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5/05/2015

Top 100 Worst NES Games, #40-31

40. Power Punch II (Beam Software, 1992)

Power Punch II is a bit of a strange case, being intended as a Nintendo-commissioned sequel to Punch-Out where Mike Tyson would fight aliens after having defeated everyone on Earth.  Yes, it's silly.  But of course, this came at a time when Tyson's legal problems were beginning to become prominent, and Nintendo, wanting to maintain their family friendly image, pulled the plug on the project.  However, Beam Software didn't want all the work they did to go to waste, so they found a new publisher (American Softworks) and released the game under a new title that had nothing to do with Mike Tyson (and confusingly gave it the title "Power Punch II" despite there being no Power Punch I).  So with the backing of a company responsible for the classic Punch-Out, you'd think this would be a pretty solid game, right?  ...Ha ha, no.  Of course not. The controls are off, the hit detection clumsy, and your opponents so ridiculously strong that every fight just boils down to pixel-perfect dodges and perfectly timed punch combos that doesn't feel fun or rewarding, just arduous.  If it were handled by a less shovelware-centric company this could have been a hit, but in Beam Software's hands, it was doomed from the very start.  How ironic that only a year later Beam would release Shadowrun, which is not only considered to be their crowning achievement, but a classic SNES RPG to boot...

39. Wally Bear and the NO!  Gang (American Game Cartridges, 1992)

American Video was another in the early 90s mostly known for, well, shovelware.  They brought us such classics as Solitaire, Puzzle (a slide puzzle game), Trolls on Treasure Island and Mermaids of Atlantis (a generic puzzler later released with edited graphics as one of the infamous Panesian porn games).  They also published quite a few lackluster titles from American Game Cartridges, including the lousy anti-drug themed Wally Bear and the NO! Gang.  Obviously based on the well-intentioned but ultimately ineffective "Just Say No" campaign from the 80s and 90s, and it makes about as compelling as a gaming experience as you'd think.  Go through generic level full of enemies (whom you defeat with awkwardly-thrown frisbees), traverse platforms with clumsy physics (unsurprising since you're on a skateboard), get a short speech about the evils of drugs and booze, eventually finish the game.  Contending with generic and ugly visuals and ear-piercingly shrill music certainly doesn't help its case either.

38. Baby Boomer (Color Dreams, 1989)

How do you mess up a Zapper game?  Color Dreams found a way.  And with their debut title, no less!  It's another escort mission game, having you (using either the Zapper or a reticle controlled via the D-pad and A button) to protect a baby from all sorts of hazards.  Like improvised explosives, rats, snakes and cats, every single one of which wants this baby to die a horrendous death.  Making matters worse are constant pitfalls (which you must bridge by shooting a cloud to drop an ice path... yeah) and, in later levels, the baby literally venturing through a graveyard, Hell and the ever-annoying maze of doors with rooms that all look the same. That's bad enough, but it's not always clear what you need to shoot or why in order to clear a path, and the lovely random-note music turns the whole ordeal into a head-splitting migraine very quickly.  It's a bit ironic that a game with such a dark theme would come from a company later known for their Christian offerings...

37. Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road (SNK, 1988)

I didn't think such a thing was possible given the exceedingly low quality of the first game and the fact that this port was handled by SNK themselves, but Ikari Warriors 2 is somehow even worse than its predecessor.  How is that possible?  Well, take the same incredibly unresponsive controls, make your character twice as large a target, have enemies swarm you constantly and take multiple hits to kill, and give the player one life to complete the entire game on, that's how!  ...Yes, you do at least get a health bar, but when any single enemy can just clip into your sprite and drain all of your health while you're completely helpless to stop them, it really don't make much of a difference, now does it?  Even the substantially improved visuals (honestly not bad for 1988), some decent digitized voices and the addition of an inventory system that allowed for a larger variety of weapons couldn't prevent this game from being almost unplayable.  All I can say is that thankfully SNK upped their game over the next few years with offerings like Crystalis and the many excellent fighting games on their AES hardware. They learned their lesson with this franchise as well, turning the NES port of the third game into a much more playable, if very average, overhead beat-em-up instead.

36. Darkman (Painting By Numbers, 1991)

Another movie licensed film released in the same year as PbN's Robocop 2, and unfortunately, it suffers from the same faults of uninspired gameplay, gaudy visuals and controls that rank among the worst ever seen in the platforming genre.  The physics are just completely wrong - you slide like you're on ice while walking, yet come to a dead stop when landing from a jump.  Balancing on ropes is a clever idea, but awkwardly handled by alternately pressing the A and B buttons, with a mistake at any point causing you to jump off or punch the air, then fall off (usually into a pit).  Then you factor in bad hit detection, ugly graphics and countless cheap deaths due to the lousy level design, and you have another crap sandwich brought to us by Ocean.  So is there anything good about this game?  Well, the title screen looks pretty nice, and the game does work in Darkman's talent of disguise in a pretty clever minigame segment.  That's about all I can give it though...

35. Captain Planet and the Planeteers (Chris Gray Enterprises, 1992)

Ah Captain Planet.  Another media franchise born from an ultimately ill-advised attempt to shoehorn education and activism into dumb action cartoons.  You'd think it would at least have the stuff of a decent video game with its protagonists who use magical powers to summon an elemental-themed superhero, but nope, they completely threw away that idea here.  Instead, make way for a slow, generic side-scrolling shmup where you're given a limited supply of four different types of ammunition, each of which fires in an extremely slow and/or awkward pattern, to take out enemies.  Kind of runs counterintuitive to every other game in the genre, no?  Well, add on levels that drag on for far too long and repetitious waves of the same three enemies over and over again and you've got this game in a nutshell.  But the concept really goes to waste in the even-numbered levels, where you control Captain Planet himself and must fly around punching enemies and using elemental powers to traverse obstacles.  Unfortunately, your powers and your health both run off the same health bar, and both using them and taking hits will drain it in few seconds, so these levels turn into an exercise in both frustration and attrition.  Oh, and the slightest touch against standing slime, oil, etc. will kill you dead, instantly.  A decent idea that gets squandered due to an empty, imagination-less execution.

34. Hydlide (T&E Soft, 1989)

Hydlide honestly wasn't a terrible 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.  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.

33. Muppet Adventure: Chaos at the Carnival (Mind's Eye, 1990)

Who grew up in the 80s and 90s and doesn't remember the Muppets?  Nobody, really.  They were huge, spawning a TV variety show, an animated series, several shorts that aired on Nickelodeon and even numerous feature films.  Naturally, their popularity also lent to a video game adaptation, and as is common with licensed NES games, it's honestly pretty awful.  The game is divided into five minigames, with Kermit riding a raft down a river, Fozzie navigating a maze in search of items, Animal driving a bumper car through an obstacle course and Gonzo flying a spaceship around in a segment that resembles a scrolling version of Asteroids.  Then at the end, Kermit enters a platformer-style stage to confront the game's villain. Sound like fun?  Well, it isn't, mostly because all of these stages are terminally repetitious and go on for far, far too long, wearing out any novelty value they may have had.  They're all technically competent, but they lack any kind of lasting appeal or variety, and when just one of them can go on for upwards of twenty minutes, it doesn't take long at all for you to get completely sick of them.  Especially not with such harsh music and uninspired visuals permeating each and every one.  Even as a kid with no standards, I knew this game was a bust within minutes of starting it up.

32. Ghostbusters (Micronics, 1986)

In the 80s, Activision produced a Ghostbusters game for the Commodore 64, which made waves for both being pretty good and for taking more of a management/simulation approach to its design instead of just being a generic action title.  You literally had to build up your franchise by catching ghosts and buying new gear in order to become a more efficient ghost buster.  The NES version, however, was less well received - the textbook definition of a game receiving an ill-advised "upgrade" on top of a lackluster porting job.  The whole "franchise building" aspect was nullified by the addition of two new segments - a button-mashing climbing-up-the-Zuul-building segment that seems to stretch on forever, and a shoot-em-up segment for the final battle.  Both end up turning the whole thing into a tedious grindfest to afford enough equipment just to survive the final gauntlet, and failure at any point meant you lose all of your progress and get to start over from scratch.  Which, considering you can spend upwards of an hour gathering enough money to buy necessary equipment just for one attempt, wasn't a particularly appealing option.  And yes, the game is also notorious for its poor English, to the point where the ending text was featured in the (much better) 2009 Ghostbusters game as a joke.

31. Pesterminator: The Western Exterminator (Color Dreams, 1990)

You know a game is bad when even the title makes you cringe with its awfulness.  Moreso when it's made by Color Dreams.  But the cringe trifecta becomes complete once you discover it's actually based on the mascot of a pest control company (which has also seen use in many other venues).  But hey, even corporate icons have had a surprisingly decent game to their name here and there, so maybe Pesterminator won't be all that bad, you think as your mind races to games like Yo! Noid and Cool Spot for the 16-bit systems.  Then you remember that Color Dreams is at the helm, which means that the game is just a boring exercise in walking from room to room, smashing each and every bug you come across with your character's mallet, and them moving on to the next stage where you do it all over again.  Complete the package with excessively loud sound effects and a garish color palette that makes the whole experience an extended exercise in torment, and Pesterminator is a lousy game based on a lousy concept.