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by
Jeremy Swindle

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January 1, 2012 - 1:38 pm

Perusing through my massive back catalog of games from my childhood has led me to one conclusion: Games of the past have more capacity to challenge the imagination than those on today’s consoles.

Pocky and Rocky for the Super Nintendo! Can any childhood be complete without it? Come on, surely I’m not the only one who has played this? No?

In essence, the 2-D warmth of games we played as children symbolize a spoiled innocence that has been long lost, which has since been replaced by so-called “Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games” (MMORPGs) and first-person shooters. Games can still be addictive, but the enhanced technological capabilities of today often provide a shortcut. Technological innovation replaced game play innovation. Today game story lines are often bogged down with tedious cut scenes which just take away from the game play more than anything else. The titles on older systems of the ‘80s, ‘90s, and first half of the ‘00s weren’t just reduced to the number of polygons or shades of green. They relied on fun game play and clever artwork to keep their patrons entertained – instead of hooking hopeless addicts with make believe social lives which require a monthly subscription fee and the final ounces of one’s self-respect.

Perhaps though, I should be more balanced about the Video Game’s Golden Days. In some ways, it was actually the Dark Ages.

This is what Pokemon Stadium looked like when it first came out in 2000. It may have been state of the art at the time, but play it now and you’d better have some killer weed.

It would be misleading to say that all of the games from the past deserve recognition. Video games are just like all media: the majority of titles were overhyped, derivative, and poorly designed. This list covers some of the worst offenders from my own vast collection. After weeks of gaming I’ve narrowed down my list to five guilty titles that were considered classics at the time of their release but now do little more than piss you off. Play at your own risk.

5. Battletoads (Nes/Snes/Genesis/Arcades) 1990

The brawler genre of the early 90s arcade games is pretty strange in retrospect. For years hundreds of games were produced where the heroes wandered the streets beating up seemingly infinite thug antagonists. But no title in the genre was stranger than Battletoads.

Just think of them as Ninja Turtles knock-offs, only they eat insects instead of pizza. And they’re from space.  And their leader is a bird instead of a rat.

The gameplay is very similar to Double Dragon, Tradewest’s signature, arcade-style beat-em-up from the 80s. But when the 90s came around, it became clear that ass-kicking, reptilian protagonists were the way of the future. Like Double Dragon, Battletoads was notorious for its extreme difficulty. In the first level, you pound lots of pigs into submission with punching and kicking combos, which are all executed with the same attack button.

In the next level, you rappel down a long tunnel filled with crows that attack you from different directions, often making retaliation impossible. Both of these levels are difficult, but you can forget about finishing the next which forces you to jump over a sea of balls while riding in one of those speeders from the Endor scene in Return of the Jedi.

The game also features the option to have two players cooperate to beat the game, which would make the idea of victory at least semi-plausible. But trying to get through each level without punching the other player is not only frustrating, but inconceivable.

In the present day, Battletoads retains its nostalgic status in the form of a popular prank phone call perpetuated by 4Chan and other trollboards.

4.    Donkey Kong Jungle Beat (Nintendo Gamecube)

I played this abomination years ago when it first came out at an Electronics Boutique at the mall. It was probably the only time I’ve been laughed at for playing video games in public. I don’t blame them – I would have laughed at me too. I must have looked like a moron, banging on those plastic drums. Still, the gaming establishment regarded Donkey Kong Jungle Beat as a major innovation at the time it was released in 2005. The game also got undue credit merely for its ability to invoke positive memories of the groundbreaking Donkey Kong Country series for Super Nintendo.

But in reality, it was just another of Nintendo’s often feeble attempts at innovation while ripping off a more successful property, in this case the original Donkey Kong Country. The level design is repetitive and the bosses are recycled with just a few minor changes.

A gorilla with dreadlocks? Really? That’s the best idea they could come up with? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, considering this is from a development team who thinks rhythm controllers are best suited to platforming games.

This game play demonstration of the DK bongos is fairly self- explanatory, but it doesn’t mention anything about your palms turning itchy and red halfway through the first level. I’ve never played any other bongos that do this. It’s only the DK bongos that cause this unpleasant side effect, it seems.

Like Mario Party, this game is much more fun to play while drunk. The bongo drums, although stupid and of little cosmetic value, can withstand all of the inebriated pounding you can muster.

3.    Altered Beast (Genesis/Arcade)

“Wise Fwom Your Gwaaaaaaave.” This is 16-bit voice acting at its finest.

It’s also the finest part of Altered Beast. Once the game actually starts, it’s all downhill from there.

More than anything else, this game epitomized the late ‘80s game industry’s obsession with creating half naked male protagonists who went around punching stupid looking monsters. At a certain point you collect enough power-ups to alter zombie He-Man into beast man, whose form varies based on the level you’re on.

And that’s when the fun really starts, right? Wrong again, Beast Man! That’s when the game really starts to kick your ass.

Your seemingly undefeatable new beast form is no match for this poop demon that regurgitates heads.

2.    Mortal Kombat 4 (Playstation/N64/Arcades)

Back in the ‘90s, the concept of playing Mortal Kombat in 3D was every MK fanatic’s wet dream. And in 1999, those dreams were fulfilled when Mortal Kombat 4 was released on consoles and arcades.

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It was awe inspiring to see Liu King turn into a huge Shenlong dragon and chomp Johnny Cage in half, blood spraying all over the arena in awesome 3D graphics. It was nothing short of exhilarating. Even more awesome was the new female ninja character Tanya, with her face-crushing, neck snapping fatalities. In retrospect, this game was the clumsiest 2D to 3D transition I’ve ever seen, and the latter fatality is probably one of the worst in the series.

Even further tarnishing the once mighty MK series were embarrassing spinoffs such as the awkward beat-em-up MK: Special Forces and Sub-Zero: MK Mythologies.

MK: Sub Zero Mythologies could have made the list, but it was just too good. Sub-Zero fighting Ultra-man riding an obese Godzilla? What more could you want?

There was even a remake of Mortal Kombat 4 for the Dreamcast called MK: Gold, which somehow looked even worse than the Playstation version. This marked the beginning of the dark ages for the MK series, and we wouldn’t see a decent 3D Mortal Kombat game until 2004’s awesome Mortal Kombat: Deception.

Unfortunately, most of the awkward MK4 exclusive characters managed to get invited to that party as well. Some of the main characters failed to make the jump into the polygonal realm. Instead of getting the classic badass villain Shang Tsung, we get the shape-shifting assclown, Shinnok.

Problem?

1.    Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2 (Super Nintendo)

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I know what you’re thinking. “How can Jeremac, a self-proclaimed retro gaming addict, attack a classic Super Nintendo platformer!” Yoshi’s Island is widely regarded as a worthy successor to Super Mario World. Don’t be sucked in by this game’s cutesy art style or the upbeat soundtrack. Yoshi’s Island is nothing but a pain in the ass. The difficulty surpasses that of any other Mario game and the stages are so long that it gets extremely tedious during the later levels. I’d rather change baby Mario’s diapers then torture myself trying to get through the world 4 castles again.

But what really kills this game is baby Mario’s annoying screaming every time Yoshi takes damage. Wahhhhhh! Wahhhhh! Wah! It never ends! Isn’t it enough to die a cheap death without a baby screaming as you plummet to your doom? Why couldn’t they just make a sidescroller about Yoshi? That’s what I thought when I first played Yoshi’s Island. Three years later I was ecstatic when Yoshi’s Story was released for the N64. No crying babies, just lots of different colored Yoshis and fun, laid back platforming game play.

Ah, I’m feeling better already.

I don’t normally have temper tantrums when I’m playing video games. But Yoshi’s Island has succeeded in becoming the first game that has caused me to jump to my feet, toss my retro duo console across my parents’ basement and shout, “EAT S****, BABY!” at 2 in the morning. Whether it was because of the game’s in-your-face mega happy visual style, crying babies, or its over the top difficulty, my retro duo is now out of commission.

Thanks a lot, asshole.

Honorable Mention:

The N64 controller, despite being just an accessory to gaming, makes the list based on its credentials of being an oversized, overrated and poorly conceived piece of s***.

When I was seven years old and playing Goldeneye on the N64 for the first time, I thought the best way to hit the Z button on the back of the controller was to give it a sharp pelvic thrust.

Jeremy is a heavy metal musician from Bloomington, IN who will argue the finer points of fast food while also defending the ideals of Zeon. He goes by the name Lord Reptile when competing in fighting game tournaments. His main writing influences include Nintendo Power, H.P. Lovecraft, Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson. He may respond to your comments eventually, but don't be offended if Lord Reptile shows up to eat your head.
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