The critics hated them, but these games have established a dedicated community over the years
Often, you’ll come across films that are so staggering terrible, so blatantly unprofessional, so poorly crafted in every conceivable way, that they become rather remarkable. Not “Citizen Kane” remarkable, but remarkable in a different, point-and-laugh, kind of way.
Troll 2 comes to mind, a film so pathetically fantastic that in 2009 Michael Stephenson (who played the young Joshua Waits in the film) directed a feature length documentary, Best Worst Movie, showcasing Troll 2’s immense cult status as a celebrated piece of movie-making failure. The Prince Charles Cinema in London is still holding special Troll 2 showings, 20 years after release, and across the world it’s celebrated with annual screenings and themed events. What makes the film critically bad – the poor writing, awkward acting and otherwise terrible production values – is what makes it so beloved by fans.
So we wondered, what’s the Troll 2 of video games?
Last year, a certain Ride to Hell: Retribution saw its release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. The game was critically panned for its appalling dialogue, awkward cut scenes, bad graphics and downright offensive portrayal of female characters. One user review at Metacritic even went as far as to liken the game to playing cancer, which makes as little sense to me now as it did when I first read it. Yet, despite all this, one visit to the Steam forums and you’ll find a community of players defending its cheesiness. One user asked the question, ‘Does anyone here even like this game?’ and received responses like ‘I’m a “fan” of its awfulness’ and ‘It’s artistically bad. So bad it’s good’.
Ride to Hell has slowly built up a new strange kind of appreciation through word of mouth. In fact, head on over to YouTube and you’ll find a dozen Let’s Plays all laughing along with a game that the critics couldn’t tolerate. While you’re at it, head over to any random video game-based forum and you’ll find some more heated defence for what the reviews call ‘the worst game ever’.
Another example is Rising Star Games’ Deadly Premonition, a psychological horror game with outdated controls and PlayStation 2-era graphics. Rather famously, Jim Sterling awarded it a perfect rating on Destructoid, calling Deadly Premonition a ‘beautiful disaster’ and saying that he wouldn’t change a single thing about it. He later called that 10/10 rating the most well-known review he’s ever written after sparking some pretty frenzied online discussion.
Then there’s the infamous Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, which Gamespot called ‘as bad as your mind allows you to comprehend’. Surprisingly the game actually managed to sell pretty well despite its broken gameplay and ‘you’re winner’ victory screen.
Clearly, there’s something about bad games that we just can’t seem to get enough of.
Take the YouTube channel Game Grumps, for example. Since November 1st 2012 they have uploaded 108 episodes of their Sonic ’06 playthrough – that’s over a staggering 17 hours for a game that earned as low as 2/10 in review scores. And they aren’t alone; The Angry Video Game Nerd has built an entire career out of ripping on notoriously bad games, including Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest which currently has well beyond five million views on YouTube.
Now you might be saying to yourself, ‘Hey, it’s these YouTube personalities that are making the videos entertaining, not the games,’ and you might just be right about that. But, even if these games offer only a platform for a YouTuber’s humour, that’s only possible because of the games themselves. If Goat Simulator didn’t exist, then neither would the dozens of videos about Goat Simulator. And let me tell you, that would be a sad day indeed.
These games may suck in every contrivable way possible but, in many ways, they offer a certain joy that shouldn’t be overlooked. Ride to Hell: Retribution has some pretty loyal fans online and an immense community of supporters. We love to laugh at broken games, and maybe in that way they bring us together.
The trouble with all this is that, despite the point-and laugh joy that many games can offer, they may simply not be worth the high price tag. Whereas Troll 2 can go for as little as £3 online, Ride to Hell was at one point charging £30 for the ‘experience’. Films can be cheap, but paying AAA prices for a guilty pleasure feels less like you’re enjoying yourself and a little more like you’re being horribly ripped off. It’s a shame; the cult status of ‘so bad they’re good’ games will never really be as big as it is with film. There will never be midnight gatherings in the heart of London for Superman 64, and nobody is going to make a documentary about Little Britain: The Video Game.
That’s not to stop you from enjoying them at home, though. Go on, we won’t tell anyone.
Images: Deep Silver, Rising Star Games, Cinemassacre Productions