Mini-games don’t have to be awful to make a gamer groan in frustration, but a truly terrible mini-game will push you to the controller-breaking point. Still, whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, mini-games are here to stay. Those little diversions within our favorite games have been around since at least 1987, when the 15 Puzzle appeared as an Easter Egg in Final Fantasy on the NES.
Fast forward to 2017, when fans finally got their hands on Gwent, a standalone version of The Witcher 3’s in-world, collectible-card game. In The Witcher 3, Gwent enhances the overall game experience without being more fun than the main event. More importantly, it’s compelling to play, even without the larger and more integral rewards of other mini-games.
But that’s just it: Gwent is a great mini-game. As such, it’s light years ahead of the myriad pointless and difficult mini-games that have populated the gaming landscape over the last 30 years. Even great games can fall victim to the bad-mini-game trap. For every The Witcher 3 or Fallout 4, there’s a Final Fantasy VII or Fable 2 — fun and well-made titles with glaring flaws in their mini-game makeup.
Here are 15 terrible mini-games that will make you angry enough to demand better games-within-games from your favorite devs.
15 Leblanc Massage (Final Fantasy X-2)
Forget everything you thought about Dead Or Alive mini-games being 'adult.' Short of God of War’s opening threesome mini-game, the massage sequence at Chateau Leblanc is one of the most weirdly 'mature' mini-games out there. Summoner-turned-Sphere Hunter Yuna disguises herself as a mook, and must massage rival Leblanc to sleep in order to obtain the Awesome Sphere. The objective tells players they need to “satisfy Leblanc” by treating her to “the massage of a lifetime.” Yuna can ensure Leblanc’s “peak pleasure” by listening to her moans and touching her in just the right ways. Players may obtain one of two accessories for successfully massaging Leblanc to sleep, but let's face it: this mini-game is only included in Final Fantasy X-2 for the titillation, and even that is sparing.
14 Sneezing (Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story)
At some point, someone at Nintendo thought it would be a good idea to make a mini-game in which Mario and Luigi twirl around inside Bowser’s nose, knocking pollen into his nasal walls to trigger a sneeze. Somehow, that mini-game made it into the 2009 Nintendo DS game, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story.
Aside from being a really silly idea, the sneezing mini-game is unduly frustrating. The strange, floating, Mario and Luigi twin top is difficult to control with the DS stylus, and affecting all of Bowser’s allergen receptors requires twirly feats of plumber geometry most of us aren’t used to performing. Simply put, the amount of time you’ll spend trying to get that last nasal wall to change colors will leave you angry for days.
13 Dragon Feeding (Chrono Cross)
This is a simple mini-game, really. Serge can hold and dispense three bales of hay to any of the three dragons before he has to go back for more, and the unfed dragons change color as their anger grows. A hungry dragon will cry and thrash in its stall to let Serge know it needs attention, but will often stop asking for food as soon as he approaches it. The dragons who pull this little temper-tantrum trick will still grow angrier at not being fed, but will not accept any hay from Serge until they cry out again.
Chrono Cross players only have to complete this mini-game once in order to proceed, but may return for the Stablekeeper’s prizes, the best of which goes to the intrepid gamer who can feed the dragons 100 times in one go. Good luck doing that with those finicky dragons, though.
12 Swimming (Tiny Toon Adventures: Wacky Sports Challenge)
Tiny Toon Adventures: Wacky Sports Challenge is a mini-game collection centered on an Olympics-like challenge in Acme Acres. It offers more than a few great events in its lineup, but this godforsaken swimming mini-game will make you pull your hair out. It lacks even the slightest hint of competition or skill-testing challenge, and ultimately comes across as more of an interactive load screen than an actual mini-game.
In this event, four competitors swim through a shark-infested course to collect food, air, and monetary prizes, and the player with the highest score at the end of the race is declared the winner. Staying at the front of the pack guarantees that you’ll hit whatever comes at you, be it money or a hungry shark, but it also means you’ll likely miss out on the air you need to survive the race without — literally — choking out.
11 Jumping Rope (Final Fantasy IX)
Square tried to come up with an interesting mini-game that allowed Final Fantasy IX players to interact with the background characters in one of the game’s major cities, but the end result was one of the most angry-making mini-games of all time. The mini-game offers a lot of great prizes, including four Tetra Master cards. The ultimate reward of jumping rope, however, is an exclusive Key Item named King of Jump Rope, and it’s truly awful to obtain.
This mini-game involves repeatedly pressing a button to command Vivi or Eiko to jump over the little Alexandrian girls’ rope. Simple enough, right? But King of Jump Rope may only be won by jumping 1,000 times in a row without failing. That’s about seven minutes of constant button-mashing, played against a computer that changes up the tempo and gives really bad button prompts. Even completionists want to skip this one.
10 Right In The Eye (WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$!)
WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! is a GameBoy Advance mini-game compilation that features a whole bunch of games that don’t make much sense. That’s OK, because it’s all part of the Wario charm, and needle-threading fits right in alongside toast-catching and nose-picking.
The problem with Right in the Eye is that the game’s coding occasionally renders it unbeatable. Players have a limited amount of time to guide a thread toward the eye of a randomly placed needle, which they must do over and over again in order to clear the challenge. But in the third level, when the difficulty has already increased twice, the needle will sometimes spawn too low to be threaded, making it impossible for even the most experienced player to beat. Pretty sneaky, Wario.
9 Chicken Petting (Harvest Moon: The Tale Of Two Towns)
When everyone’s favorite farming-simulator franchise moved to the Nintendo 3DS, it added a new way to increase the happiness of your livestock: petting. Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns randomly initiates a petting mini-game whenever a player approaches one of their animals. It’s not the most riveting mini-game in the world, but being boring isn’t what leads to Tale of Two Towns’ mini-game downfall. Instead, it’s the rarity with which the game allows you to commune with your chickens that really does this one in.
The chicken-petting mini-game only rarely shows up, and it’s only available for a limited time when it does. There’s no known way to force-spawn the mini-game, which leaves Harvest Moon players — and their relationships with their chickens — at the mercy of the game’s unpredictable and unforgiving algorithm.
8 Hacking In Pretty Much Everything
Oh, hacking mini-games. You have to love them, even as they disappoint the heck out of you. In truth, some of the best mini-games in recent memory have been hacking-themed, but all that glitters is not gold. There are some truly terrible hacking mini-games out there, so here’s a quick overview of what makes a bad hacking sequence.
BioShock 2 backed off of the liquid flow-connection mini-game of its predecessor by switching to a needle-stopping mini-game that felt more akin to disarming a bomb than hacking a Circus of Value machine. Mass Effect 2 had players hunting down segments of scrolling code by color and shape alone. The worst by far, though, was Alpha Protocol, which challenged you to line up short sequences over the unmoving titles in a shifting grid, to disorienting effect.
7 Flash Forward (Mario Party 10)
Flash Forward would almost certainly top a list of pointless mini-games. This Mario Party 10 staple pits four competitors against each other and a clock ticking down to a camera flash. The goal is to be standing on a riser, posing for the camera, when the flash goes off. You can spend the countdown trying to push your adversaries off of the riser or out of the shot, or you can wait until it’s almost showtime to jump on the little stage and light it up with your best pose.
Unfortunately, as is the case with many Mario Party mini-games, there’s no logical explanation for Flash Forward. No one can tell you why Mario, Luigi, and their friends are trying to be the most selfish camera hogs in video-game history. They just do, and so do you, if you want to win the game.
6 Yoshi Racing (Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars)
Long before Crypt of the Necrodancer had you moving to the rhythm of the music, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars wanted you to race to it. After reaching Yo’ster Isle, Mario finds his old pal Yoshi, who tells him that a blue Yoshi named Boshi is ruining the Yoshis’ racing fun. In order to restore balance to the Mushroom Derby, Mario must ride Yoshi to victory against Boshi. It doesn’t make much sense, but it could have been a fun mini-game, even if the sole purpose was to incorporate the Yoshis into Super Mario RPG. The fatal flaw in the Yoshi-racing mini-game’s design is that players must rely on their beat-matching skills to defeat Boshi, and the Mushroom Derby theme proves difficult to follow for non-musical gamers.
5 Atlantica (Kingdom Hearts 2)
As a Little Mermaid fan, I was stoked for the return of Atlantica in Kingdom Hearts 2. Too bad the finished product turned out to be super-disappointing, because, in spite of all the dark magic, linguistic misunderstandings, and culture-shock fun of the 1989 Disney film, Square Enix focused solely on the music, and turned Sora’s visit to Atlantica into an underwater song-and-dance nightmare.
Don’t get me wrong. The Little Mermaid features some of the greatest songs in Disney’s repertoire. Problem is, Kingdom Hearts 2 reduces it to nothing more than a musical romp through the deep blue sea. Granted, you do acquire the Blizzaga Spell for completing all five Atlantica chapters, but Ariel’s corner of Kingdom Hearts 2 could have been so much more, and that lost potential was what made this mini-game level so infuriating.
4 Conversations (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion)
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion tried to implement a realistic dialogue system that would allow players to build up their relationships with NPCs in the hopes of earning vendor discounts and other goodies. The conversation mini-game cycled through four options — Admire, Joke, Coerce, and Boast — to which the NPCs would offer positive, negative, or neutral responses. Although the mini-game required players to learn NPCs’ likes and dislikes — albeit by simply reading their facial expressions as different options were selected from the conversation wheel — it was otherwise a time-consuming and pointless endeavor, whose ends could have been accomplished by other means. In the end, conversations were one of the most confusing aspects of Oblivion for first-timers, and were removed entirely when Skyrim rolled around more than five-and-a-half years later.
3 Fishing (The Legend Of Zelda)
The Legend of Zelda doesn’t have the worst fishing mini-games in the video-game world, but its constant falling-back on this, the most banal of mini-games, never fails to disappoint. The world of Hyrule is an expansive, beautiful place full of magic and mystery, so why does Nintendo insist on including fishing mini-games over something — anything — with more substance?
Now, granted, most of the mini-games in the Legend of Zelda franchise have been marksmanship-related, and any of the series’ fishing mini-games is better than Bombchu Bowling or — brace yourself — goat herding. But there’s something desperately wrong when the only thing Nintendo can do to revolutionize one of its favorite mini-game styles is to allow Link the pleasure of fishing with bombs instead of a rod. The Hylian hero deserves better.
2 Blitzball (Final Fantasy X)
If you’re being completely honest, you have to admit that the Blitzball mini-game in Final Fantasy X was truly ambitious. Square didn’t just make hero Tidus a sports star, but went one step further to allow players the opportunity to compete in Blitzball tournaments, which are accessible via Save Spheres during non-critical gameplay periods. The underwater-soccer game was far too complicated for its own good, however, and its wonky controls and hazy instructions made the mini-game even more confounding.
Thankfully, playing Blitzball was largely optional, but gamers who wanted to include Wakka in their endgame parties would need to compete in the tournaments in order to unlock his Overdrive abilities and ultimate weapon. This made narrative sense, as Wakka attacked his enemies with one of the sport’s titular spheres, but being forced to play Blitzball in any capacity was cruel and unusual punishment from Square.
1 Butt Battle (Dead Or Alive Xtreme 3)
This awful pool game has appeared in three Dead Or Alive titles: Dead or Alive Xtreme 2, Dead or Alive Paradise, and Dead or Alive Xtreme 3. The entire premise involves having two of the series’ famous competitors, clad only in skimpy bikinis, fight for supremacy over a pool float, using only their buttocks to knock the other into the water. That’s it. That’s the Butt Battle mini-game.
It’s not so much that Butt Battle is an offensive mini-game — although the teenage-girls-gyrating-in-bikinis thing does lend a heavy amount of squick to the whole affair — but that it just isn’t any good. The game uses a Roshambo arrangement of stronger and weaker attacks, which players input by using the D-pad or analog stick, so there’s not much variation to be had in Butt Battle’s “combat.” At the end of the day, it’s just a silly game with a wacky moral compass.