The world of video games is awash with genre-defining classics and entries that nearly sank the entire goddamned industry. The vast majority of games, however, are like anything else: they tend to exist in the grey area. But woe to the friendly internet-user who claims that maybe, perhaps, possibly, Super Mario Brothers 2 wasn’t all that bad.
Despite all of that, I think that most gamers have one or more pieces of digital bliss that they carry with them everywhere they go–it’s just that they carry said games in a secret pocket stitched into the lining of their underwear so that no one ever, ever sees them. Foolish Conquistadork that I am, I’ve chosen to compile a list of five of my personal favorite pieces of hate bait, in hopes that it will bring others out of the closet.
Shadowrun (Sega Genesis)
Calling this one “hated” might be a tad of a stretch, I admit. However, Shadowrun for the Genesis is nowhere near as loved, known, and respected as its massively popular SNES version. And these are two very, very different games. Far more difficult and esoteric, the Genesis port of Shadowrun was also far more wide open and sprawling. The hacking/decking sections were sublimely executed (and clearly had some influence on later games such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution). And having played both, I honestly feel that the Genesis version captured the overall grit and vernacular that make the Shadowrun setting so memorable and entertaining.
You play a shadowrunner who is searching the bleak streets of Seattle for his brother’s killer. Not a terribly new plot line, but along the way you meet trolls and dragons, assassinate Japanese businessmen, and fight alongside shamen and street samurai. I can honestly say that no Genesis game sucked up more of my time than Shadowrun. I’d play it, beat it, and then it was only a matter of a month or two before I was playing it again.
As I mentioned before, it’s hardly fair to suggest that this game was “hated”. However, the shadow that the Genesis sat in when compared to the SNES was already considerable. And while SNES’s Shadowrun is still remembered as a cyberpunk classic, its Genesis counterpart hardly gets any love at all. My unwavering loyalty to the latter puts Shadowrun firmly in this list.
Leisure Suit Larry: Manga Cum Laude (PC, Xbox, PS2)
I think that we take humor in our games for granted. Of course, we now have games from miraculous mirthmakers like the creators of South Park and the snide commentary of the folks at Rockstar. But what used to pass for humor was more akin to attitude. Sure–there were your Monkey Islands and your Bad Fur Days, but for the vast majority of companies, there weren’t a lot of designers hiring comedians to do punch-up on their latest brawler.
Oh! Oh! “They didn’t hire any comedians to do punch-up for Punch Out!”
That’s a good one. Christ, I’m funny.
The crooked eyebrow of Sonic–that snarky sense of attitude–that would have to do. And trust me, I’ll take that over Bubsy any day of the week.
So when Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude came out, I was thrilled. It was stupid, it was juvenile, and its humor ranked in there with any of the National Lampoon college movies that went direct to DVD. Official Xbox Magazine actually mourned the fact that it was so bad that they couldn’t bring themselves to give it a score of 6.9 as a joke.
And to anyone who hates this game, I can’t argue with you. The jokes are silly, the mini games are tedious, and characters look choppy as hell. In fact, this is the only game on the this list that I just don’t have any sort of justification for–god help me, I just find it to be pretty damned funny! All of the games in the Leisure Suit Larry franchise were pretty idiotic. That’s what they were for. And I know that an explanation like that one won’t exactly convert most readers–I just chalk it up to the relativity of humor.
The Legend Of Zelda 2: Link’s Adventure (NES)
There’s nothing like a sequel that goes in a different direction to help sow the seeds of rebellion. The follow-up to what is arguably the most influential fantasy video game of all time, Nintendo took The Legend Of Zelda‘s familiar “top down”, open world environment, and translated its sequel to a far more linear sidescroller with magic and leveling systems far more familiar to industry standard RPGs. And while it was a very popular game at the time, history hasn’t always treated it with a hell of a lot of respect.
I’ve heard lots of complaints on this one–often they seem contradictory. On one hand, Zelda 2 is seen as too ordinary–too much like your standard sidescroller. On the other hand, it’s just as often bemoaned for the many elements that are seen as far too different from the original. Entries since have seemed to learn from their mistake–either aping the top down style of the original (A Link To The Past, Link’s Awakening) or picking up from the massive success of Ocarina Of Time.
But I’ve always loved the second entry in the Zelda series. I had a blast not only jumping around as Link (something that you can’t usually do in other entries in the franchise), but also the act of growing more powerful as a character. The leveling system nowadays is just a point of practice, but in the 80’s, it was limited strictly to the RPGs of the day such as Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy. And while one could argue that the leveling system vs. the traditional “slowly gain access to all the toys” system of traditional Zelda games is a true matter of working hard vs. working smart, I stand by this game as an absolute classic.
And hey–it could always be worse.
Super Mario Brothers 2 (NES)
Shut up–just shut up. I can hear your teeth grinding from my desk.
Super Mario Brothers 2 was released in 1988 and I loved the hell out of it and you can bite me. Not-so-fondly remembered for its vast departure from the style of the original, SMB 2 featured four playable characters, a new attack mechanic of unearthing various plants and vegetables and tossing them at enemies, and an infamous “the whole thing was a dream” ending (which–yeah, that part sucked). Many gamers dislike SMB 2 for the simple fact that it just didn’t play like a Mario game–it felt odd, with a completely new mythology and villain set to boot.
But the truth was that Super Mario Brothers 2 wasn’t Super Mario Brothers 2 at all. The original sequel (later brought to America as “The Lost Levels”) was deemed by the Japanese as “too difficult for Americans”. But to ignore the Yankee lust for Mario was suicide, so an altered version of the Japanese game Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic was brought to the States with the Mario cast taking the place of a family of four who were trapped in a dream world. Ironically enough, the whole “it was all a dream” ending actually worked in the original given the fact that it was never meant to be a twist ending (the title Yume Kojo translates to “dream factory”).
Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest (NES)
I SAID SHUT UP.
This list entry is truly the nearest and dearest to my heart. It’s true: the sequel machine at the Nintendo headquarters didn’t always run completely smoothly in the 1980’s, and Simon’s Quest is one that always comes to retrogamer’s lips when asked about disappointing follow-ups. Rather than the linear bounce and whip style that made gamers drool with joy in the original Castlevania, Simon’s Quest introduced you to a massive and confusing world, filled with vague villagers, difficult boss mansions, and beasties that become ridiculously powerful when the sun goes down. Despite the incredible arsenal and the outstanding soundtrack, most gamers remember it as a frustratingly difficult game with puzzles that were impossible to solve unless you shelled out the cash for a strategy guide.
But none of my friends had one. And yet, we all beat the game and wore that bragging right on our chest like a medal of honor. And this is where my love of this game comes from. Many parents (then and today) accuse video games of keeping children from going out and making friends. But if it weren’t for our friends, we never would have won the game. Simon’s Quest‘s difficulty caused us to trade tips and secrets. “You have to kneel with this crystal” or “You’ve got to use this dagger”–were just a few scribbled pieces of esoterica that could be found written in my school notebooks in those days. We were an interconnected society of baby nerds, all working together toward the common goal of whipping Dracula silly (Editor’s Note: Hmm.).
I’ll admit that perhaps what I enjoy about Castlevania 2 is less to do with the game itself, and more with the memories associated with it, but I don’t think any retrogamer can claim to be completely free of that feeling. And really, it’s the memory of that time that causes lists like this one to be made in the first place.
So shut up.
COMING SOON: A review of The Empire Striketh Back and a look at Richard Rosenbaum’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles retrospective!