If there is one thing that I enjoy, it’s a “so bad it’s good” movie. Well, there’s more than that obviously, but they’re a hell of a lot of fun. The Room, Troll II, The Happening, etc. are all so awful, yet somehow enjoyable. Ultimately, the movies shine because their directors made them in earnest. They were really trying to make something good, and I respect that. But on-topic: does such a niche exist for video games? Is the medium capable of housing such things?
“So bad it’s good” video games for their story and setting
You can see this bad story and setting in a lot in games, and often, they’re intentionally bad stories. People like to chase the ironic dollar, trying to capitalize on that market. Just like how “Sharknado” was a similar attempt for film. Yet, there are undoubtedly games with laughably bad stories and settings that are entirely sincere. The two most notable ones for me are Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 and the works of David Cage. Sonic is a lot more self-explanatory. Creepy humans, bestiality, and all of the goofy edge you’ve come to expect from the series. David Cage’s placement here is something people are becoming a lot more aware of.
David Cage’s games – Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Indigo Prophecy – are infamously melodramatic, confusing, and kind of bad. Heavy Rain is the one people are most aware of, and it’s a great laugh. The second time I went through it, I could not help but laugh uproariously at all of its elements, including the nonsensical plot and silly set pieces. I’m certainly not alone here either. If you like Let’s Plays, you ought to check out Super Best Friends Play’s Let’s Play if Heavy Rain. You will surely find as much joy with their videos as I did. There are other bad writers in video games, but David Cage is perhaps picked on too much for being famous. Like Tommy Wisseau, David Cage tries his damndest.
“So bad it’s good” video games for their production quality (or lack thereof)
Much like story and setting, production quality is common intentionally lowered in order to get a laugh. Some games have it work, like Goat Simulator. Others kind of falter because they didn’t know how to do it right. The most common examples of production quality issues in games I find are visuals, glitches, and acting. For the latter, Heavy Rain fits here well. A lot of the cast’s first language is French, and you can tell. The kids’ voice actors are also quite awful. Also, the one black supporting character is ridiculous in every respect. I KNOW that there are black French people, there’s no excuse! These factors create a mess of a game, and make it hard to get super invested in the plot. It’s ultimately saved thanks to the direction, which to his credit, is what David Cage excels at.
The Walking Dead is another game that, despite being incredible in story, characters, and writing, is a glitchy mess. This is thanks to Telltale Games being entirely too proud of its terrible game engine and refusing to update it with something good. It is not uncommon to find Lee and the camera falling into the void while on a train, or Katjaa holding an invisible child, or some other absurd situation. A much less funny glitch is when you discover at the end that the game did not track your decisions properly. Even less fun is when the game glitches your save file! Ah well, at least the jank was fun.
“So bad it’s good” video games for their gameplay
Now see, this is where the premise of a “so bad it’s good” video game hits some snags. One of the things that help me enjoy “so bad it’s good” movies is that they’re comfortable and fun. To go back to Heavy Rain and Sonic 2006, these actually perfectly make my point. One is fun to play, while the other is not. The reason why so many bad movies fail to fit this mold is because they are either boring or frustrating. Sonic 2006 represents both perfectly well. For as fun as it is to laugh at the story, setting, and production of Sonic 2006, playing it is… not quite as fun. It’s a broken mess that is at times entirely unplayable. Glitches are as common as they are annoying. It’s also tedious as all get out thanks to its load times and reuse of levels.
Meanwhile, for the issues with Heavy Rain, the gameplay is neither boring nor is it frustrating. It’s easy to understand, and at times the quick time events can be downright fun. Particularly notable for me is a scene where protagonist Ethan Mars has to cut off the tip of his finger on orders from his son’s kidnapper. The thing that really makes the gameplay hilarious is the amusingly mundane interactive sequences. At one point you’re bare knuckle brawling with another guy, inputting buttons to punch, dodge, etc. At other points, you’re shaving or… having sex. Yeah, that happened, and it was as embarrassing as it was stupid.
What makes a video game “so bad it’s good”?
In my opinion, a “so bad it’s good” video game is a hard thing to do. Like I discussed, such a game needs to not only be hilariously bad, but it needs to avoid being boring and frustrating. Sonic 06 fails this for me because of how much annoyance exists in the game. Meanwhile, Heavy Rain succeeds because it is both accessible and wonderfully sloppy. There are surely games that are so bad they’re good, but they’re certainly harder to find. You only have to put up with a bad movie for an hour or two after all.
Also, my hot take. Alan Wake is so bad it’s good.
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