Nostalgia is a powerful feeling: it can bring back happy memories, but it can also make us overlook some pretty egregious flaws in the things we have loved. Case in point: Here are eight games that were fairly lousy — but people insist on loving them anyway.
Disclaimer: Despite literally everything I’m about to say below, I personally love each and every one of these games. Nostalgia really is potent stuff.
Batman’s first of many forays into the world of gaming was... well, it was bloody weird. And about as un-Batmannish as you could possibly get.
Released for the ZX Spectrum and the Amstrad CPC at the height of Batman’s descent into grittiness in the mid 1980’s, Batman was a bizarre, isometric action game where Batman navigated the strange, distorted, and garishly colored locales of the Batcave searching for parts to the Bat-Hovercraft in an attempt to go and save Robin. The Dark Knight didn’t fight goons, he fought floating eyeballs and weird yeti monsters. This game controlled poorly, it looked atrocious and none of its convoluted puzzles made a lick of sense.
And yet, Batman is fondly remembered despite its inherent terribleness. Demakes and fan-made emulators regularly re-adapt the game for newer platforms, but aside from being the first ever Batman game (which is probably why it’s still beloved, to be honest), it’s remembered for its first experiment with the concept of checkpointing in video games, meaning that players could save their progress mid-level. I mean, that feature was convoluted as hell, like the rest of the damn thing, but it’s something to be remembered by.
Ah, Shadowrun. The seminal science fantasy tabletop RPG, known for its strategic depth and layered mechanics. So after a decade without a game adaptation, what better format to translate Shadowrun to than the multiplayer shooter! Wait, what?
Shadowrun released in 2007 to absolute bewilderment, not just because it was a multiplayer-focused online shooter, but because there was hardly anything to it. The game had cut a single-player campaign before release due to resource issues, and what was left was a handful of maps and gametypes that kept players engaged for about a week before they wondered where their $60 had gone.
But all these years later, the game has a small but dedicated fanbase who cherish this weird outlier in the world of Shadowrun Games (the franchise has since returned to RPGs, with much acclaim), running their own servers long after official ones were closed for good.
Oregon Trail was meant to be an edutainment game teaching people about the long treks settlers took across the old west. In a way, it was educational, but not really about the plight of the budding Pioneer: it taught you that every choice you will ever make is wrong and you will kill everyone you care about with your mistakes. They’ll die from snakebites. They’ll die from starvation. They’ll accidentally shoot themselves with their guns. And yes, they’ll die of dysentery. Repeatedly, again and again.
Oregon Trail was phenomenally difficult, even more so for a young kid — so instead of really teaching them something, it traumatized them into watching people die horrible, horrible deaths over and over again, and have it all be on them. It wasn’t a game, it was emotionally-scarring frustration wrapped in a disk.
And yet, the game, through multiple spinoffs, remakes, and pastiches, has sold over 65 million copies since its first release, on almost every platform under the sun. Oregon Trail’s childhood-ruining trauma unites generations of kids in nostalgic remembrance as they recall their settlers (often named after friends and family, who were likewise often regaled with tales of their gruesome in-game deaths) and their tragic fates.
Nothing unites people like tales of their loved ones pooping themselves to death, apparently.
Before Tron Legacy gave us creepy CG Jeff Bridges and a thumpingly good Daft Punk soundtrack, the classic film (itself kind of bad upon hindsight, despite its beloved status) received an official continuation in the form of Tron 2.0, a first person shooter so aggressively bland that not even Bruce Boxleitner reprising his role as Alan Bradley could save it.
Trying to cater to the then resurgence of the first person shooter’s popularity, 2.0 quickly tossed aside the iconic identity disc weapon and replaced it with standard assault rifles, snipers and shotguns (covered in glowy lines because, I dunno, Tron) as players trudged through the computer world trying to stop not FCon, the even more sinister organization that had taken over Encom. It was received well critically — partly because of its link to the classic Tron — but bombed financially, to the point that Legacy director Joseph Kosinski flatly denied its place in the Tron canon with the arrival of the new movie.
Those who did purchase the game loved it despite its flaws, creating a burgeoning community that picked up where developer Buena Vista chose not to, after a meagre 2 years of support. Communities sprang up to maintain the game — and additional singleplayer and multiplayer levels, as well as even a fully fledged expansion, were created. Talk about fighting for the users.
I’m fully prepared for the fact that even mentioning Shenmue in relation to this list will probably lead to some people wanting me strung up (or whatever the internet equivalent is these days), but goddammit people: Shenmue was not very good, and we should probably stop clamoring for a third one.
First released for the Dreamcast, Shenmue was quite unlike anything before it. Following protagonist Ryo Hazuki as he tried to avenge the death of his father at the hands of shady gangsters. Sounds like an intense, riveting Japanese action game, right? Nope. Shenmue was a bizarre quasi-life sim that had players slowly trudging around a digital simulation of 1986-era Yokosuka, talking to people, fulfilling menial tasks, all to advance the sluggishly cinematic story.
At the time, Shenmue became an instant classic, praised for its scope and uniqueness. But its most determined fans also forget that the hallmarks of modern gaming that they find so loathsome — a focus on cinematic storytelling rather than gameplay, quicktime events, and so on — were popularized by Shenmue. It was unique, yes, but not great.
But it’s become iconic because of the fervent demand for a third entry in the series, originally scrapped after Shenmue II underperformed, to the point that many would have you believe Ryo’s adventures were the second coming of Christ if it meant that there might be a Shenmue III. Some things are best left forgotten, and Shenmue is one of those.
Shadows of the Empire was a weird intersection of pop culture and gaming history. Part of the media tie-in extravaganza in the fledgling Star Wars expanded universe that covered books, comics and games, Shadows of the Empire was also one of the first games available for the new Nintendo 64 when it released to much excitement.
But reviews were mixed. Bad controls, less than stellar visuals (that the N64 struggled to run at times), a lackluster story and bland shooting levels were just some of the glaring flaws that people pointed out. Yet Shadows is still beloved among Star Wars fans for one reason. This was the first level:
One of the first 3D recreations of Empire Strikes Back’s Battle of Hoth, Shadows’ first level was so good, so nostalgia inducing, to this day most fans forget that there was actually a terrible game attached to it.
Battletoads is fondly remembered today for its difficulty. But Battletoads wasn’t just difficult, it was hellishly challenging. This is a game so hard it basically sabotages the player on purpose, to stop them from succeeding — right down to the infamous Turbo Tunnel level, which saw players trying to navigate through a perilous obstacle course on a hoverbike that almost felt like it was moving at the speed of light. Full caches of lives saved through skillful navigation of the preceding levels were depleted in moments, time and time again, as you watched your poor Battletoad smash into something, dying in a fiery, taunting explosion.
Games are meant to be fun. Battletoads wanted to take your fun and shove it down your damn throat repeatedly until you choked to death. Gamepads were flung across the room, cursewords you were probably too young to be uttering were shrieked in frustration.
And yet, this Rare series is still subject to rumors of a revival, spoken about in hushed whispers as fans dream of Microsoft (who now owns Rare) announcing a sequel or a remake, desperate gluttons for punishment wanting more. Liking Battletoads is akin to the video game equivalent of Stockholm syndrome.
Is it possible to have nostalgia for something that’s only five years old? In a way, nostalgia for Deadly Premonition is sort of like nostalgia for something far older (and arguably far more worthy of such sentiment).
Originally called Red Seeds Profile in Japan, Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro’s goofy comedy/horror game had its heart in the right place: a loving pastiche of Twin Peaks that saw kooky FBI agent Francis York Morgan investigating a murder case with weird, supernatural undertones in a rural American town. But its low-budget nature belied its heart, with horrendously clunky gameplay mechanics, bizarre and frequently terrible voice acting, and atrocious graphics leading to it being savaged by critics upon its release.
But for those who played it, Deadly Premonitions’ heart shone through, earning it a cult status and a diehard fanbase for the game and its oddball and endearing creator. The comparisons to Twin Peaks aside, the strange and often insane story and characters of Greenvale, Washington gripped people in such a way that fan reaction was strong enough to see Deadly Premonition get a director’s cut with expanded content (and even slightly improved visuals!) to market, three years after its release.
Got a game that you love, despite its horrible, horrible flaws? Don your nostalgia goggles and let us know in the comments.