We've been spending the last couple weeks celebrating the absolute best in gaming, from our list of the 50 best games of all time to our console and genre lists. And that's all wonderful and great.
But for every awesome game, there are many, many other mediocre ones – and some truly bad ones as well. Some of those offenders have cost us time and money, and scarred us with their awfulness. Crummy gameplay, janky controls, all flash and no substance? Been there, done that. And yet some games even sink below those common problems to become legendarily horrific.
For this list, we've done something different: we've pinpointed several of the games that are widely regarded as some of the worst ever made, but then we've also introduced some personal picks along the way that were specifically memorable for us – and not in a good way. Enjoy. Or rather, don't.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Ah, E.T. – brilliant movie, but horrendous, nearly-unplayable game. It's the game so terrible that it not only helped crash the video game industry in the early '80s, but it also created the long trend of awful, licensed movie game cash-ins. Have we learned nothing from history?
E.T. was conceptualised and coded in less than six weeks to make a Christmas cut-off, and it showed in every way in this incomprehensible Atari adventure. In fact, thousands upon thousands of unsold copies were buried in the New Mexico desert: it's really that bad.
Superman: The New Superman Adventures (1999)
It's the Superman game so super they put "Superman" twice in the title – right? Nope, it's actually pretty horrendous. This Nintendo 64 trash heap is the worst superhero game ever created, and that's already a pretty rough category to begin with.
Krypton is covered in a thick haze of fog to try and mask the game's visual shortcomings, but it actually made things worse. And that's in addition to the terrible controls, dull gameplay, loads of bugs and glitches, and busted flying action.
Rise of the Robots (1994)
Rise of the Robots was billed as a next-generation fighting game that would vastly surpass Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, with dazzling 3D graphics and artificial intelligence to enhance the combat experience. And all of that was a bunch of baloney.
Instead, Mirage's game ended up being incredibly clunky: the gameplay was dull and simplistic, the controls were unreliable, and the choppy animation ruined those admittedly pretty fighter models. We feel for anyone who dropped a bundle on this game back in '94, duped into thinking they would be playing the future of fighting games.
The Legend of Zelda CD-i Games (1993-94)
One listing, three games, and untold amounts of suffering. After Nintendo's plan to make a CD add-on for the SNES went kaput, partner Philips ended up with the rights to make Legend of Zelda games for its terrible CD-i system – and surprise, the games are just as terrible.
Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon both had tolerable side-scrolling action levels, but the hammy, hand-drawn cut-scenes almost singlehandedly ruin the entire franchise. They're that terrible. And final entry Zelda's Adventure is an even worse play experience, despite its classic Zelda overhead perspective, due to janky controls and an awful frame rate.
Likewise, Hotel Mario for CD-I is pretty bad, but the Zelda games really take the cake.
Street Fighter: The Movie (1995)
So you've made a crappy movie based on a great fighting game – what do you do next? If you're Capcom and that flick is Street Fighter: The Movie, then you create an even worse game based on the movie (based on the game).
Street Fighter: The Movie still had most of the classic fundamentals intact, but something happened along the way: using digitized images of the actors from the film killed the speed of the game, with long load times compounding the frustration. It's a total misfire: a tremendously bad plan then executed horribly.
Custer's Revenge (1982)
E.T. might be the best-known Atari misfire of 1982, but Custer's Revenge is a much more deeply embarrassing cultural artifact from the same timeframe. This third-party Atari 2600 game put you in the boots of American Civil War Commander General George Armstrong Custer, and the whole goal is to avoid attacks and ultimately rape a tied-down Native American woman.
It's absolutely abhorrent, and yet some 80,000 copies of it were sold back when. Everything about Custer's Revenge is just the worst. In fact it's so disgusting we're not even going to publish a picture of it.
Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing (2003)
Chances are good that you've never heard of Big Rigs, a low-budget PC title – and given the title, it's unlikely that you'd even remember a game this generic if you ever saw it in a store. But spend a few minutes with Big Rigs and it's sure to make a strong impression.
It's awful, of course – but that's because it's clearly unfinished, like a quick demo built in a couple days and somehow released as a full retail experience. In the initial version, the A.I. controlled opponent didn't move, plus without collision detection or seemingly any kind of realistic physics model, you could just drive your massive truck freely through walls, up mountains, and outside of the terrain map.
It has become legendarily awful in recent years due to YouTube, and the reputation is well deserved. Bravo.