Gears of War
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
Super Meat Boy
Super Paper Mario
Everybody has at least one: A game that, for one reason or another, just never appealed to you despite its presence on the "best game of all time" list for many people. A game that you're almost ashamed to admit to hating in polite company, for fear you'll be branded a gauche iconoclast (or, worse, an ignorant troll). A game that makes you question not just your tastes, but the concept of popular taste as a whole. I mean, what do people see in that game? This is an anthology of those games for some of Ars' editors.
We go into this list knowing that our picks are going to be baffling to some of you, and that we're in the extreme minority with most of these picks. That's kind of the point. Before you accuse us of just trying to "stir the pot" with intentionally subversive picks, know that the author of each of these blurbs truly and honestly just doesn't like the game being discussed. Also know that, no matter how popular a game or series is among the general public, we fully believe that every game has its flaws, and that there is no title that can (or should) be universally loved by literally everybody.
With that, let the slaughtering of the sacred cows begin!
by Kyle Orland
I was too young to catch the whole Dragon's Lair craze in the '80s, but I distinctly remember the first time I saw the game sitting alone in a movie theater lobby sometime in the early '90s. My reaction can be divided into three distinct stages.
- Stage 1: (after seeing the game's "attract mode" animation from across the lobby): Holy crap? What is... how do they get graphics like that? Is there a VCR under there? The whole game doesn't really look like that, does it? No... it can't. Can it?
- Stage 2: (after putting in a dollar—A WHOLE DOLLAR—to try it out): Oh my god, the game does actually look like that! I'm actually going to get to control a real cartoon! This is so awesome!
- Stage 3: (after making a total of one correct move before dying three times in succession): What the hell was that? That sucked!
Dragon's Lair seems to keep getting ported to new platforms in the decades since I first saw it had that arcade experience (most recently winning a coveted Steam Greenlight spot), so there must be some market of nostalgia-filled gamers whose opinions of the game probably gelled during Stage 1 and 2 above. And while I can appreciate the artistry of the animation, which still holds up today, I find the see-a-flash-and-hit-a-corresponding-button gameplay just truly, utterly, stupefyingly bad.
This isn't just sour grapes after one tough arcade play either... I spent a good deal of time struggling with a CD-ROM version years later just so I could see more of those wonderful, fluid, moving drawings. It didn't change my opinion one bit. As a short film (or even a choose-your-own adventure "interactive" movie), Dragon's Lair would be amazing. As a game, it's awful.
Gears of War
by Sean Gallagher
For Christmas in 2006, there were two things on my wish list: An XBox 360 and Gears of War. I wasn't disappointed on Christmas morning—the disappointment wouldn't arrive until some time around New Year's.
There were some innovative things about Gears of War's combat engine (shoot from cover! OMG!), and it held up well in multiplayer. But the single-player campaign came nowhere near living up to the wave of hype that Gears of War rode in on. The plot was plodding and monotonous. The AI for "squad members" and the list of commands available to direct them made them more of a liability than an asset most of the time. And then there were the absurd mechanics of that chainsaw assault rifle.
Unfortunately, after the XBox 360 etched a scratch into my first copy of the game, I actually had to buy a second before I figured out it probably wasn't even worth paying for once.
by Lee Hutchinson
Halo, how I dislike thee. A first-person shooter with few redeeming qualities, it's the kind of game that would have been released into obscurity had it not been a launch title for the original Xbox. The game sported mediocre graphics, a cliche-filled and unoriginal single-player campaign, and a tired and uninspiring set of multiplayer options. In spite of these detriments, its position as the only multiplayer first-person shooter available to Xbox users guaranteed its success. Apparently when you're dying of thirst in the desert, any drink will do, even if it's your own pee.
Halo's success is particularly cringe-worthy considering how ridiculously inferior it was to first person shooters available on PC. Its contemporaries include classic AAA titles like Aliens vs. Predator 2,Ghost Recon, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein, all of which were vastly superior to Halo in every way but one: they weren't available to Xbox users clamoring for a way to frag their buddies.
The game spawned a plethora of (much better, actually fun) sequels and has legions of fans, but the first game in the series was just plain bad.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
by Andrew Cunningham
I think it was Twilight Princess that ultimately prompted me to give up on modern Zelda games. From the outset, there was something about it that felt perfunctory. It was obviously trying very hard to build a deeper, story-driven game on top of Ocarina of Time's sturdy foundation. And while there were certainly moments of greatness strewn amidst TP's bloated, 30-something-hour running time, in the end it just felt like Zelda-by-the-numbers. Get your sword. Go to the dungeon. Find item (dah dah dah daaaaaah!). Beat dungeon and boss with item. Explore around until you finally find the next dungeon. Repeat.
Twilight Princess was really just the culmination of a long-running trend. Both Zelda and Mario, two of Nintendo's biggest flagships, are respectful of their roots to the point that they sometimes feel fenced in by their conventions. But Mario has taken what made the original games so fun—precision platforming, great level design, and pick-up-and-play gameplay—and pushed it to the fore. Newer games have even forgone the tiresome, empty hub worlds of Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy in favor of a format that puts as little time between turning on the console and playing a level as possible.
Zelda, on the other hand, has taken the best elements from the NES and SNES entries—puzzle solving, exploration, and swordplay, in roughly that order—and weighed them down with over-long tutorials, interminable cutscenes, and fetch quests that pad the games' running time without really adding much to the fun. Twilight Princess added insult to injury by replacing the precise button controls with gratuitous controller waggling (in the Wii version), making it by far my least favorite entry in the series (though, to be fair, I haven't even given Skyward Sword a chance after Twilight Princessscared me off the series).
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
by Chris Lee
I enjoy playing games, mostly when I can play together with friends and family. Skylanders has a battle mode, a co-op mode, and real-world collectibles that promised a long-lasting game experience. What could be more perfect?
Unfortunately, the story and ancillary characters and dialog are weak. The levels don't really let you explore; instead you followed a (mostly) one-way maze, solve few puzzles, and blast the hell out of any enemies. The puzzles are too simple, involving a lot of tiresome repetition. And, just to make it more frustrating, the characters move as if they were running through treacle.
The misery doesn't end there. In co-op mode, the screen doesn't split. Instead, you end up dragging each other around by a bit of virtual string. Then, because you can't maneuver effectively, a witch kills you. Want to continue? Well, you'll need a different character for that, unless you both want to restart the level.
The game was sold as fun for everyone. My kids do still play it, but, to be honest, they lost interest in it rather quickly compared to the likes of Travellers Tales' Lego game series. In the end though, what disappointed most is that co-op mode is limited to two players. Any family game worth its salt should allow at least four players.
Super Meat Boy
by Florence Ion
I understand the appeal of flopping around like a sludgy piece of meat in this indie platformer, but I found the ridiculous difficulty level was seriously infuriating. Other games have left me frustrated before, but Super Meat Boy’s challenges were so uninspired that I ended up losing interest because they took too much work and didn’t offer much reward.
For a second, let’s compare SMB to Fez, an indie game that actually lived up to its hype. No matter how difficult the puzzles were in Fez, you knew persevering would reward you with more cubes that would take you forward to the eventual ending. In Super Meat Boy, your only reward is bragging rights that you were able to jump to a ledge using some tricky maneuver. Even Super Mario Bros., a classic game it plays homage to, was more rewarding than that.
Super Paper Mario
By Cesar Torres
After years of playing multiple iterations of the Paper Mario series on the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube, I was thrilled when the 2007 Wii version, Super Paper Mario, was announced. Since I had followed the little plumber's adventures for decades across consoles, sequels, platforms, and cameos, I figured I could also go down this path with him. But Super Paper Mario fell flat, pun intended. It is one of the most overrated of Mario titles ever.
The first two Paper Mario games, Paper Mario and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, provided players with RPG mechanics using characters and settings from the Mario universe. In the Wii version, the RPG touches began to feel outdated, a little old. Mario moves through levels, mainly solving puzzles as he jumps on enemies in classic form, but mini-games and certain key battles are fought in turn-based RPG style. The 2D levels can be turned 90 degrees in 3D space for extra challenge, though the blocks and pipes confirm that yes, this is still a Mario game.
The really galling part was having to sit through a tired storyline told through dialogue bubbles. When I played it, I wondered if I was the only person who found the whole experience kind of exhausting. I finished this game out of sheer determination to get my money's worth when I first got my Wii. But why did I do it? My expectations for RPGs require that the game to make me feel emotions for the characters, and in Super Paper Mario I felt nothing. Sure, some of the text translations in the game injected a good bit of humor, but in the end, I was just trying to complete this game so I could move on to something more stimulating.
by Ken Fisher
At nearly 80 millions units sold, Wii Sports is the best selling video game of all time. Of course, it was bundled with the Wii for many years, so those numbers aren't a big surprise. But the game was also universally loved, with outlets like IGN calling it the “Sports Game of the Year.” Mainstream journalists spun tales of grandparents and grandkids bonding over a game of Wii Sports tennis. It was as if you were missing out big time if you didn't have a pal to play Wii Sports with.
Except, the game was one of the most boring, repetitive, and ridiculously easy games to ever be called a "sports game." In Nintendo's effort to bundle a number of sports together, it ended up with a broad selection and little depth. Debuting along with the Wii itself, Wii Sports was really more of a tech demo than a well thought-out game. The graphics were crummy (especially compared to contemporary Wii games like Twilight Princess, for instance), and the controls were overly forgiving and went haywire sporadically (this seemed particularly true in golf and tennis). There was no tournament mode, no difficulty scale, etc. The whole game depended solely on the "excitement" of realizing "hey, I can swing at the TV and it hits a tennis ball!"
Boxing was especially abysmal, and this broke my heart. To me, Nintendo and boxing games go hand in hand. Baseball was simplistic and silly. Tennis was too nerfed and insensitive to be really competitive. Bowling was fun the first two or three times, but then it was a drag. In the annals of "best selling video games that were a real bore," Wii Sports is a true Champion.
Do you agree with some of the games they listed? Can you name other games you think are overrated?