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5/02/2015

Top 100 Worst NES Games, #60-51

60. Castelian (Bits Studios, 1991)


This one seems to have flown under a lot of NES enthusiasts' radars, and rarely if ever gets mentioned in the same breath as other bad games on the platform.  I think I'll pin that on its relatively late release though, as it debuted on the NES after the Super Nintendo was already taking the world by storm.  But the few who did play Castelian were in for one hell of an experience.  Yes, the visuals are solid.  Yes, the rotation effects on the tower are pretty impressive for an NES game.  Less impressive, though, is its gameplay.  Your character moves excruciatingly slowly, both of your actions (firing a ball that stuns enemies and destroys certain obstacles) and your jump are inexplicably mapped to the same button (leaving the B button completely unused) and getting hit sends you plummeting several floors back down the tower, meaning you'll be retreading the same stretches of ground an awful lot.  Oh, and you're on a very strict time limit too, so if you get hit more than once, you may as well just throw in the towel right there.  Despite its colorful graphics and cute characters, Castelian is a Sisyphean chore and should be avoided.

59. Operation Secret Storm (Color Dreams, 1992)

Color Dreams was an unlicensed game company notorious among many NES collectors, starting off under this name before briefly changing their name to "Bunch Games", then "Wisdom Tree" as they changed their focus to Christian-oriented games.  Throughout their whole history, though, one thing remained consistent - their games were always exceptionally bad (and believe me, we'll be seeing a lot more of them as this list goes on).  Operation Secret Storm is one of their least offensive, though, if only because it's at least competently programmed and relatively straightforward to play.  Essentially, this a side-scrolling beat-em-up with some platforming elements, but unlike good beat-em-ups, there's no real strategy or challenge to the proceedings - get close to your opponent, mash the button until he falls down, repeat.  That's the whole game in a nutshell.  Well, there is one other thing of note: Your character's name is "George B." and the setting is apparently Iraq during the Gulf War, making this one of the first out-and-out pieces of jingoism in video game history.

58. 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.

57. Home Alone (Bethesda Softworks, 1991)

No, your eyes do not deceive you; this game really was developed by Bethesda Softworks.  Yes, the same company that brought us the highly acclaimed Elder Scrolls franchise and, more recently, produced Fallout 3 and published Fallout: New Vegas.  But before they became known for producing vast open-world RPGs, they made some pretty shameful titles on the NES, and Home Alone was one of them.  Based on the film of the same name, or more specifically, the final act of the film, you play as Kevin and must escape the two burglars who have entered your house, leaving traps behind that will temporarily incapacitate them.  And by that, I mean they fall down for about five seconds and then resume the chase completely unimpeded.  To win, all you have to to is survive for twenty minutes.  And that's all there is to it - one board that you're going to be running circles around, dropping traps over and over again and trying to survive.  Trust me, it's not very fun, and the gaudy visuals and single music track that loops endlessly don't make it any more enjoyable of an experience.

56. Bill and Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure (Rocket Science Games, 1991)


Bill and Ted was a pretty popular franchise back in the late 80s and early 90s, but not exactly the stuff of great video games.  But since when did that stop second-rate developers from trying to cash in anyway?  Bill and Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure is anything but what its title implies, as you never see both characters interact on screen (save for in some brief cutscenes) and the game isn't any fun to play, essentially just being a very lengthy and tedious scavenger hunt across several far-too-large game maps.  None of the items or people you need to find are obviously placed or marked either, forcing you to explore every single room, talk to every single person and jump into just about every tree and bush you come across until you find the item you need.  Oh, and if you go off the beaten path, you're essentially stuck (save for certain areas, which look no different than the ones you're not supposed to cross).  Then add in the short music tracks that don't loop, leaving you listening to nothing but dead silence for much of the game, and B&TEVGA is an experience guaranteed to bore you to sleep long before you ever finish it.

55. Castlequest (ASCII Corporation, 1989)

Another game that may have been considered marginally decent at one point in time, but which has aged absolutely terribly.  Castlequest is essentially a maze exploration game, having you collect keys, open doors and navigate obstacles while fending off the occasional enemy with your (very short) sword.  The problem comes in the fact that none of this is well executed at all.   Your character's movement and jumping is extremely slow and awkward, making levels a chore to navigate.  Your sword is virtually useless against most enemies, resulting in lots of cheap deaths.  The one music track in the game is very short and seemingly made to be as irritating as possible.  But worst of all, the whole experience just comes down to finding keys, opening doors, escaping a room and coming to another room full of keys and traps just like the last dozen or so you cleared.  It's not fun, it's just tedious.  But at least they give you fifty lives to compensate for the lousy controls...

Fun fact: The Japanese version is called "Castle Excellent", standing alongside Bill and Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure as proof that if a game has "excellent" in its title, it's sure to suck.

54. Hudson Hawk (Ocean, 1992)


So, what's worse than a bad movie?  How about an even worse game tie-in developed by Ocean, a British company infamous for churning out bad licensed video game adaptations at a staggering rate throughout most of the early '90s? From the Addams Family to Cool World to the Untouchables to a few more games we'll get to later on this list, there was seemingly nothing they wouldn't crank out a lousy tie-in for to make a buck.  Hudson Hawk is definitely one of their worst examples, though.  I suppose it's a bit innovative for being an early example of stealth-based gameplay, but the problem is it's handled extremely poorly.  Controls are slippery, obstacles barely give you a split-second to traverse them, and your only weapon - a tennis ball you throw to stun enemies - is thrown a short distance and at an awkward angle, and therefore almost useless (and before you ask: Hudson Hawk never once throws a tennis ball in the movie).  But the real killer are the unclear objectives, with the game failing to tell you essential things for clearing levels like that you're not supposed to touch the floor or that you have to punch the painting to reveal a wall safe, making the whole game a matter of frustrating trial and error.  But it's not the worst game Ocean would release for the NES, oh no sir.

53. Hook (Painting By Numbers, 1992)


Why, what a surprise, another bad NES game that ties into an unpopular film.  And though Ocean is only the game's publisher, it has a lot of hallmarks of their games - a gaudy color palette, slippery controls, and extremely uninspired gameplay chief among them.  Hook is a drab platformer made into a frustrating experience by the fact that your weapon simply doesn't seem to work - you can stand right next to an enemy and stab away at them, but you'll never do any damage at all.  So your only option is to avoid them or take a hit and slip past while (very briefly) invulnerable.  Not that you'll want to because it just means trudging through another uninspired series of platforms hoping you don't slip off, touch water and die (complete with grating sound effects and having to watch your character fall all the way from the top of the board to the very bottom of the level and off the screen).  I'd tell you to avoid it, but considering that it came out after the SNES debuted and it has Ocean's name prominent on the label, that should just be common sense.

52. Little Red Hood (Sachen, 1990 in Taiwan and Australia)


Speaking of shovelware companies, here's another one for the list - Sachen.  A Taiwanese company that published a lot of generic puzzle and mahjong games, as well as a plethora of lousy action titles.  The few that did get a western release were certainly worth sneezing at too, with such "classics" as Master Chu and the Drunkard Hu, Mission Cobra, Galactic Crusader and of course Little Red Hood, with the last definitely being their worst.  The game is a lousy overhead action title, having you hunt for keys and randomly appearing treasures to unlock the path to the next level whilst avoiding enemies (which you have no defense against save for a dog that randomly appears and defeats enemies... causing them to respawn instantly on the edge of the screen).  That's bad enough, but then there's lousy platforming, ugly visuals, one constantly looping music track that was seemingly written by randomly bashing keys on a keyboard, and enemies that camp right on top of items you need, requiring that you either buy an invincibility potion (which lasts only a scant few seconds) or lose a life to get them.  A bad game all around, but when your company's business model is to shovel half-baked crap into stores for a quick buck, what does it matter, right?

51. Menace Beach/Sunday Funday: The Ride (Color Dreams, 1990)

Another turkey from Color Dreams, possessing all of their usual hallmarks of drab visuals, choppy animation, sloppy hit detection and controls, and level design that runs the gamut from bland to frustrating.  However, Menace Beach also takes the frustration factor of their other games and cranks it up to a solid fourteen, with bosses that can only be killed by random chance (yeah...) and absurd physics and platforming across precarious pits and death traps that makes completing the game all but impossible.  So why did anyone play it?  Why, for the 8-bit cheesecake, of course; each time you die and continue, your girlfriend's clothing "rots away" slightly until she's wearing practically nothing.  No, it doesn't make sense.

The game was also released again as "Sunday Funday" in 1995, giving it the dubious honor of being the last NES game released (discounting homebrew titles).  Aside from that, the only difference is that some of the character sprites were changed and your goal is now to get to Sunday school.