The 86 Worst NES Games: #s 25-1






                                                                                               #25 – AFTER BURNER



Just when you thought it was safe to play Sega’s After Burner on your NES, the licensing gods cursed every illegally produced cartridge, making the result thoroughly unplayable. Controls barely work, the game’s POV is nausea-inducing, and the on-screen action is nearly indiscernible. Even before Genesis did what Nintendidn’t, Sega and Nintendo refused to play well together.


                                                                                                       #24 – STUNT KIDS



Playing Stunt Kids is like careening down a sidewalk of broken dreams. There are no stunts in the game – unless you consider staying balanced on one’s bike a stunt. It’s amazing that these kids ever qualified to race on obstacle courses, given their penchant for falling down. Stunt Kids had potential (the obstacle course designs are pretty neat), but there’s little use in trying to make these kids stunt or much of anything.


                                                                                                 #23 – DEADLY TOWERS



The so-called “worst NES game of all time” might not be as bad as they say, but it’s still in the “top” 25 so I wouldn’t call it “good,” either. Offenses include: overly strong enemies, laughably bad hit detection, poor sense of direction, among other things. Deadly Towers is a frustrating reminder of how not to rip off Legend of Zelda


                                                                                                  #22 – HUDSON HAWK



Bruce Willis and “friends” (i.e. movie studio executives) really thought “Hudson Hawk” was going to be a hit, didn’t they? I mean, they commissioned a really bad Nintendo game out of it. That’s what all the other top film franchises of the ’80s and ’90s did! Hudson Hawk‘s difficulty (unplayability) stems only from the character’s poor jumping abilities. If he could jump higher than a couple inches off the ground, you might not be reading this blurb right now.


                                                                                                             #21 – HYDLIDE



Hydlide was a flawed, but interesting game when it first released in 1984 for Japanese computers. Many of the mechanics it introduced, however, were downright primitive by the time of its NES re-release in ’89. Dragon Warrior and The Legend of Zelda in particular refined Hydlide‘s grueling combat system and password save features. Today, Hydlide is a go-nowhere grindfest – a shame, given the game’s innovations.


                                                                                            #20 – LAST ACTION HERO



From the review: “First mistake: Arnold can’t punch someone without taking at least one hit. Ever. Since the enemies constantly regenerate and come at you or are located where you can’t hit them in the level, your lives will go down like so many shattered pelvises. I’d honestly be surprised if this game was beatable without a Game Genie. It’s just that cheap.”


                                                                                                       #19 – RAID 2020



A creepy protagonist in a trench coat who doesn’t move in the direction you want him to go; empty levels that won’t complete until you go through them several times; enemies that refuse to die; guns that refuse to fire at a normal rate. Raid 2020: A Color Dreams Joint.


                                                                                          #18 – DESTINATION EARTHSTAR



Like Star Voyager, Destination Earthstar gives the appearance of depth via convoluted gameplay. Take a look at that screenshot: it’s possible to know what’s happening in the map, but even when you do, that doesn’t make the markers any less ridiculous. And when you run out of ammo (despite the fact that you’re a fully equipped space craft), make sure to take an aggravated selfie and post it in the comments section; for posterity and my own amusement.


                                                                                  #17 – ULTIMA: WARRIORS OF DESTINY



Warriors of Destiny is one of the slowest, choppiest games I’ve ever been forced to play. Imagine you’re behind someone driving fifteen miles-per-hour in a sixty mph zone; that “someone” is your in-game party. The menu replacing commands (like ‘Talk,’ ‘Open,’ etc) with symbols annoyed me too, but mostly, it’s the game’s lack of speed. If you want to discover how much patience and perseverance you really have, give Warriors of Destiny a try.


                                                                                                  #16 – ROBODEMONS



Robodemons is an unlicensed Ghosts ‘N Goblins ripoff created by a company that had no business making games of any sort. The aggressive difficulty stems from the main character’s underpowered boomerang weapon and overabundance of enemies. The character/level designs are tacky, the controls are all over the place, and the gameplay consists of absorbing the hatred of the so-called Robodemons. I fold.


                                                                                       #15 – TOP PLAYERS’ TENNIS



The only tennis game on the NES where you don’t play tennis. Oh, you may prepare for a game of tennis. You may get excited by the four-player option, the silly Miracle shots, the ahead-of-its-time create-a-character feature. Once you realize you’re simply unable to serve the ball over the net at all, you’ll question whether Top Players Tennis involves tennis, gameplay, or anything besides Chris Evert and Ivan Lendl’s misguided sponsorship.


                                                                                          #14 – ROLLERBLADE RACER



More like LOLlerblade Racer, am I right, friends? Yeah, as a matter of fact, I am right. When you can achieve the main goal of the game (to collect 5000 points) in the first stage, but the game forces you to complete every stage thereafter, something’s wrong. Rollerblade Racer feels like some poor game developer’s lost bet.


                                                                                                #13 – GHOSTBUSTERS



Ghostbusters makes everything a chore. Want to drive across town? Don’t run out of gas and be forced to start at the beginning. Need to capture a ghost? You have a small window of time to do it, and the ghosts are insanely difficult to capture. Want to ascend Gozer’s Tower? Prepare to climb dozens (yes, dozens) of staircases very slowly while ghosts suck the life out of you. I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghosts, but I will forever keep my distance from Ghostbusters.


                                                                                      #12 – OPERATION SECRET STORM



Operation Secret Storm is a gritty sandstorm to the face of justice. Unbalanced controls, erratic enemies, pathetic hit detection equal a triple play of poor game design, and that’s just the tip. It is, without a doubt, the worst Color Dreams game ever made. Low praise indeed.


                                                                                                       #11 – SPELUNKER



From the review: “Spelunker descends into levels via elevator. Scattered across the cave are pulleys, ropes, and stairs to bring you to high places. Jump too high off of any of these platforms, and Spelunker keels over dead. Other ways to kill Spelunker: falling into a hole, standing too close to a bomb, hitting the top of certain ceilings, being touched by a ghost… Spelunker should be a hearty cave explorer, not a 120-year-old with brittle bones. Also, three lives and you’re dead, no continues, no concessions. No thanks. A distinct gaming premise ruined by poor mechanics.”


                                       #10 – JIM HENSON’S MUPPET ADVENTURE: CHAOS AT THE CARNIVAL



Chaos beyond control. The five Muppet-driven mini games in Muppet Adventure are enough to make a grown man cry-y, particularly Grover’s “Lost in Space Ride,” Animal’s “Crash Car Course,” Kermit’s “Raging River Ride,” Fozzy’s “The Amazing Ice Cream Maze,” and Kermit’s “Moon Mishaps.” Wait, that’s all of them? Consider my cheeks soaked! 


                                                        #9 – ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE AND FRIENDS



In Rocky and Bullwinkle, you’re forced to use your special move to kill enemies – any enemies. If you run out of your special move, you absorb the enemies’ hits. Can’t avoid ’em, can’t hit ’em, even though Bullwinkle has horns that could easily penetrate through one’s solar plexus without too much trouble. Also, I loathe this game’s graphics, feel, all-around existence. Go suck a lemon, Rocky, Bullwinkle, and friends.


                                                                                                      #8 – CIRCUS CAPER



Circus Caper combines several things I hate into one evil-soaked platformer: circuses, clowns, knee socks and the children who wear them. Mostly, I can’t handle the clunky controls, abhorrent hit detection, and the one-life-and-it’s-game-over madness. When progression feels like more trouble than it’s worth, it’s time to abort the caper.


                                                                                     #7 – THE LAST STARFIGHTER



From the review: “…because of the lack of things to shoot, the wonky controls, the horrible placement of your ship in the center of the screen, and the huge amounts of luck that it would take to actually beat the game (let alone progress past the first level) The Last Starfighter is less a shmup than a malevolent entity bent on causing human beings pain and suffering. And I’m not a man given to hyperbolic statements or long Faulknerian sentences.”


                                                                                     #6 – THE GREAT WALDO SEARCH



“Man, Waldo’s just not trying anymore.” With these words, Bart Simpson inadvertently summed up The Great Waldo Search. Waldo is almost always out in plain sight in the game’s five levels. Find him and a scroll in each level and the game’s over. FINAL PLAY TIME: Ten minutes. I generally agree with the adage “Quality over quantity,” but when there’s hardly any content to begin with, it becomes a moot point. The Great Waldo Search is a pathetic excuse of a virtual Waldo book.


                                                                                                    #5 – HOME ALONE



In Home Alone, the goal is to trap Harry and Marv consistently for twenty minutes. Succeed and the cops come to pick them up. Fail and the game is over. So… if you succeed, you have a twenty minute long game with zero replay value. Want to play just for the heck of it? Harry and Marv are difficult to trap, and the limited one-screen gameplay seems more suited to an arcade experience than a home console game. Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal.


                                                                                                         #4 – CASTELIAN



One does not “play” Castelian: one endures it. You’ll need the patience of a thousand monks to wrestle your frog up tower stairs without a) getting repeatedly hit by enemies, causing you to fall down a level; or b) falling down the tower because you miscalculated/missed a jump. Castelian controls you, hombre.


                                                                                              #3 – THE UNCANNY X-MEN



From the review: “X-Men has its obvious terrible qualities – chunky Atari graphics, melody-deprived music, tedious button-mashing gameplay – but these aren’t what make the game stand apart from other bad NES titles. No, X-Men is so much worse than the sum of its parts. Playing it, one gets the sense that LJN exerted great effort in making this game as horrible as possible. This is no slapdash effort. It takes long man-hours and rolled-up sleeves to make a game this foul. But the most confounding aspect of X-Men isn’t how bad it is: it’s that the game understands and revels in its badness.” Indeed it’s Uncanny X-Men‘s lack of shame that gives it such torturous powers.


                                                                                                #2 – DRAGON’S LAIR



Dragon’s Lair is the only game I’ve ever played where I couldn’t move past the first screen, and not for lack of trying. Dirk the Daring can handle numerous bats plowing into his face, but he can’t jump onto a drawbridge without disintegrating?! Despite being a knight, he uses daggers instead of that big honkin’ sword on his back?! Embracing death – not saving Daphne – is Dirk’s call in life. Dragon’s Lair is death in cartridge form.


                                                                                                       #1 – ACTION 52



When I first reviewed the unholy behemoth named Action 52, I played every single body-crumpling, brain-stomping game. Some games were merely bad. Others didn’t work past the title screen. Others were impossible to progress beyond the first level, due to the game’s love affair with glitches. Action 52 isn’t just one all-encompassing bad game: it’s fifty-two sorta, kinda, almost, barely games, compiled for the player’s infinite bemusement. Think of any attribute of a poorly developed title – busted controls, go-nowhere progression, lazy level design, squalid graphics – then apply them liberally across Action 52‘s coding. Such waste! Active Enterprises then had the gall to charge two hundred American dollars upon its release, as if these so-called game-like substances were worth less than four dollars a piece. Action 52 isn’t worth the brief time it takes to illegally download it, let alone physical currency. I urge those of you who haven’t played Action 52 to leave it be. Don’t seek it out. Repress your curiosity. If a cartridge could destroy worlds, it would be Action 52and it would destroy yours without hesitation. It is the worst NES game (s) of all time.


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