With decades of gaming spanning different consoles, platforms, and countries, even the greatest video games are a mixed bag of aesthetics, mistakes, and questionable stylistic choices. Like the fashion choices of the early 2000s or the extreme hair of the 1980s, some games have graphics that astound, confuse, and will go down in history - for nearly ruining a bunch of really decent games.
As any gamer knows, bad graphics do not necessarily make a bad game. For some games, the narrative and gameplay elements outshine even the darkest, jerkiest, most boring visuals. What this teaches us is that it doesn’t always matter if you can’t tell the difference between a tree and a person as long as you are having fun.
These games are not bad games. They are good games, fun games, that are plagued by a legacy of ugliness. The lack of flashy graphics that comes with just being outdated doesn't cut it here; some of these games even looked bad relative to the competition at their release. These are games that could have (and should have!) looked better with the technologies and resources available to them. If you can get past the flat landscapes, depressing color palettes, and blocky animation, these games are worth playing. Still, at the end of the day, these games are weighed down by awful visuals that hamper the experience.
15 Animal Crossing
When you boot up the early Animal Crossing games, the graphics are painful. We could all go back to feeding our long-dead Neo Pets for our cute animal game fix, and the graphics would not be noticeably different, which is a sad reality for hopeful Animal Crossing fans.
Originally released in Japan as an N64 game, it doesn’t seem like much was updated. Luckily for Animal Crossing, the people who love it aren’t playing for the graphics and aren’t phased by the low frame rate. The social aspect of the game will always have a strong draw, especially for the all-ages crowd. Plus, the style lends itself to some pretty cute Amiibo.
So, Animal Crossing comes out successful, but the graphics could have easily sunken this adorable woodland ship if the game had not been so undeniably fun.
14 Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2
The Star Wars games are a mixed bag. Luckily, a few people have heard of Star Wars — so the games don’t need to be beautiful to succeed. This game is full of fun and memorable battles, but the Jedi are not skilled in the ways of good game graphics. The creative team decided that a good way to make up for the clunky appearance would be to cleverly disperse live-action cut scenes. This resulted in a confusing movie/video game experience that no Jedi Mind Tricks could ever erase.
However, with the draw of a real first-person Jedi experience, the good reputation of the first Jedi Knight game, and the irresistible lure of the Dark Side, Star Wars Jedi Knight Dark Forces 2 overcame its painful early 3D graphics and proved to be a fun addition to the Star Wars gaming universe.
Fable: The Lost Chapters sets up a rich, creative world just waiting to be explored in hours of endless gameplay. Honestly, though, the visuals for Fable: The Lost Chapters should have stayed lost. With the amount of world-building and lore-crafting that went into this game, it should have been beautiful. However, the graphics leave so much to be desired that it detracts from the gameplay and the story. When you are staring for hours at flat graphics, jerky movements, and textureless backgrounds, any interest you once had in the story begins to fade into the sad, beige ground you walk on. Finding your way around on the rough maps doesn’t make it easier.
Luckily, Fable is one of the games that woke up from this bad graphics nightmare and became Fable Anniversary, which had all the great gameplay of its predecessor, but with the updated HD graphics the story deserves.
12 Forza Motorsports 2
Forza is nothing but fun. But for this installment, that’s pretty much all the game has going for it. The graphics are not the worst, but there is nothing special about the look of the game. Flat landscapes, drab backgrounds, and a lack of detail tank the quality of the visuals. The lack of an in-car view makes the racing game less of an immersive experience, which fails to outshine later iterations of the game. When compared to other games of the time, like Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsports 2 fails to hit the mark.
Luckily, the Forza name (and fun races) were enough to keep this game afloat. It’s not pretty, but it’s a classic racing game that stands up to its competitors on gameplay and enjoyment. When you’re driving around in circles or racing down the track, speed and excitement weigh heavier than good-looking trees and shiny cars.
11 Legend Of Dragoon
Legend of Dragoon is an excellent JRPG. The battle structures and mechanics are innovative and fun. The lore and the enormous amount of world-building that went into this legend is impressive. The characters develop well and play into a captivating plot. For all its high points, Legend of Dragoon should have been beautiful — but it definitely was not.
There are nice cut scenes and detailed backgrounds, but pretty water does not make up for the dreadful characters. The sad, single polygon faces are the stuff of nightmares. The stocky shapes and lack of detail are reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII, but Legend of Dragoon doesn’t have the excuse of a rocky technology switch. By the time Legend of Dragoon was released, the hardware for this game was not new anymore. With four disks of gameplay and a lot of hype around the release, better graphics would have vastly improved this game.
Runescape is a game close to my heart. The world is nearly endless, and the monsters roam free. The issue is that all the visuals in the game could easily be recreated by a 10-year-old with a rudimentary knowledge of Microsoft Paint. To their credit, developing this browser-playing, Java-based game for millions of free to play accounts was a lot for Jagex to run. In this case, function, gameplay, and mass take precedent over making things pretty. When it updated to “HD” graphics, the changes were minimal and it failed to keep up with other popular MMO’s.
However, the success of Runescape is largely due to how cheap and easy it was to play. If they had really tried to keep up with World of Warcraft, we would have lost the portability and free to play options — and traded that for more lag and a hefty price tag.
OK, before you try to say “Undertale doesn’t have bad graphics, it looks that way on purpose,” let me intervene. Just because they made the game look like this intentionally, doesn’t mean it was a good or well-executed idea. Other retro-style pixel art games, like Binding of Issac, are beautiful and intentional. When Undertale tries it, the graphics come off as confusing, disjointed, and downright ugly. The 16-bit graphics are a stylistic choice, but when your game is made in 2015, and it looks worse than original 16-bit games, you have a problem.
When (or if) you can get past the graphics for this game, there is a pretty entertaining RPG. The battle system is great, and the plot gets deeper with each clue you connect. The characters, gameplay, and extensive underlying story make Undertale worth playing, but it might be better to try with your eyes closed.
8 Galleon: Islands Of Mystery
Galleon was a long-awaited game that finally released as an Xbox exclusive. Before that, it had been in development for nearly a decade on several different consoles. While patient fans were impressed with the swashbuckling storyline, the appearance of the game was a resounding disappointment. The camera is jumpy and erratic, which induces an actual sea-sickness as you sail through this game. There are very few textures or color variance in the backgrounds, which ends up looking flat and boring. The characters, though well-developed within the game, are as blocky and bulky as a cheap knockoff action figure.
Running around as a dashing, heroic sea captain and exploring the thrilling story, detailed battles, and an array of gameplay styles makes for a great game. Overall, the long development of the game and the constant jump from system to system left Galleon with outdated graphics to match its original release date.
7 Shadow Man
Shadow Man was an especially disappointing addition to “team ugly games” because the original comic book, PC, and N64 versions of this property were all visual hits. When the highly-anticipated PlayStation release finally arrived, fans were dumbfounded at how ugly this game was. The frame rate is so depressingly slow that trying to see how bad the graphics are is a challenge in itself. Everything is so jerky and slow-moving, it’s hard to watch. It is a dark, textureless mess
With a dynamic storyline, an impending apocalypse, and exciting characters that have stood the test of several game releases, this PlayStation release should have excelled with updated graphics and new technology. Instead, we have a great game hidden under dark, jerky graphics and bad design. In perhaps the only case of it’s kind, you are better off breaking out your N64 to play an older, better looking Shadow Man.
6 Halo 3
The gameplay of Halo 3 doesn't disappoint; it’s a solid shooter with a great storyline. With all the thought and planning that goes into creating another chapter in the Halo universe, you would think that the game would look great, but you’re wrong. The landscapes are flat and textureless, and nothing is sharp or defined.
The real issue, however, is the people. We assume they are human — but only vaguely so as far as these Halo 3 graphics are concerned. I don’t know who came up with these character models, but they could easily be recycled from some sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland game in which all the characters have been doused in acid and deformed into blob-folk. The mouth tracking on these weird faces is so bad it significantly detracts from the gameplay. This game is great, and any Halo fan should play it through, but it is not pretty.
5 Body Harvest
Body Harvest is an action-packed sci-fi adventure that combines an intriguing story with fun gameplay elements of combat and racing. The weak element of this game is the graphics. Body Harvest was a late-release N64 title, and it shows. What may have been passable for earlier games is starkly outdated by the time Body Harvest finally hit the market. The enjoyment of the game is buried under drab landscapes and low-res visuals.
The weak colors, lack of texture, and slow, jerky frame rates make it hard to enjoy the actual gameplay. The characters are fun and relatable (who wouldn’t want to be an alien-smashing sci-fi hero?) but their charm is lost when you see their blocky, jerky, faceless forms trudging across a low-res desert to fight cheesy aliens. Body Harvest has an interesting premise, but suffered from bad graphics that were already out of date at its release.
Minecraft swept through the gaming world like a pixellated hurricane over a decade ago, and it is still going strong. With releases on multiple platforms, new owners, and updates, the graphics have barely changed since its small-time release. Though the pixelated graphics are an intentional stylistic choice, the harsh, retro-style visuals are a barrier for many players. The benefit of these cube-y creepers and crawlers is the ability to create a huge playing world with endless possibilities. The draw is in the creativity and creation, so fans of Minecraft value those aspects of gameplay over the bright, blocky graphics.
It helps that imagining scary green cube monsters and people running around hitting stuff with a stick seems ridiculous with traditionally “perfect” graphics. Until you experience the fun of building and creating in Minecraft, the outdated graphics are a big turn-off.
3 Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto gets a pass for being the start to a groundbreaking series. Considering the series' future games stood at the forefront of experimental graphics technology across systems, it's shocking to look back at grandfather GTA. The original Grand Theft Auto has altogether plain and boring graphics. Still, Grand Theft Auto stands out because of its open-world play and senseless violence.
In a world centered around stealing cars, though, it’s disappointing to see tiny cars and tiny people in a top-down world, especially when the graphics are so flat you can pretty much walk over the cars and not even notice. The backgrounds are flat, textureless, and plain. This game holds up as an exciting open-world playground of violence and crime, but it’s painfully obvious why this series didn’t hit its stride until it opted in for 3D graphics.
2 Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy is one of the most beloved video game series of all time. However, there is one ugly step-child of the Final Fantasy-verse that we try to forget: old number seven.
The mid-1990s was the time to jump into 3D. Final Fantasy VII failed to properly utilize the new technology. The transition to polygons left the character models looking less like the cute chibi sprites of the past, and more like human Bionicles, stuck in an alternate universe where hands are cubes. This was a huge disappointment, considering the advertising put out before the release of the game showed mostly Full Motion Video footage (which was excellent).
Overall, Final Fantasy VII is remembered fondly by those who played and loved it — but squished between the strong points of Final Fantasy VI and the gorgeous Final Fantasy VIII, poor little 7 is a noticeably ugly, but really fun game.
1 Far Cry Vengeance
There is a lot of hype building around the release announcement for Far Cry 5, which is releasing in early 2018. This is a great opportunity to look back in shame at one of the ugliest games in history: Far Cry Vengeance, which was released for the Nintendo Wii. The game had great controls and an excitement that was present in the preceding games, but with none of the finesse. The graphics were so bad, they detracted from gameplay. The characters, hands, and weapons were blocky and unwieldy, and the backgrounds weren’t much better. It was a choppy, pixelated mess that distracted from the otherwise well-developed storyline and universe.
Overall, we can be glad that Far Cry learned from these mistakes and have gone on to create a series of fun games that blur the blemish of Far Cry Vengeance.
Honorable Mention: Xenoblade Chronicles (Just The Hands)
Overall, Xenoblade Chronicles is a pretty beautiful game. The graphics are detailed and consistent. The characters and story are well-developed. Everything looks and plays well. But then, you cut to some important, ground-breaking scene and see...the hands. With such a well-designed game, these sad little Lego hands stand out like the sore thumbs they are likely sporting. They are blocky, jointless disasters that do not fit with the otherwise pleasant aesthetic of the game.
Other than that, Xenoblade Chronicles is a lot of fun. It is a massive game with intense world-building and exciting battle mechanics. Xenoblade Chronicles exists to remind us that even the best games make mistakes.