The holidays are almost over, and with their imminent end, the flood of AAA releases has slowed to a trickle. You've had your quota of genuine gaming fun this season. Now toss aside your Gears of War 2, Mirror's Edge and Grand Theft Auto IV discs for a few hours and discover the delightful amusements of cringe gaming.
Sure, you could watch an hour-long episode of American Idol, reveling in the awfulness and total absence of tonal (and, for that matter, emotional) stability of the early contestants. But why not get this kind of guilty pleasure from a terrible videogame? We can watch bad movies, listen to atrocious music and tune in to awful reality TV with the ferocious gusto of a disaster tourist speeding his car towards the site of an airline crash. The same should be possible for videogames.
My first experience with cringe gaming was the PlayStation 2 version of Miami Vice, which I picked up a few years ago in the bargain bin at my local game store. The '80s cop show on which the game is based is a guilty pleasure in itself: The pastel universe of its first two seasons became, along with Huey Lewis and the News, one of the main sources of '80s ridicule. But the videogame, launched 15 years after the finale of the TV series, took it a step further. It failed to recreate the signature pastel universe, overdid the colors and made the game look like Miami Vice reimagined by Andy Warhol. Then there were the inconsistent camera angles, the terribly MIDI-fied version of Jan Hammer's title score and any number of badly synchronized, badly acted cut scenes.
But these flaws didn't make me throw away the game. In fact, I kept playing it almost all the way to the end, gleefuly counting its faults. It made me wonder: Could a worse game ever have been made? Is Miami Vice the greatest gaming atrocity of all time? I turned to Metacritic.com for answers. The site smartly adds up every review score, converts them to a percentage and churns out a weighted average.
It turns out that Miami Vice, with a Metacritic score of 27 percent, was far from the lousiest game in recent history. It was beaten to the punch by a dozen other substandard products, bottoming out at a score of only eight percent. Many games in what I started calling the "Cellar of Shame" were tie-ins to movies and television shows; there is, for instance, a Nintendo Wii game based on the "Extreme Ping Pong" movie Balls of Fury (19 percent), a sorry excuse for a game based on the British comedy series Little Britain (tied with Balls of Fury) and a god-awful DS game of the even more dreadful TV game show Deal or No Deal (17 percent).