When I was six, I fell out of a treehouse. Luckily it was only about an eight-foot drop (what can I say, we built ’em ranch-style back then), because I landed on my stomach and bounced my chin off the ground, resulting in facial disfigurement that I was certain would haunt me for the rest of my days, or at least until I turned six and a half.
The only lasting effect from my brush with rapid deceleration trauma was some minor brain bruising that completely scrambled my judgment synapses, causing them to function about as well as a year-old Xbox 360. As a result, I’ve done some pretty stupid things – one of which involved an underwear-threatening combination of road-stand Jagerschnitzel, a BMW, and a stretch of ice-slick Autobahn between Frankfurt and Wiesbaden – but nothing, and I mean nothing, reveals my own brand of piss-poor, Steve-O judgment more effectively than the fact that I not only liked, but repeatedly played, and currently own, the following games. If I’m lucky, this list will self-destruct in about three minutes.
Warriors of Might and Magic (PS2) – A hack-and-slash RPG that earned full completion from me not because of its brilliant graphics, captivating plot, or original mechanics (’cause, um…no), but because it contained two elements that I find absolutely irresistible; collection and leveling. While it was rife with clipping issues, abysmal dialogue, and mind-numbingly repetitive combat, Warriors had both collection and leveling in cascading rivulets. Basically, if a game’s main story quest consists of nothing more than retrieving a damp sheet of carbon paper from an octogenarian bookkeeper with a hemorrhoid cushion, as long as it gives up new items and experience points along the way, I’m all over it like essence on Emeril. This weakness often returns to haunt me in the form of recurring nightmares in which a giant 3DO logo eats my face.
Too Human (360) – Fast forward seven years and we’ll find that the soul of Warriors of Might and Magic has been reborn in the body of Too Human. While clearly a better game than its spiritual predecessor, Too Human captivated me in a way that few games have over the last couple of years, and I’ll be damned if I can tell you why, other than the aforementioned fondness for finding new shit and leveling up. Surely, it can’t be that simple, can it? It must have had something to do with the game’s clever juxtaposition of Norse mythology on top of a bleak cybernetic future to depict a world in which gods and machines clash in an epic struggle for control over mankind’s destiny. Yeah, not so much; basically it was the armor. And the weapons. And the leveling, don’t forget the leveling. With the addition of item color modules, Too Human added a yet another compelling mechanic into the mix; customization, which only helped prolong the agony, er…enjoyment.
Star Wars: Jedi Power Battles (PS) – This game was an ugly, broken mess, full of blind jumps, collision issues, and controls frustrating enough to make Yoda cast off his robes and pull the ears off a Gundark in a rush of Force lightning-fueled rage. In spite of its many issues, Jedi Power Battles owned me. I was its codependent bitch for months, right up until a new Voodoo 4 card allowed me to be rescued by the geniuses at Ion Storm Austin and the soul-saving intervention that was Deus Ex. While it didn’t sport any specific collection features, Jedi Power Battles did offer upgradable skills, which – combined with the Star Wars license and the attendant hum and crackle of lightsabers – kept me slurping from the trough of ineptitude until I could no longer look at myself in the mirror. Six months after the PlayStation debacle, the Dreamcast version helped propel the title to playability, but by that time the damage had been done. Luckily, the electroshock therapy was a success.
Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat (Xbox) – How do you screw up a game about pirates without including a likeness of Johnny Depp on the cover? Easy. Make said pirate a woman with improbably large endowments and deposit her in a similarly improbable plot, while including a fair measure of tedious mechanics and uninspired gameplay, and you’ve got yourself Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat. Don’t get me wrong; I’m as much a fan of endowments as the next guy, and I’d like to say that this was the reason that I played Black Kat long enough to develop a yarr! in everyday speech, but again it was my old nemesis; collection. The Legend of Black Kat included dozens of collectible items, including ship upgrades, improved hand-to-hand weapons, and buried treasure. The naval battles were compelling enough to warrant a playthrough on their own, and at the time the ocean textures were second-to-none, but that’s where its intrinsic virtue ends; the land-based segments were tiresome at best, and they represented the majority of the gameplay.
When the parental authorities discovered my arboreal ineptitude so many years ago, my first impulse was to lie about what happened; the treehouse was no Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot range-model air rifle, but it was came pretty close on the childhood scale of things I was willing to lie to protect. Of course I was busted, and of course I was grounded from climbing until my physical coordination more closely matched my ambition, which turned out to be about a year, but I learned something from the fall and its aftermath; if you’re going to be bad, be good enough to get away with it.
I’d like to think that I’m not the only one with generally questionable and sometimes downright crappy taste. While I make no claims that these are anything but bad games (though I’m somewhat reluctant to classify Too Human as such), it’d be interesting to hear some of your own examples that you’d not only be embarrassed to admit that you’d played, but that you’d secretly – or maybe not so secretly – loved.
Extra points will be awarded for earnest affection towards Daikatana on the N64.
Matt Turano is trapped in time, surrounded by evil, and low on gas.