On October 18, 1985, the lives of North American kids were forever changed upon the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System. A total of 714 licensed games were released for this console over a ten-year period; by the time the final licensed game — The Lion King — was released in 1995, the Super Nintendo had long taken over as console system of choice.
Still, over 30 years after its debut, the original Nintendo system has a place in the hearts and minds of gamers, much of this thanks to the proliferation of emulators which allow us to play the games of our youth. It doesn’t hurt that Nintendo capitalized on this popularity by issuing their own classic edition pre-loaded with 30 games. The downside to all of this is that instead of relying on our childhood memories of glorious summer vacation days wasted in front of the Nintendo, we can now recall in all their 8-bit glory just how truly bad some of these NES games really were.
With 679 NES games released in North America, there is absolutely no way every game was a Contra or even an Excitebike. Hell, some were lucky to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project.
While some games are so bad you can’t help but love them — Spelunker comes to mind — some are best to be buried and forgotten forever in a basement next to a rat-gnawed Power Pad and moldy old issues of Nintendo Power magazine.
Released in 1988, Xenophobe introduced young home entertainment system players to what would become a familiar phenomena: a game they loved wasting quarters on at the arcade being an absolute disappointment in NES cartridge form. This was an important lesson on life being disappointing in general, however, which might be why so many younger Gen Xers are too jaded to care at this point in their lives.
Whereas the arcade version gave you the slightest feeling that you really were shooting your way through a ship infested with ravenous human-hating aliens, the NES version was flat, boring, and pointless. Once you reached 999,999 points, your counter reset and off you were to go shoot more aliens in perpetuity with no real end.
Nothing says fun to a kid like plopping down in front of the ol’ boob tube for several hours of controller-tapping through the jungles of Vietnam. Bonus points if your dad was an actual Vietnam vet, surely he wouldn’t find it triggering at all to find his kid camped out in the living room blowing up bridges and terrorizing villages on the family TV. There’s a morale meter, FFS. Because, in case you didn’t know this as you were probably not even born when it happened, morale was a real problem in Vietnam.
You can just picture the developers behind this brainstorming the idea. “Hey, that Oliver Stone movie about Vietnam was really deep, what if we take it and turn it into a game!? That would be awesome!” Why stop there? Why not Schindler’s List: The Game?
13. Back To The Future
If time travel were a possible thing, no doubt whoever had anything to do with this awful game would go back to the time in their life before they unleashed this thing on the world and stop themselves from being such huge embarrassments to the human race.
Back To The Future for NES is representative of a lot of movie tie-ins from that dark period in human history. Basically, some greedy fools somewhere realized they could tap the growing home video game market and crank out a crappy game as long as it had the name of some wildly popular movie attached to it. It seems that’s exactly what happened here. For the first part of the game, a blob of a sprite that is supposedly Marty presses ever upward (forward?) collecting clocks because why not. It’s sort of like Paperboy in that you have to avoid moving obstacles, while simultaneously preventing your brain from turning into Jell-O from that horrible repetitive song playing. Oh God I hear it now. NO!
12. Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde
Have you ever wanted to play a game that simulates walking through a boring, suburban neighborhood for absolutely no reason whatsoever? Then boy, will you love this one!
You know how in most games there is at least some kind of point, or goal? Yeah, not here. As for enemies? For a large chunk of the game, your biggest threats are suicidal feral cats and a bird crapping on you repetitively. In order to avoid them, you just keep walking. No swords, no bombs, just an incessant forward motion. Well, sometimes you shake things up by jumping. What fun! If you happen across a person who doesn’t like you, he’ll just crap out a bomb and you can jump away from it. Mr. Hyde has slightly better gameplay than his “good” alter ego Dr. Jekyll, but by “slightly” I mean in the sense that getting four of your fingers slammed in a door is slightly better than getting five fingers slammed in a door. The townspeople and stray animals get more aggressive as gameplay progresses, but that doesn’t make this game any less boring as you continue through it wondering what atrocities you must have committed in a previous life to deserve a game like this.
11. Bible Adventures
Anyone who grew up in even the most mildly religious of homes can tell you that the Bible is the greatest adventure story of all time. Animal sacrifices, burning bushes, polygamy, pestilence, it’s all there baby. Sure, they toned it down a little for the children’s Bible version, but they always left it just terrifying enough to make you want to say your prayers and stay on the right side of God.
Bible Adventures the Nintendo game? Weak. The only redeeming part of this game is how in the Moses chapter you get to throw Baby Moses like a weapon, although in true Christian video game form neither he nor the enemy are hurt. If you owned a NES and this was the game your parents bought you, you probably have more issues than how lame this game was.
10. Yo! Noid
At some point in the 1980s, a bunch of completely high ad men came up with The Noid, a bucktoothed weirdo in red Spandex with his heart set on ruining your delicious Domino’s Pizza. Why Domino’s went for this idea is beyond us, people did a lot of cocaine in the 80s. Even more odd is the fact that people who weren’t Domino’s execs loved this pizza-loving felon as well, and The Noid exploded with his own line of merch including two video games.
The premise of Yo! Noid is as stupid as you’d expect it to be. Basically The Noid runs around on various cluck missions with only a yo-yo to defend himself, and gorges himself on pizza. So, it’s kind of like college but with a yo-yo.
9. Super Pitfall
There’s a reason Seanbaby lists Super Pitfall as the 18th worst NES game of all time, and it isn’t solely due to the fact that the developers thought they could stick “Super” onto Pitfall and no one would notice the game isn’t super anything but suck. A 1988 Computer Gaming Review review of the game calls it “a [Super Mario Bros.] rehash that most NES users will be able to play in their sleep. Certainly, there is nothing in the game itself to keep them awake.” Pitfall Harry was indeed a poor imitation Super Mario, like a T-shirt you’d find in a Chinese market with a pink Luigi and some nonsensical combination of English words on it like “Go! Power! Carrot!”
The whole point of video game protagonists is to keep them alive at all costs no matter the dangers in the game, however five minutes into this embarrassment of a game and we guarantee you’ll be trying to figure out ways to disappear ol’ Pitfall Harry. Falling to his death 900 feet into a black hole of snakes and fire is too good for him.
8. Alfred Chicken
Alfred Chicken is one of those games that people against the legalization of drugs can use as evidence that drugs have a serious adverse effect on the human mind. In other words, there is no way whoever came up with this wasn’t completely high AF the entire time. Even the game music is like something you’d hear in the flashback montage of an anti-drug movie. This is your brain; this is your brain on Alfred Chicken.
It’s never quite explained why a chicken would be powering his way through an inexplicable world filled with dangerous wind-up mice and talking potted plants, but why would it be? This is one big LSD trip after all. However, like any illicit substance, Alfred Chicken is harder to put down the more time you spend with it. Who cares why there is a crack chicken bouncing through a world made of Swiss cheese? More!
7. Bad Street Brawler
Bad Street Brawler is sort of what you figure the people behind Full House think street fighting is like, like a soft-core West Side Story at the end of which everyone hugs and sweet music comes on. The game is unique in that it was only one of two made specifically for the Power Glove (the other being the totally obviously named Super Glove Ball). Remember the Power Glove? It was that ridiculous robotic hand thing that rich kid in your class had, and the only reason you hung out at his house. That and the fact that his mom was an endless supply of name brand Coke in cans.
The game follows Duke Davis, “former punk rocker and the world’s coolest martial arts vigilante.” That’s literally what the people behind this game wrote. Being a “former punk rocker,” Duke runs around town smacking people around while wearing a yellow sports bra and matching panties. We wish we were kidding. He looks less like a martial arts vigilante and more like one of the Golden Girls in that episode where they decided to take up aerobics.
6. Donkey Kong Jr. Math
Before there was Math Blaster for PC, there was Donkey Kong Jr. Math. Perhaps hoping to capitalize both on the popularity of the Donkey Kong franchise and parents’ desire for video games that did more than just teach kids how to jump, break bricks, and shoot stuff, the game was the first — and last — of Nintendo’s “Education Series.” Even Nintendo admits that the game was so awful it made them decide to ditch the whole educational game plan altogether.
Critics far and wide panned the game for a variety of sins, not least of which being that Nintendo thought it was a good idea to take something kids like (Donkey Kong) and ruin it with something kids don’t (math). As we all know, there are certainly educational video games that are well-loved by both educators and kids — think, Oregon Trail — but Donkey Kong Jr. Math is not one of them. *cue Mario dying sound*
Hook was yet another of the many, many movie-turned-game attempts made on the Nintendo platform, and like so many before it (looking right at you Back To The Future and Wayne’s World) it was basically a totally unrelated game with a movie title slapped on it in order to sell more copies. No one would have bought this game if it were more appropriately titled to align with gameplay. Might we suggest “Stubby Sword Veggie Hunter” or “Super Mario Single Guy Doing Dumb Crap,” those would have worked.
They made Peter’s weapon so short enemies were stabbing through his chest cavity by the time he was able to get a sword lick in himself, and that’s when he wasn’t busy playing basketball for no reason. So much basketball. Why? Why did they do this? Not just the basketball, but like at all.
4. Wayne’s World
The execs at Saturday Night Live couldn’t be satisfied with the success of the first Wayne’s World movie, they had to make a horrible sequel and give the green light on an equally horrible video game. What could the premise of this game possibly be?
Remember that scene in the movie where the guys appear slurping Pepsis and wearing Reebok gear and Garth says most unironically “It’s like people only do things because they get paid”? This game is so deliciously bad you’d think it’s a continuation of that joke except it probably isn’t. Why is Garth shooting homicidal musical instruments? Why is Wayne poorly karate chopping these people? There are so many questions here, and not nearly enough answers. Party OFF, Wayne, the party is off.
3. Total Recall
Total Recall had the potential to be a decent video game, in the same way that Joey had the potential to be a successful Friends spin-off. As it so happened, people didn’t care about Joey’s life after Friends in the same way people didn’t care about a sprite alleging to be Douglas Quaid awkwardly stumbling through a half-assed 8-bit world.
Like so many other NES titles based loosely on movies, Total Recall totally doesn’t recall the actual movie except in the most generous of ways. The very worst part about this game is that they didn’t even bother getting their Schwarzenegger catch phrases right; if you die in Total Recall, the splash screen reads “I’ll be back” under a pretty impressively rendered Arnold-ish face. Seriously? If you’re going to pretend this game is based on a movie, at least refer to the right movie.
2. The Incredible Crash Dummies
In the 1980s, a couple of charming (and creepy) crash test dummies named Vince and Larry found fame in a series of public service announcements developed by the United States Department of Transportation to promote seat belt safety. Well, this being America and then being the 80s, some genius thought it would be an awesome idea to profit off these two in the form of a Nintendo game. “You can learn a lot from a dummy.” Unless that dummy is in charge of making video games.
If you aren’t already painfully aware, we use crash test dummies in car safety tests because they aren’t real. They can’t get hurt. Therefore building an entire game around keeping dummies from getting hurt is a pretty ridiculous premise. It’s not like we get many opportunities to throw indestructible heroes around in a video game world, why not make a game where the entire point is to hurt them? Missed opportunity, Nintendo.
1. Princess Tomato In The Salad Kingdom
If you loved Choose Your Own Adventure books, then Princess Tomato In The Salad Kingdom was probably right up your alley. Let those plebeian classmates of yours focus on video game violence, you had a race of vegetables to control! Yeah! I bet you didn’t have many friends growing up.
It really is a book, but in game form. You’re Sir Cucumber on a quest to defeat Minister Pumpkin and rescue Princess Tomato, and no there isn’t any side-scrolling here. Nope, it’s just you and an endless stream of words and choices to guide you.
For some reason, the game has earned itself a bit of a cult following over the years, despite the fact that we have much better tedious games to play in modern times, such as Fallout 4. Now, about that settlement…