On Saturday (April 26), diggers working for a documentary film production company unearthed a cache of "E.T. the Extra Terrestrial" Atari 2600 game cartridges buried in a landfill in New Mexico. "E.T." is generally considered one of the worst video games ever produced, but revisiting one of gaming's darkest chapters proved an irresistible lure.
Despite the abundance of quality entertainment at their fingertips, humans have a perverse fascination with the terrible. These games may be worth a look for the masochistic, but the rest of us should view them as a cautionary tale.
In 1982, Atari released "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," a convoluted, broken mess of a game. The game's garish palette and primitive graphics failed to impress players, as did the punishing gameplay, which consisted mostly of E.T. falling into empty pits and having to expend health to get back out again. Atari nearly went out of business and ended up burying millions of unsold cartridges in the New Mexico desert, where they remained undisturbed until 2014. The documentary about the buried cartridges will be available on Microsoft's Xbox Live service later this year.
"Ghostbusters" was a movie about a group of paranormal investigators battling a variety of spirits ranging from mischievous to cataclysmic. This may seem like a perfect fit for a video game, but in reality "Ghostbusters" on the NES was a wreck. With repetitive missions, awful controls for both on-foot and driving sections and a translation best described as lamentable ("Conglaturation!" exclaims the game's ending screen), folks were better off re-watching the 1984 film than grappling with this terrible adaptation.
Fans of "The Legend of Zelda" have wanted to play as the eponymous princess for years, but when they finally got their chance, it wasn't all they hoped it would be. When Nintendo partnered with Philips to produce the ill-fated CD-i game console, it let a third-party developer take the reins for "Zelda's Adventure," in which Princess Zelda herself took the lead role. The game wound up being an exercise in frustration, chock-full of long load times, choppy graphics and incredibly obtuse gameplay.
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"Street Fighter: The Movie" on PlayStation and Sega Saturn was a video game based on a movie based on a video game. Much as Xeroxing the same image over and over eventually ruins the image, so, too, does "Street Fighter: The Movie" mishandle every element that made the "Street Fighter" series such a joy. The game combines sloppy controls, stiff animation and unbalanced characters. Not only is "Street Fighter: The Movie" a bad game in its own right, but it acts as an ignominious black mark for a beloved series.
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A Superman game is a solid enough concept, but "Superman" on the N64 failed on every conceivable level. Rather than fighting villains or using Superman's spectacular powers, most of the game was about flying through increasingly complex patterns of floating rings under draconian time limits. The slightest nudge of the control stick would send Superman flying off in random directions, and the on-foot sections weren't much better. Watching the movie "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" is more fun than this game.
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With its inventive challenges and competitive social dynamics, the reality show "Survivor" seemed like a natural fit for a video game adaptation. Unfortunately, "Survivor: The Interactive Game" was a mess of nonsensical graphics, primitive gameplay and shoddy coding. In theory, players could take control of a contestant, completing mini-games and making social alliances. In practice, the gameplay was shallow, the dialogue made no sense and the game crashed incessantly — although many would argue the crashes were preferable to actually playing the game.
A racing game's concept is simple: pit your vehicle against a host of opponents and see who can make it to the finish line fastest. "Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing," a truck-racing game for the PC, could not manage even that. At the beginning of each race in the game's paltry three levels, the other trucks sit at the starting line and never move. Moving in reverse lets you accelerate infinitely and drive clear over mountains and off into space.