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4/27/2015

Top 100 Worst NES Games, #100-91

I got to thinking that it was high time I did another top list, but where could I turn?  I'd exhausted almost every video game platform I own.  I could do PC or Arcade games, I suppose, but I don't think I'd be giving a lot of them a fair shake because I hadn't played a huge number of those games in their heyday and wouldn't really be able to give them a fair assessment as a result.  But then it hit me: Why not do a list of bad NES games?  That platform brought us a lot of immortal gems, certainly, but there were also a lot - and I mean A LOT - of bad ones.  And the ones everyone knows about (mostly from exposure to the Angry Video Game Nerd and other caustic critics) are only scratching the surface of the awfulness the platform had to offer.  So I decided, why not.  Let's bring some other obscure baddies to the surface and give them the shellacking they deserve.

Oh, and I also imposed one simple rule: I'm only counting games that were commercially released in the heyday of the system (1985-1995).  So no homebrews or reproductions, no unreleased games, and none of those penis-laden racist ROM hacks every twelve year old with a copy of Microsoft Paint churned out back in the late 90s.

100. Hydlide (T&E Soft, 1989)

Hydlide honestly wasn't a bad game for its time; it was one of the first action-RPGs ever released on Japanese computers, and had quite a bit of longevity and content for a game that ultimately took up less than 40 kilobytes of space.  The big problem was that its time was in 1984 and it ultimately didn't get published in North America until 1989 - five years after its original debut and two years after the vastly superior Legend of Zelda.  So everyone who saw a screenshot or two and expected another Zelda-esque adventure ended up being extremely disappointed, which was understandable, if a bit unfair.  Also not helping Hydlide's case was a heavy emphasis on grinding and  touch-based combat make it a chore to play, essentially boiling the entire process down into long bouts of enemy bopping interlaced with a lot of savescumming.  So while it was a pioneer for the genre, Hydlide's only value nowadays is as a curious footnote for RPG fans who want to see where the (much better) Ys series drew its inspiration from.

99. The Adventures of Bayou Billy (Konami, 1989)

For all the praise Konami gets for their highly acclaimed contributions to 8 and 16-bit gaming, people also seem to forget that they published a lot of really mediocre stuff too.  From the dull simulator Silent Service to a lousy port of King's Quest V to the aptly named "Mission Impossible", Konami was very much playing both sides of the fence for quality.  But probably their most notorious release during that time period was a game starring one Bayou Billy, a game that featured detailed visuals, solid music and a variety of gameplay styles... and a difficutly level that could generously be described as "worse than Battletoads."  Yes, Battletoads was extremely difficult, but if nothing else, it at least gave you a fair, albeit extremely harrowing, chance to succeed.  Bayou Billy has no such benefit - enemies take ludicrous amounts of damage to put down, have virtually no recovery time after taking a hit and you seemingly die in only a few hits back from them.  And they are relentless, never giving you a chance to even catch your breath throughout the stages (with the penultimate stage being all but impossible unless you saved a whip from an earlier level - which entails not dying at all to that point).  Bayou Billy is nothing short of an aggravating experience, and some catchy tunes and decent zapper segments couldn't save it from itself.  But hey, at least it had a pretty damn good comic book adaptation by Archie Comics.

98. Friday the 13th (Atlus, 1989)

One of those licensed NES games whose notoriety has only grown over the years, Friday the 13th had you, as a group of six camp counselors, trying to fend off the undead monster Jason as he attempted to wipe out all the children and counselors at Camp Crystal Lake.  This was made all the more difficult by endless hordes of zombies, wolves and birds, Jason being super-fast, overly damaging and two shades short of invincible (with upwards of 8 hits being required just to shave one tick off his health bar) and the fact that all but two of your counselors were virtually useless, having either slow foot speed, weak jumping, or both.  Oh, and you had to kill Jason three times to win, with him getting faster and stronger each time you did so.  Still, despite the game's absurd difficulty and heavy emphasis on random chance, I can't really hate Friday the 13th - if nothing else, its gameplay is like nothing else out there, combining elements of RPGs, survival horror, action platformers and even a bit of a Mike Tyson's Punch-out feel in the 3D cabin segment battles.  So while it is a heavily despised game (and that notion isn't really unwarranted), it's also a unique experience that no other company has ever attempted to replicate, and for that reason it will probably retain its cult following well into the future.

97. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Rare, 1989)

Another licensed NES title, and while it may not be the worst game to fall under that umbrella (far from it, in fact), it still has a lot of bizarre design decisions that make it a generally disliked game among NES collectors.  For one, while the game presents itself as a puzzle-oriented adventure game, it really doesn't play like one at all; you're not "following clues" or "piecing together a mystery" so much as you are wandering from building to building, searching every object for randomly-placed usable items and hoping you don't get killed by rats, cats and falling objects.  The fact that you're collecting so many weapons and have a chargeable punch also implies it to have an action element, but the only time it ever really comes into play is when you get into a (very rare) random fight with one of the weasels and at the very end, where a battle with Judge Doom awaits that is so ludicrously difficult and disconnected from the rest of the game in style that it frustrated the overwhelming majority of gamers into giving up entirely.  Still, there is a bit of charm to be found in the game's bizarre design, and hey, sucker-punching random people (and Roger) around the room is always good for a chuckle.

96. Renegade (Technos, 1987)

Kunio is a beloved franchise among many old-school gamers, particularly with River City Ransom and its numerous over-the-top sports games that put as much emphasis on pummeling your opponents as they did on scoring points, but it did not get off to an auspicious start.  While the two-directional attack scheme was pretty innovative for the time, the clunky hit detection, overall difficulty and ugly visuals certainly didn't win it a lot of points.  Nor did the later levels, which were very frustrating exercises in trial and error as you attempted to maneuver through mazes of doors, with one wrong move taking you all the way back to the beginning of the level and forcing you to try again while giving you none of your health back.  At at the end of it all you had a final boss who could whip out a gun in the blink of an eye and shoot you dead in one hit, bringing a quick end to your run and forcing you to start the game from scratch.  The NES had quite a lot of good beat-em-ups, but there's a very good reason people always go for Double Dragon, Mighty Final Fight and the TMNT titles over this one...

95. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: Hillsfar (Marionette, 1993)

Released on PC platforms between two Dungeons and Dragons PC titles (Pool of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds) and intended to be an "in-between" adventure players could use to build their levels and gold reserves before the latter's release.  As you could imagine, though, this makes the NES version's existence rather pointless since there was no practical way to transfer data between games (and Azure Bonds was never released on the NES anyway).  Which is a shame, because the game has just about everything it needs to be a decent title in its own right - some good graphics and animation, clever minigames that range from archery, lockpicking and traveling paths on horseback while avoiding potholes, and of course good old fighting.  Hillsfar attempts to create an action-oriented D&D experience and honestly succeeds for the most part, but the lack of a real plot or any direction to its gameplay unfortunately just makes it all feel meaningless.

94. Wall Street Kid (Sofel, 1990)


One of those "why does this even exist" games, Wall Street Kid, as its name suggests, is about investing in the stock market to earn a big enough profit in order to not be disowned by your rich family.  Exciting, right?  Well, even the developers seemingly thought that weak premise wasn't enough to carry a game, as they tried to work in a dating sim element as well - you have to work out to maintain your health and spoil your girlfriend by buying her things and going on trips with her, or your character will fall into depression and end the game.   So if you ever wanted to play a simulation that highlights the life of being a negative stereotype of a rich person - shallow, greedy and obsessed with lording their wealth over others - I guess this is the game for you.  The rest of us would probably be better served by investing in a more entertaining game.  Or in the actual stock market; your choice.

93. Magmax (Nihon Bussan, 1988)

Magmax is a perfect example of a competently designed game that just isn't much fun to play, taking the form of a dull, side-scrolling shoot-em-up with a generic futuristic motif.  Said motif is really the only thing of note about it, having you fighting some fairly clever boss designs (pictured: three-headed robo-dragon) and your ship being able to add parts onto itself until it becomes a giant walking mecha with a laser beam firing from its chest.  Other than that, though, Magmax is purely one-note and repetitious, with irritating music, an overall bland aesthetic and levels that seem to stretch on forever.  The NES had plenty of other unremarkable shoot-em-ups, but Magmax is one that particularly grates on me for having a cool concept that it utterly fails to take advantage of...



92. Rambo (Pack-in Video, 1988)

Good old Pack-in Video brings us another mediocre licensed title in Rambo.  Based on the film Rambo: First Blood Part II, which you'd think would lend itself to some fast-paced run-and-gun action in the vein of Contra.  However, they instead took it in a completely different (and much worse) direction, instead turning it into an action RPG with confusing navigation (thanks to similar looking environments and an unintuitive map layout), bizarre enemies and some extremely wonky hit detection, making landing hits on enemies and avoiding damage yourself much more difficult than it needs to be.  Other "fun" design elements include being stuck and unable to proceed if you make a wrong decision at the middle of the game, a broken password system that enjoys giving out invalid passwords (resulting in hours of lost progress) and even being able to glitch through floors in some areas and end up back at the beginning of the game.  Pack-in obviously wanted to cash in on the success of Zelda II, but they forgot the most important element - making the experience enjoyable instead of tedious and frustrating.

91. Deadly Towers (Lenar, 1987)


One of the first Japanese RPGs to be released in North America, and like Hydlide, it's another example of a game that was decent in its day but which has not withstood the test of time.  Once again, there is a very heavy emphasis on grinding in order to earn money and upgrade gear, and the sheer size and number of enemies in each tower you had to traverse was downright staggering, requiring you to either have an impeccable memory or make maps.  Death also came very easily, with enemies able to deplete your health in only a few hits and you easily being able to fall off the tower to an instant death in almost every room, only exacerbated by the fact that you frequently had to exit rooms via very narrow pathways with nothing stopping you from slipping right off.  There's a lot of content and longevity for a 1987 release, but with the advent of far more refined and playable action-adventure games like Zelda, Crystalis and Rygar, Deadly Towers was destined to be left in the dust.