Appreciating Awful Games Is The Most Fun I Had In Ages

A few weeks ago, we already noted bringing back some youth sentiment through playing with figurines obtained from FACTS 2014 convention in Belgium. There were also a ton of games that were acquired there and they had some effect as well. In particular, this year I focused on filling up the roster with my love for obscure titles or games that mostly sound awful, but in that kind of way that needs to be witnessed firsthand. Since gaming had a big stake at the convention this year, many vendors had, admittedly overpriced, games for purchase.

FACTS 2014 convention figurines games

It’s an odd collection, this year’s purchases. That in itself was an adventure I’m thankful for embarking on. Here are some acquisitions: The Simpsons Game, State of Emergency also known as the poor man’s GTA, odd first-person brawler Breakdown, Kessen III and the god-awful Bio Freaks fighter. There’s also a Rygar remake no one asked for and I didn’t know of its existence until I saw it. Metropolismania 2 was another title bought completely blind, because the things on the box sounded dopey. People still buy games purely on boxes alone. It’s a tragic reality for any reviewer.

Two games in particular, however, were bought in the full understanding that they would be absolutely terrible, which would be perfectly acceptable. The first says it all on the box cover: Basketball Nightmare on Sega Master System. I love the Master System, but I’m also aware of all the crap that came out for it. On the front of the cover, a kid is trying to dunk on a cartoon wolf and something that appears to be a bird and a turtle in one, but with ears. Its back has similarly crappy imagery, accompanied by this blurb:

You are the captain of the Hometown High School’s basketball team. You’ve won the tournaments and are trying to win the All-American High School Championship! But then one night you had a very strange dream…

Basketball Nightmare Sega Master System (1)

I knew then and there that I had to play this crapfest. It doesn’t disappoint. In Basketball Nightmare, you manage a team of players that all look like the aforementioned captain, making the exemplary status void. Each round, a game of ball is played in some generic backdrop, like a forest, against a team of equally same-looking monsters. That’s pretty much the entire game, because its mechanisms are simplistic at best. There’s a jump button that also serves to throw a shot and the other button passes at random. When close enough to the hoop, the character can dunk, which comes in the form of a preset cutscene, so it’s nigh impossible to stop. There’s only a semblance of hope that the animation switches to one where the ball somehow doesn’t make it in the hoop.

Basketball Nightmare Sega Master System (2)

So, each game is basically a back and forth. Player catches the ball, goes to the hoop and jumps up for a dunk, then repeat. Those foolhardy enough to want to gain an advantage can go for a three-pointer, but it’s easier to try an off-chance at swatting the ball away from the opposition. Still, each round is usually decided on a timely end to the back and forth. Sometimes it’s 16-18 in favor of the player. Other times, the counter stops at 20-18. That’s some tough luck. Either way, it’s gloriously hilarious to see weird ninja creatures jump to the rim at a dojo or have those weird turtle abominations serve up a shaming back slam dunk. Basketball Nightmare could just be those preset animations and it would still be entertaining. It doesn’t even need anything else.

Another awful title was also a Master System game. Sorry, Master System; you’re awesome, but there’s just something about your life cycle that attracted the worst possible versions of games. Pac-Mania is a personal favorite. It was one of the main reasons I got the otherwise underwhelming Pac-Man Museum collection on PC (shown above). At the same booth at FACTS 2014, there was also a perfectly fine rendition of the game on Mega Drive. I, however, wanted this version for the very reason that it looked terrible. Everything about this port just looks off. Pac-Man’s face is weird, mazes are all washed out and grey, ghosts seem to only spawn one color endlessly at one time; it’s a mess.

Pac-Mania Sega Master System

Starting up the game confirms the terrible factor of this version of an arcade classic. Its sounds are nowhere near the original “waka waka” clips. It’s more of a bleep. Even the accompanying music is a shrill, repetitive beat. No sleep will happen when this game is on. The timeless gameplay of Pac-Mania can’t even save this one. Detection for pellets is unnaturally specific, given that Pac-Man’s animation doesn’t add up to the position in the field. Controlling anything on the loose Master System pad is already a pain, but the precision required here enhances that problem a lot.

After a few tries of cringing noise and smeared out environments, the music starts lining up with the port’s expectations. There may even be a little entrancing pulse hidden inside those ear-piercing tunes. Playing doesn’t get technically better, but it’s comical when things go wrong, at least. Pac-Man jumps, one of the defining moves in Pac-Mania, only to flail around mid-air and land right atop the ghost that needed to be avoided. “Why did you do that, Pac-Man?” “Why did you stroke out?” “Are you so suicidal about being put in this terrible rendition of your own game?” It’s an unwanted comedic relief, but amplified by the tireless replay value of arcade games, it’s facilitating a lot of lost time on giggles alone.

Playing both these titles alone was good for several hours of mindless bliss and that’s the point of games at the end of the day. Yes, both Pac-Mania’s shoddy port and Basketball Nightmare are technically inept games in their own right, but going into it with that in mind also balances things out. As much as reviewing games brings out the cold, calculated robot in us to gain that fleeting objectivity, there’s also no shame in being attracted to dumb things.

In fact, the amusement handed out by silly, junky games is often lost on the modern title that’s too busy trying to find the largest crowd possible. A bad, modern release either tones everything down or makes ham-fisted parodies of parodies only for the sake of it. In older games, the farce is purer and enjoyed less ironically, despite what the hipster trends may have us belief. An old junker isn’t trying to be ridiculously illogical, it just happens to try to be good and fails in oh so humorous ways. Purity; it’s something that has slipped my mind a lot in games lately. Everything is fabricated to be cold, to be calculated, to be approved by our reviewing clique. Old games just designed stuff for the joy of playing games. Sometimes it was good, sometimes it was a masterful failure.

Sometimes that’s the case, at least. There was also a Conker game on Game Boy that I bought, which I didn’t know existed. It starts funny enough, with a giant acorn kidnapping Conker’s love interest, but the adventure title is not as memorable as its later N64 classic would allude. Maybe I’ll find the nugget of enjoyable laughter in that one a bit later. There are still a lot of these terrible titles to play.

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