you’re on, I don’t want to go near it. Then again, I‘ve got a column to finish….
While Japanese developers have always has trouble with creating a decent first-person shooter, light gun games generally turn out better. Well, unless you’re talking about Ecole’s infamously bad Saturn game Death Crimson. This one is the shorter, uglier sister of House of the Dead that features bizarre enemy designs that look as if they were designed by Napoleon Dynamite on a glue bender. While this one is a bit on the rare side, once you do finally obtain it, prepare to lower your expectations as the utter awfulness on screen counterbalances the expense perfectly. The crazy thing is that the game actually got not one, but two sequels on the Sega Dreamcast that definitely looked and played better. However, that’s like comparing scurvy to a double hernia on the “afflictions you’d like to have if you have a choice” scale. Other gun games that won’t be knocking Virtua Cop or Gunblade New York off anytime soon include Mechanical Violator Hakaider- Last Judgment on the Saturn and Simple 1500 Series Vol. 24- The Gun Shooting for the PlayStation. In actuality, knocking D3 Publisher’s budget line is a bit unfair considering the majority of the titles were quickly programmed budget releases.
Going back to Nichibutsu for a minute, while the company has had many classic 2D arcade hits many of you out there love; their 3D output has been charmingly behind the curve at best. Which brings me to Dead Heat Road on the PlayStation, one of those games that you’ll play once and put back on the shelf as you reach for that copy of Moon Cresta or Magmax for the Famicom instead. This is one of the many “highway battle” and other arcade-type racers that flooded Japanese consoles from different developers and Nichibutsu ended up doing a few different types of 3D racing games on the PlayStation like X-Racing and Hashiriya: Ookami Tachi no Densetsu. Still, Nichibutsu’s racing games are far from the worst of the lot. That award is reserved for discs like C1 Circuit by Invex and the two Wangan Dead Heat titles mentioned in earlier columns in this series of mine. That’s a hint to you folks who haven’t read my earlier stuff to click away as I can always use the feedback.
Futuristic racers are another subgenre that has an equal, if not greater amount of awful games to sift through. From the early days of the PlayStation, we have Neorex’s Cosmic Race, which has to be one of the worst launch games for any console, period. This draw-in filled, slow-moving non-classic is just about impossible to finish. “Driving” your chosen vehicle requires button combinations a four-armed man would have trouble with and the pop-up is so atrocious that you’ll be crashing into mountains even after you’ve mastered the controls. Oh, don’t bother leafing through the manual if you’re expecting the artwork to redeem the game somewhat. The drawings look as if a hyperactive ten-year old traced over badly Xeroxed fan art and had his big sister color it with markers because she could stay within the lines. No, I take that back… I think a hyperactive ten-year old and his sister could probably do much better artwork than what’s here AND program a better game.
Then again, great art can’t save a bad game by any means and an unintelligible title only makes a bad game worse. Pop in a copy of Hresvelgr: Formula Highpowered into your PlayStation 2 and watch in horror as your beautiful-looking futuristic hover ship moves at a less than lightning pace then clips through the great track environments, making you lose race after race. Developer Gust, known for better games like its hit Atelier series of RPGs and misses like the convoluted strategy game Falcata gets props for trying something different and failing quite spectacularly in the process. Interestingly enough, Gust went and retooled the game into Hresvelgr International, which was nearly picked up for US distribution. Thankfully, the game only made it as far as the UK where it’s known as Jet Ion Grand Prix, which rolls off the tongue a lot better, no? Speaking of unintelligible titles and poor gameplay, I love Atlus’ stuff to death, but when you release a 3D shooting game with a moniker like GALEOZ, you’re asking for trouble from people trying to collect the game and more trouble from them once they find it and play it. To date, I’ve seen it listed as Galeos, Galeoz, and Faneoz on different import game sites, which isn‘t much help if you‘re collecting and think there are three games with similar titles. Given that the characters on the spine seem to be Cyrillic in origin, the correct pronunciation is actually Galeoz, which doesn’t mean anything, as far as the dictionaries I‘ve consulted shows.
In a way, you could also safely say that some companies known for their RPGs or other key releases should actually stick to what they know and leave certain other genres alone. Konami’s PlayStation conversion of the Japan-only arcade game Speed King is an acquired taste at best. You do get a car named after Solid Snake and a cool music video after you beat the game, so it may be worth a buy to some of you out there. Squaresoft’s entry into the PS2 racing game market, Driving Emotion Type-S is nearly unplayable with the default settings in its original Japanese version and not much better in the US translation. You’re definitely better off with the often overpriced PlayStation game Chocobo de Stallion just for the novelty value. Idea Factory, known for the great Generation of Chaos series and a number of other fine RPGs, coughed up Sky Surfer in 2000, one of the most incredibly shallow post 16-bit launch titles I’ve ever played. US gamers never saw this one, but our friends in the UK got this one courtesy of prolific publisher Midas Interactive. In fact, if you’re in the UK reading this, you probably know that Midas has published quite a few B-grade PlayStation and PS2 games we haven’t seen here.
As for bad RPGs, this is more of a personal preference issue, as I’ve found that pretty much any RPG no matter how badly made will have loyalists. So even though it’s easy to make fun of NEC‘s Sengoku Turb for its bizarre graphics and even stranger story, when you look at the fan sites and some of the fun art people who‘ve played and enjoyed the game have created, it makes you reconsider that thumbs-down… for a few minutes at least. Takara’s Deep Sea Adventure is another one of those games that’s questionable in terms of quality, but you’ll find a few folks who are fond of its quirks. It’s even harder to find fault with Kadokawa Shoten’s 1995 PlayStation release Tokyo Dungeon despite its flaws because the game’s manual does a great job of showing all the work that went into creating this unique detective story/RPG. Finally, looking back at NEC’s Dreamcast launch title Seventh Cross these days shows that this “bad” simulation/RPG was ahead of its time. Released here as Seventh Cross: Evolution, the game was widely trashed by critics for its poor visuals and extremely high learning curve. Looking at it now, a few of the core ideas and gameplay elements the game presents predate Wil Wright’s upcoming PC game Spore, which became a critical darling worldwide as soon as it was announced.
Moving to adventure games, one that’s interestingly inept is Taito‘s Tokyo Shadow, a FMV horror adventure that’s neither horrifying nor adventurous. It’s definitely quite amusing to play as it’s grounded in B-movie trappings from start to finish. With 3-discs chock full of lousy acting, low-grade gore effects and multiple endings, at least there’s plenty of gameplay here. If you’ve ever wanted to see/play an attractive blonde speaking fluent Japanese, well, here’s your big opportunity. This one is also available on the PlayStation, in case you were curious and if you’re not at least partially skilled in reading the language, you’ll get lost within a few minutes of play, which might be a good thing in this case. But at least you’ll have more fun with that game than with Wan Chai Connection on the Saturn, a FMV-packed launch title that would put even the most dedicated soap opera/detective story fan to sleep.
Then there’s the infamous Not Treasure Hunter, by Acti-Art Corporation for the PlayStation. Not only saddled with a confusing title, the gameplay mashes together third-person action, text-based adventure, and some truly awful combat to create an unforgettable experience. I don’t know what’s funnier, the skeleton pirates and mutants our blue dinner jacketed hero has to battle, or the faux Simon Templar attitude the character exudes throughout the game. Ol’ Not is so blasť about his circumstances that it becomes a game in itself to let him die just to see how many ways you can dispatch him. Just remember to save as much as possible- the game is notorious for dumping you back at the start of a tedious series of enemy encounters and traps. At least the multiple endings keep you going back for more if for some reason you want to. NEC’s PlayStation game JailBreaker is another odd mix of action and adventure mechanics that doesn’t quite come off as exciting as it should. The first-person view is interesting, but the game goes from slow and dull to “oops, I walked into a room and died” when fast-moving enemies are introduced about half an hour into things. The tagline on the two-disc game, “Die or Escape, Shila”, may as well read “Keep Dying, Shila” as you see the GAME OVER screen a few too many times as you inch your way through the corridors.
Some games are less “bad’ than they are just plain weird. Jaleco’s 1998 PlayStation release T: Kara Hajimaru Monogatari (The Story That Starts with T) has a faceless skateboarding kid hero whose mom is yanked into an alternate world by some kooky-looking monsters. You then get to go rescue her and battle enemies, platform jump, solve puzzles and do some flower raising or something. There’s so much going on in the blocky, psychedelic game world at such a slow pace that I’ve barely been able to get five hours into the game without falling asleep. The title sequence is cool, however. On the other hand, I have to give a shout out to (or a shout at, to be more exact) Welcome House by Gust (again!) on the PlayStation or Sega Saturn... this one is a total hoot, but not in a good way. This one is an adventure game that borrows a mishmash of elements from American situation comedies, cartoons and slapstick movies and it’s just as unfunny as it sounds. The canned laughter that accompanies lead character Keaton’s pratfalls and other April Fool’s Day accidents only exacerbates the pain, as the controls are a bit too awkward for the game to be enjoyable. Still, there’s a PlayStation-only sequel, Welcome House 2: Keaton & His Uncle that’s a bit better looking and playing, but not by very much.
Picking up the pace a bit, bad action games are practically growing on trees in Japan, no doubt due to the huge debt they owe to bad action movies. It’s impossible to play stuff like Telstra’s Lone Soldier or Squaresoft’s Cyber Org without cringing and chuckling simultaneously, and Konami’s Gungage is nice to look at, but isn’t going to win too many awards for its slow speed and linear gameplay. Actually, Lone Soldier is a UK production, but the game was wisely never released here in the states. We also thankfully didn’t get Pulse Interactive’s truly wretched Dreamcast game Undercover 2025 A.D. Kei, although I do recall seeing it on an early US Dreamcast release list. This game is so incredibly poor that when I did a review for another site a few years ago, the guy who took the screenshots just gave up and put pictures of Rhesus monkeys in the rest of the review because he just didn’t want to put himself through any more torture. Every so often, I’ll get an e-mail asking “are there pictures of monkeys in Undercover?” which cracks me up as I tell them the real story behind the photos.
One of the more interesting moments I’ve had in a mediocre game came about halfway through Taito‘s Chaos Break, a sci-fi/horror mash-up for the PlayStation that combine parts of Resident Evil games and the Alien movies. During a pause from all the monster shooting and puzzle solving, I had to do an autopsy on one of the face-hugger like crawlers that pop up throughout the game. Replaying the sequence again last week reminded me of Atlus’ upcoming Trauma Center: Under the Knife, which isn‘t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. It just shows that sometimes, bad games can surprise you if you play far enough in to discover stuff like this. On the other hand, a game like Vision‘s Rune Caster on the Dreamcast starts off on the wrong foot and continues to hobble around for as long as you can stand to play it. It’s supposed to be an action game with strategic elements, but there are a number of other DC titles that do what this game is supposed to do a hell of a lot better.
One awful game we almost got was Solan‘s Metal Jacket, another early PlayStation launch title rushed to market by a cobbled together development team (Solan was Pony Canyon, Bandit and Team Tornado). Between the constant pop-up, chuggy action and super-blocky visuals, this is a tough game to like even for historical value. The interesting things about the game are that it’s Link Cable compatible and players could set team versus matches with bots against the computer or a second player. For some reason, Electronic Arts snapped up the US publishing rights, but wisely canned this Mechwarrior meets Mobile Suit Gundam clunker. Since the game has enough English text to be very import friendly and is generally inexpensive these days, feel free to seize one and see for yourself just why we weren’t blessed with its presence. When BMG games went under a few years ago, only Japanese audiences got to see Firo & Klawd, a pretty strange combination of rendered funny animal characters, shooting and item collecting. Although the game tries a wee bit too hard to be funny, the leads are ugly to look at (an orangutan cop and a bulbous-nosed rat thief?) Yeesh) and the levels are a bit too chaotic at times. Still it’s worth a purchase, as most of the menus are in English.
We’ll close with one of my favorite bad games, Deep Fear for the Sega Saturn. Clearly inspired by Capcom’s Resident Evil, the game mixes pre-rendered environments, plenty of locked door puzzles, and zombie-like monsters loping about, eager for a few bullets shot their way. However, instead of a creepy mansion to run around in, Deep Fear takes place in a creepy submarine and later a creepy undersea military base overrun by mutated humans. With English voiceovers and menus, the game is extremely import friendly, but the voice acting is so uniformly terrible that it almost kills the action when you have to hear characters deliver their lines. While it was never released in the US, there’s a UK Saturn version that can be played on US systems with an Action Replay or Game Shark. With the UK version, you’ll get some slight interference registering on the top of the screen that some may find annoying, but if you don’t want to use a walkthrough for the puzzles that require reading text, it’s worth the extra cost to import. Both versions fluctuate in price, but the UK version is the most desirable among those who just want to play, not collect the game. Interestingly enough, earlier this year a game called Cold Fear was released for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 that got lambasted by critics for borrowing elements from Resident Evil 4. I found this amusing because I felt it was more of an improvement to the bad stuff in Deep Fear than a clone of Capcom’s re-reinvention of their seminal franchise, but to each his/her own, right? Anyway, this is only a miniscule portion of what’s out there and I’m sure you all have your own favorites, so the sequel possibilities are indeed a probability. Just remember to actually go and play those games you think are as bad as you’ve heard before jumping on a particular title. You may be surprised at how much fun some of these games are…
Bored of Corrections II (Prize Edition GET!)
Remember when I asked for feedback above? Well, that’s because I make the occasional mistake from time to time, and it’s always good to be corrected (well, in a pleasant manner). Anyway, I got an e-mail from a reader who calls himself 8-Bit Star pointing out a few errors made in my column on PC to Console RPGs. It turns out there was a US version of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Pools of Radiance (oops) and the two Ultima Game Boy games I mentioned in the piece were indeed released here (double oops). Amusingly enough, I recently found the NES version of Pools in a stack of games here that I hadn’t looked at since I moved them to a closet a few years back (duh). In addition, I had originally meant to recheck the column regarding the Game Boy games because I thought I recalled an ad for the games in an old game magazine. Unfortunately, I was sidetracked by some shiny objects in the form of some FM-Towns games I hadn’t seen before and completely forgot to get back to what I was doing when deadline time showed up. While this isn’t an event of Steven Glass-era New Republic proportions, it’s still embarrassing to have a frozen ass in the middle of summer, if you know what I mean. So, send me your mailing address, 8-bit and I’ll drop some game-related schwag your way to thank you for pointing my errors out!
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