There’s a lot of injustice in this crazy world of ours. Why are big bastardly businesses throwing people out of their homes in the name of profits? Why do we turn a blind eye to the hungry and needy? Worst of all, how can Timbaland be called a ‘musical genius’? This is, after all, the man who brought us the lyrics ‘bounce, like your ass had the hiccups. Bounce, like we was ridin’ in my pickup.’ Put down that Ivor Novello award, Timbaland, that’s not for you.
This streak of injustice runs right through the video game industry as well. Oftentimes, brilliant and innovative new titles don’t get a fair shake, passed over because they lack a multimillion dollar franchise’s name on the front of the box. It’s a sad, sad time. This sort of thing has surely led to the rise in developers and publishers churning out HD remasters by the billion, for fear of actually trying something creative and failing.
All of that said, though, it’s also important not to go too far in the other direction. Being innovative and spangly new just for the sake of it usually isn’t the way to go either. That sort of thinking leads to the Virtual Boy and holy hell was that a car crash wrapped in a migraine wrapped in a disaster. Too much imagination is a dangerous thing, friends.
The Oculus Rift of the 80s faded into obscurity for a reason and so did these bad boys. Buckle up and brace yourself for 20 of the Most Horrible Video Games You’ve Never Heard Of.
20 Bionic Granny
I’m a guy with simple tastes. I like game titles that shoot from the hip and get straight to the damn point. Bionic Granny knows that its USP is a freaking granny who’s bionic and you bet your ass that it’s going to flaunt her right in the name there. Good job, Bionic Granny. I like your style.
What else do I like about the game? Nothing, that’s what, because it’s ass. In this obscure 1984 Commodore 64 title, you play as said grandma and your goal is to hit small children as they leave school. The crossing guard, quite understandably, thinks you’re a jerk and attacks you with lollipops. Hit children for points, hit a lollipop and you lose a life.
I’ve no idea why this was a thing, but a thing it certainly was.
19 Desert Bus
In Desert Bus, you play the role of a driver cruising down the long, diabolically dull route from Tucson to Las Vegas. This is a good eight hour journey in real life and the game wanted to emulate that whole experience as realistically as possible. In real time. There are no passengers, no traffic, and a tow truck hauls your ass way back to the beginning if you run off the road. And you handle like a shopping cart.
In this snarky sim’s defence, it was designed to be awful. Desert Bus was created in 1995, as a satire against the anti-gaming attitude that was rife at the time. It was about how utterly craptacular reality can be, a middle finger to those who believed the fantasy worlds of video games were the enemy.
As a wise man once said, a poor workman blames his tools. Gamers are more than familiar with the I-suck-at-it-so-it’s-broken mentality. It makes us feel better; everyone wants to reassure themselves that they’re uncontrollable badasses rather than poor lonely gauchos who eat slices of bread straight from the bag with the drapes shut.
It’s important to know what truly ‘broken’ means and, if you’re not sure, Trench is here to teach you. It arrived on BBC Micro in the early eighties, a ballachingly bad take on the iconic Death Star trench run from Star Wars: A New Hope. The problem was that you couldn’t attack the TIEs tailing you and their shots were programmed to fire anywhere in your immediate vicinity. Whether they missed entirely or destroyed you was solely luck-based.
Sounds diabolical, doesn’t it? That’s because it was. If you ever did manage to fire your Proton torpedo into the exhaust port (which is not a euphemism from sex ed class), you’d lose control and die anyway. Shocking stuff. The game looked appalling too, so I’ve subbed in this shot from Star Wars: Rogue Squadron N64 to spare your eyeballs. If you’d prefer the original Trench visual experience, just squint a bit. Then jam a pen in your eyes.
17 Happy Room
Happy Room is horrible in an entirely different way. It’s not a bad game, more of a beautifully sadistic and gory one. If running a tiny cartoon man’s ‘nads across a line of buzzsaws sounds like your bag, this one’s for you.
Sure, we’re talking more Itchy and Scratchy than Mortal Kombat violence, but this whole thing still makes me cringe a little. Happy Room is an indie title from Mana Potion Studios, which sees you testing a range of fancy-ass new weapon tech on ‘highly durable human clones.’ The upshot of this is that you place crossbows, spike traps, mines and other such tools of deathly death around a small factory room, then throw in your little dude and see how much damage you can cause his various body parts.
More damage, more money, more elaborate and lethal setups. It’s like a hilarious little circus of death and more Steam gamers need to get on board with it.
16 Hotel Mario
Now, it’s safe to assume that everyone on the damn planet knows who Mario is. Nintendo’s moustachioed maestro is a pop culture icon, up there with Mickey Mouse, Justin Bieber and self-entitled whining on social media. He’s best known, of course, for his umpteen million platformers, but he’s dabbled in the obscure, craptacular side of gaming too.
One utterly bizarre steaming brown heap of an example is Hotel Mario, which hit the Phillips CD-I (yep, that was a thing) in 1994. The premise of the game is that Bowser, great green a-hole that he is, has commandeered seven hotels in the Mushroom Kingdom. Your goal, then, is to move through each stage and… shut every door. That’s it and it’s as crap-your-pants exciting as it sounds. One of the oddest puzzlers I’ve ever seen.
15 Ride to Hell: Retribution
That’s one badass-sounding title for a video game right there. What could possibly go wrong here? It sounds like an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie from back in the day. Well, it sounds like every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie from back in the day, because they were all pretty much the same (someone wrongs Arnold’s character in some way, Arnold shoots said someone, plus all of someone’s buddies for good measure).
Prior to release, we were promised an open world biker game in the Grand Theft Auto vein, but this was nothing of the sort. After being delayed numerous times, Ride to Hell: Retribution arrived on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC in 2013. It was a mess of awful controls, the kind of dialog that makes you want to punch your own ears in the face, and diabolically-animated sex scenes in which both parties are fully clothed. I don’t know if mama gave these Hell’s Angels wannabes ‘the talk,’ but that ain’t not the way babies are made, Billy Joe. This was a ride to hell alright, but not in the way the developers intended.
*Dramatic fanfare* PEPSIMAN!
If soft drinks companies haven’t already won you over with their sterling work in kicking poor villagers out of their homes and diverting water supplies, maybe you need a little more persuasion. If that’s the case, here comes Pepsiman, more interactive propaganda than video game.
For Pepsiman, there is no damn problem that Pepsi cannot solve. Thirsty soldiers? Give them Pepsi. Vending machine empty? Fill that mother with Pepsi. Uppity amputees bothering you? Give them a can of Pepsi, it’ll probably make their legs grow back. Pepsi is love. Pepsi is life. All of these (well, the former two) are problems you’ll face as the superhero mascot, in this peculiar PS1 endless runner from 1999. Remember those Crash Bandicoot levels where you’re running into the screen pursued by the polar bear/dinosaur, dodging obstacles and such? It’s just like that, but much, much worse. And with Pepsi.
13 London Racer
No. Nope. Nuh uh. I’m from London, developers, and I called BS on this one right from the title alone. Have you seen the roads around here? This is what they look like, right here. They’re completely gridlocked; full of those iconic red buses and hairy-assed builders in their white vans, shouting lewd ‘compliments’ at any big-boobed women who pass them by. It’s impossible to 'race' in any sense.
How did 1999’s London Racer deftly solve this problem? By just about completely removing all traffic –or anything of interest at all—from the streets. The visuals are diabolical, the collision detection non-existent, the all-round turd factor of the game high. You’re just cruising along very slowly around lifeless stretches of grey. Which is, admittedly, how London life feels a lot of the time, but that’s not really what they were going for here.
12 Sneak King
Just in case you didn’t get your fill of horrendous ‘advergames’ from Pepsiman, here comes a batcrap crazy stealth game from Burger King. As company mascot The King, your objective is to deliver sweet, sweet patties o’ justice to hungry NPCs around the levels. Oddly, your target will instantly lose their appetite if they spot the player, so you’ve got to be sly. Think Metal Gear Solid, only with Snake delivering artery-ravaging fast food to the guards. Which, if you’re reading this, Konami, sounds like a freaking fantastic idea waiting to happen to me.
Sneak King was released on Xbox and Xbox 360 in late 2006, as part of a trio of promotional games sold with Burger King’s value meals. Just to slake your curiosity, the other two were garbage as well.
11 Santa Claus Saves the Earth
Now, this is arguable, but in my view, the platformer genre is full of more craptacular imitators than any other. They’re just so easy to make. You throw a big helping of cutesy cartoon backgrounds, a lame protagonist and a pinch of repetitive gameplay into the platformer-o-matic, it craps out something identikit and terrible at the other end, you package it and (attempt to) sell it. Telegames’ effort Santa Claus Saves the Earth is a perfect example of this laziness; a half-assed festive themed fun vacuum from 2004. The visuals are saccharine enough to tear the enamel from your teeth at fifty paces (and they’re an affront to your eyeballs, as you can see), the controls suck, and the level design is so lazy that every boss battle takes place on the exact same stage. It just couldn’t be any more hackneyed.
Here’s another curveball coming straight at your faces. Like Happy Room, MadWorld isn’t horrible in the just-plain-rock-bottom-bad sense of the world, it’s horribly violent. What we have here is an obscure and mature Wii title, released by Sega and PlatinumGames in 2009. Imagine, somewhere in a distant corner of Bizarro World, Smash TV and Sin City had a lovechild. That lovechild would be MadWorld.
Our hero, Jack Cayman, finds himself embroiled in a grisly gameshow called DeathWatch. Gladiatorial combat, essentially, only with a dude with a badass chainsaw arm and without the sexy loincloths. Your goal is simply to rip your opponents apart in horrifyingly brilliant and creative ways, using the terrain and whatever else you can get your hands on, all in the name of kill combos and highscores. MadWorld is a lot of mindless fun and it has one hell of a sense of style.
9 The Fight: Lights Out
Damn you, The Fight: Lights Out. You took our dreams and trampled them into the muddy, muddy ground, laughing like Doctor Frankenstein as you did so. The three of us who’ve ever heard of you, that is. When the PS3’s Move doohickey arrived, you promised us an authentic boxing/street fight experience, which would use the fancy PlayStation Eye to bring perfect motion control (even depth perception) to the genre.
What did you deliver? A whole barrel of batcrap, that’s what. As with most attempts at motion controlled fighting games on the Kinect and such, the game was utterly broken. It failed to register your inputs at all most of the time. It was like trying to play Hey You Pikachu! and discovering that the little yellow mouse wouldn’t listen to any of your damn commands; simply giving you the tiny rat-finger because you weren’t speaking its native Japanese.
Now, if you ask any gamer about the most bizarre video games of all time, the usual contenders will be brought up. Cho Aniki, for instance; that much-loved shoot ‘em up featuring near-nude dudes thrusting their crotches about with way too much gusto for my liking. In my eyes, though, we’re sleeping on some real contenders where weirdly weird weirdery is concerned and one of them is 1994’s UniRacers.
Apparently, in the early SNES days, Nintendo saw a real niche in the market for a racing game featuring peculiar anthropomorphic snail-unicycles. I can’t imagine how or why this ever became a thing, but its utterly bland track design and cheap mechanics (roll to win, my friends, roll to win) suggest that it really shouldn’t have.
7 Hong Kong 97
Do not adjust your eyeballs. It’s supposed to look like that.
I firmly believe that Hong Kong 97 is one of the strangest Japanese video games ever made. By Japan’s standards, obviously, that’s a hell of a thing to declare, but I think it deserves the title. Let’s take a look.
According to legend, Japanese games journalist Kowloon Kurosawa developed this multidirectional shooter in a single week. It’s set around the transfer of Hong Kong sovereignty in 1997, and kind-of-sort-of-if-you-squint-a-bit follows those events. The few poor souls who have heard of this abomination know of its horrible, horrible, use of copyrighted images as backgrounds (see the sexy screenshot right here), as well as how piss-poor it is in absolutely every possible respect. In its native Japan, it has some cult notoriety, being given the legendary status of kusoge (‘crappy game,’ in a so-bad-it’s-good sort of way). So it’s got that going for it I guess.
6 Night Trap
Night Trap? Night Crap, you mean. How do you like taking both barrels of the wit shotgun straight to the face, developers? It’s no less than you deserve.
This absolute travesty hit the Sega CD in 1992, one of those dreaded ‘interactive movie’ games that mama warned you about. For the uninitiated, this meant that the game really played itself for the most part, giving the player the odd QTE and such to complete. The plot was moderately interesting, centering around a group of young women at a slumber party who must be defended from vampires called Augers, but the execution was awful. Think of this one as a primitive Five Nights at Freddy’s (you ‘catch’ the Augers by switching between a bank of security cameras to watch them on), I guess; depending on how much you hate that franchise.
5 Hulk Hogan's Main Event
Oh, Hulk. I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed. I expected better of you. I remember your Honey Nut Cheerios ad from back in the eighties, where you declared that the cereal was ‘better than a body slam.’ That was some acting prowess right there. Come on, Hulk, you’re better than this.
Like The Fight: Lights Out, Hulk Hogan’s Main Event promised to be some kind of amazing new dawn for motion-controlled fighting. This one was released for the Kinect in 2011, way too late for Hogan to be relevant any more in the first place. It had an awful career mode, which is only right considering that Hogan’s own career had died on its ass by then. Also like The Fight, the tech was horribly implemented and it wasn’t remotely entertaining to play even when it did register your inputs correctly. Which was never.
4 Super Turk
Back in the early comic book days, Superman’s creators couldn’t quite settle on what exactly his powers were. It’s difficult to set limitations on such a badass being, after all, so more and more outlandish abilities were added to his repertoire as the issues went by. Leaping tall buildings in a single bound? Screw that. That’s for sissies. Why not just full-on flight?
In this regard, the Turkish take on the character really got the short end of the straw. His only superpower, it seems, is the ability to swat flies with very low wattage eye lasers. This is the extent of his talents in Super Turk (the mobile game adaption of the Turkish Superman movie), at any rate. How are you supposed to feel when you’re playing as the Man Of Steel in a video game? Like an unstoppable death-juggernaut, that’s how; a camp-caped horseman of the apocalypse. How are you not supposed to feel? Like you’re playing that ancient flyswatting minigame from Mario Paint.
Now this 2012 horror title really is horrifying. It all starts with a relatively interesting premise: You are Lana, protector of a young autistic psychic girl named Amy. You are the only two people in a city in the grip of a zombie plague, to which Amy is immune. She’s able to protect you from it, too, leaving you as reliant on your charge as she is on you.
There was some potential here, but everything is so terribly executed. The combat is utterly shambolic and far too frequent. The stealth sections are jarring. The controls are entirely hit and miss, making simple actions like picking up an item from the floor feel like some kind of MENSA hazing ritual. Amy is just an all-round bad time.
2 Pony Unicorn Astronaut
Enough said. Case closed. With a name like that, we’re clearly on to a winner here. Let’s take an admiring ogle at one of the worst things on the App Store, Pony Unicorn Astronaut.
To be fair to the game, it does exactly what it says on the tin. If you come here looking for an astronaut pony unicorn, you will not be disappointed. As the hilariously-translated developer’s intro to the game states, "You command a mighty Pony Unicorn that braves the space only with his magical powers and his Astronaut Helmet with WiFi antenna. You won't something crazy like this on App Store!" In the light of that, there’s really nothing more I can tell you about this one. My work here is done.
For the last entry, I’ve decided to play it as fast and loose with the word ‘horrible’ as possible. Rabbit is an obscure arcade fighter from 1997, populated by all manner of bizarre brawlers. From boob-amundo anime girls to anthropomorphic pig-men and Frankenstein-like lumpen giants, there’s something for everyone right here. Think of it as a twisted, cartoony, Street Fighter II through the rabbit hole sort of deal.
Mechanically, I must admit, the game isn’t all that bad. It blends the parrying and countering of Last Blade with different elements of other fighters, and is a kind of parody of the genre. What makes this one a true horror to behold is the aesthetics. My god, that’s some frightening character animation right there. Not to mention some of the most horrifically grating sound effects I’ve ever heard in a video game. It’s like a nightmare for the eyes and the ears.