I still remember the first bad game that really burned me.
The year was 2002. I was wearing out my copy of Dead or Alive 3 on the Xbox, and Jann Lee was my combatant of choice. I was a huge martial arts movie fan, and Lee’s silky-smooth combinations, flowing mannerisms and high-pitched shouts were spot-on. This game made me feel the way it should feel to play as a certain legendary martial artist with whom my character shared a last name.
I fell in love with that experience, so when an actual Bruce Lee game – Quest of the Dragon – launched, I had to have it. Visions danced in my head of controlling a character who was as fast and as fluid against multiple assailants as Jann Lee. What could possibly be better than Jeet Kune Do in an action-adventure brawler?
Turns out, pretty much everything on the Xbox could be and was better. Quest of the Dragon is an abomination. Enemies were boring and repetitive, combat broke down to spamming the same couple of combos, the graphics were substandard, and the controls, which should have let me massacre foes with the same beautiful violence that Jann Lee employed in DoA, were unresponsive to the point of being game-breaking.
I was heartbroken, but more importantly, I was pissed. I had just blown $50 on one of the worst games of that generation, and when I finally beat Quest of the Dragon, it was done mostly out of spite. It had taken my money, so damnit, I was going to get my money’s worth.
Perspective is a funny thing, because I look back now and I feel fortunate – yes, fortunate – for having played Quest of the Dragon. You see, I hadn’t thought much about that game until I picked up Sleeping Dogs last year, snapped off my first combo as Wei Shen, and marveled at how good it was. This was what a martial arts brawler should feel like, and as I tore through the game, I loved it more and more because it wasn’t Quest of the Dragon.
Playing that terrible Xbox game gave me the baseline for everything a game could do wrong, and that perspective made me appreciate everything that Sleeping Dogs did right. In fact, I’ve started playing some of the worst titles available just to gain an appreciation for the quality of well-made games.
You should too.
The truth is, most gamers today rely on a steady diet of AAA titles to feed their video game appetites, and unless you have an unlimited budget, buying the wrong $60 game can be a significant hit to your allotted gaming fund. This is an expensive hobby, and that’s why video game reviews are taken far more seriously than movie reviews, and that's why keyboard scud missiles are aimed at any reviewer suspected of being biased or unfair.
It isn’t until you play a game that does the little things wrong that you appreciate the ones that do them right.
An odd thing happens when you’re only eating top-shelf steak; you start to lose taste of what makes it special in the first place.
I see this a lot with series that are on regular release cycles like Call of Duty or Halo, or when franchises like Devil May Cry move in a new direction. You can dismiss it as trolling or fanboy ranting, but I’ve heard “that game sucks” in reference to good games from plenty of real, intelligent people who I know personally. Simply put, they’re wrong.
Take Call of Duty. The plots might be contrived and the set pieces predictable, but nothing about Call of Duty on a fundamental level sucks. You want a first-person shooter that actually sucks? Play Darkest of Days, a mess of an FPS with invisible walls, glitchy aiming, glitchier enemies, and a preposterous time-travel plot. That came out the same year as Modern Warfare 2. Play it, and then try to tell me with a straight face that Call of Duty sucks. It’s impossible.
If you only play a few games all year, I can see how your perspective gets skewed. If you only bought Borderlands 2, Far Cry 3, Halo 4 and Black Ops II last year, one of those games is going to be your least favorite, probably by a big margin, and it’s easy to say that your least-favorite game sucks by comparison. Little details that make a quality game so special like tight controls, reliable and consistent hit detection and physics, intelligent AI, lighting, and draw distance get taken for granted, because most quality games do those things well to begin with. It isn’t until you play a game that does the little things wrong that you appreciate the ones that do them right.
I am a big advocate of playing terrible games for the aforementioned reasons, but I understand that you might be skeptical and wondering why you should waste time and money on a substandard product. Bear with me.
My proposal: On the weekend before the release of a game that you are really looking forward to, pick up a terrible game in the same genre and revel in how awful it is.
Gamestop has a fantastic used games return policy where you can return a used game with a receipt within seven days of purchase for a full refund, and since bad games tend to sell poorly, they can usually be found used for a few dollars apiece. This serves our purpose perfectly.
As far as why you should invest the time, think of it as cleansing your palate with water in between drinking fine wines. You’re shocking your system, washing away the expectations of the last great game you played before starting the next great game anew.
My proposal: on the weekend before the release of a game that you are really looking forward to, pick up a terrible game in the same genre and revel in how awful it is, much in the same way you’d watch a terrible movie. Excited for WWE 2K14 this October? Throw in Lucha Libre AAA Heroes del Ring for a few hours of sluggish wrestling and limited match types. Stepping back into Sam Fisher’s boots in Splinter Cell: Blacklist? Pick up Naughty Bear for third-person action/stealth done wrong.
The best part is, there is almost always some fun to be had in a game, no matter its review score. After all, bad video games are the yin to good video games’ yang; there is always a little bit of bad in the good, and a little bit of good in the bad. Darkest of Days lets you go Rambo with futuristic weapons on Civil War enemies, which is as ludicrous as it sounds. No game has made me laugh harder than Rock Revolution the first time I heard its unlicensed cover of “Chop Suey,” which is a testament to all that is suck. And Quest of the Dragon? Well…. At least it has Bruce Lee on the cover.
Seeking out bad games goes against everything we learn as consumers and gamers, but try it before you judge it. I promise that your gaming experience will be better for it.