While lists of the best and worst video games are always matters of opinion, there are some games that repeatedly come up in discussions of titles at the bottom of the barrel. Some are titles that are so completely broken as to be virtually unplayable; others make poor use of prestigious licenses or are rushed ports of superior games for other platforms. Here’s a brief sampling of the worst games ever released.
E.T. (Atari 2600, 1982)
It was one of the most highly anticipated games in the Atari 2600’s history, and one of the most crushingly disappointing. Programmer Howard Scott Warshaw, previously responsible for the brilliant Yar’s Revenge, had to write E.T. in a little over a month, and the strict deadline had a bad effect on the finished product.
To be fair, Warshaw’s design was certainly unconventional, unlike the majority of games based on films to follow. The player guided E.T. on a quest to put together a phone (so he could “phone home”, of course) while evading capture by the authorities. Unfortunately, the game required E.T. to drop into wells to collect the phone pieces, and the control mechanics made getting back out of the wells cumbersome. It also didn’t make for very exciting gameplay.
E.T. became a legendary failure, and is frequently cited as the beginning of Atari’s fall from industry dominance as well as one of the causes of the crash that nearly destroyed the console game industry in 1983. It also became the subject of a story claiming that Atari buried the unsold copies in a New Mexico landfill, often thought to be an urban legend but deemed true by Snopes.com.
Action 52 (NES, 1991; Sega Genesis, 1993)
Inspired by Taiwanese bootlegs that packed as many as 40 games onto a single cartridge, producer Vince Perri devised a title that included 52 games, all of them bad. The original version of Action 52, for the Nintendo Entertainment System, is notorious for its glitches: at least two of the games regularly crash upon launch, while the ones that work have stiff controls and repetitive gameplay. The lineup is also dominated by space shooters that exhibit little variety. It’s hard to believe this game carried a suggested retail price of $199.
The final title on the cartridge, The Cheetahmen, was meant to be Perri’s flagship game, competing with Nintendo’s Mario and Sega’s Sonic as iconic mascots. Action 52 even included a comic book giving the Cheetahmen’s backstory, and there were plans for a line of action figures. But the atrocious quality of the game put an end to those plans, and a nearly-completed sequel was never released. (Only 1,500 copies were made, and some have found their way into gamers’ hands: the Angry Video Game Nerd’s review demonstrates that the second Cheetahmen was as glitchy and broken as the first.)
The Genesis version of Action 52 featured a different assortment of games, though many were remakes from the NES cartridge. It was slightly more polished than its predecessor and less prone to game-killing glitches, but the games themselves were still sub-par.
Superman (Nintendo 64, 1999)
Usually referred to as Superman 64 in keeping with the common practice of adding “64” to the end of virtually every franchise on Nintendo’s final cartridge-based system, Superman is infamous for its poor flying control and monotonous gameplay. Most of the game is structured around challenges issued to Superman by Lex Luthor, and many of these challenges involve flying through rings. The unresponsive controls and severe time limits make even this simple task extremely difficult.
The graphics similarly failed to show off the N64’s capabilities, consisting of blocky textures and poorly drawn character models. It also made extensive use of fog to conceal the graphics engine’s troubles with rendering distant objects. This technique can be used to atmospheric effect (as in the Silent Hill series, where it adds to the foreboding quality of the games), but in Superman it’s just clumsy.
Superman outranked E.T. on GameTrailers’ 2006 list of the worst games of all time, and has the distinction of ranking in the 2009 Guinness Book of World Records as the lowest rated superhero game of all time.
Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing (PC, 2003)
Big Rigs is the ultimate example of a game being released before it was actually completed. While the promotional text on the box states that the objective of the game is to deliver illegal cargo while avoiding police, the game is devoid of enemies, and even the apparent objective of racing against opponents is rendered absurd by the computer-controlled vehicles’ failure to even move from their starting positions.
But what made Big Rigs truly notorious was its total lack of realistic physics, or any physics at all. If you want to see the absurdity of its vehicle control without suffering through the game, there are any number of videos on YouTube demonstrating the player’s truck speeding up mountains, driving through buildings, and even leaving the map completely.
Reviews for Big Rigs were almost universally negative. It has the lowest average of any game for any platform on Metacritic (8 out of 100), and the lowest percentage of any title listed on GameRankings.com (3.83%). While there have been many bad games released since Big Rigs, it’s unlikely there will be any bad enough to challenge those scores any time soon.