• Bad Rats: the Rats’ Revenge

    Smash the Cat

    “This game is a piece of pure fiction, actually we think all animals are great!”

    It didn’t always used to be this way. There was a point in time where Steam had something resembling some measure of quality control — where 90% of the contents of their digital games store wasn’t low-effort asset flips and interchangeable RPG Maker anime boob simulators. There was a wonderful era where seeing half-baked releases on the service felt something like a novelty, rather than them comprising the vast majority. And for as much as I love so-called bad games, there’s no denying that browsing Steam in this day and age can be a bit disheartening, even for me.

    Before all the three-cent trading cards and gambling for gun skins, Valve had to make their money mostly on the back of actual game sales. And before users had their choice of thousands of one-dollar games to gift to their friends as a “joke,” they may have had to spend a little more and pick from a much smaller selection. For many consumers, the bad game du jour ended up being 2009’s Bad Rats: the Rats’ Revenge — more commonly shortened as Bad Rats.

    According to Steam’s own achievement tracking, only 12% of players have played the game long enough to unlock what should seem to be its most easily-attainable achievement (beating 10 of the game’s 44 levels). If we’re being generous here, it’s still very likely that less than 80% of players who own the game on Steam have ever even bothered launching it. Because Bad Rats isn’t a game you’re meant to actually play: It is simply gifted and traded as a gag — an entry in your library that you can’t get rid of, and are meant to pass on to others like a plague.

    … But what if you do play it? Could it really be all that bad? Is it fair for folk to judge this book by it’s cover? There’s a chance that Bad Rats may simply be a victim of circumstance — unfairly maligned based on its premise alone. There’s a very real possibility here that Bad Rats isn’t quite as bad as it’s made out to be. So, let’s try our best to clear our heads of preconceived notions, and give this game the benefit of the doubt it so rarely seems to receive.

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    Hong Kong 97

    I Love Beijing Tiananmen

    “Wipe out all 1.2 billion of the red communists!”

    There’s not really a sense of mystery as to “how games get made” any more. On the AAA level, it’s all pretty straightforward: A developer is tasked with producing a game, said developer develops said game, and a publisher makes sure it lands on store shelves. On the independent level nowadays, you probably picture smaller teams pouring their hearts into their passion projects, before selling and marketing their own wares online via itch.io or Steam or wherever else have you. Of course, it isn’t always quite that simple. And back in the days before modern distribution methods? It was never that simple.

    For years, the origins of the infamous Super Famicom title Hong Kong 97 seemed to be a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. There are some who believe that it never actually existed in any sort of purchasable form — that it only ever existed as a download on ROM repositories and whatnot. Others might actually believe that it was somehow stocked alongside the likes of Super Mario World on store shelves, left wondering how the hell it could have wound up there? Naturally, neither of these theories are quite right, as we’ll discover together over the course of this article.

    This is the story of one of the crudest, most amateur video games ever sold. But it’s more than just that: It’s also a story about the spirit of the indie developer, a history lesson on video game bootleggery, and a parable on how there are some bells that can’t be unrung. It’s a story I’m actually almost hesitant to write, given that the man most closely associated with the game has recently been quoting as saying that he would prefer that it fade into obscurity once again (and for good reason). But it’s also a game that mined shock value and racism for comedy, so I’m plenty content to say “heck it, let’s rake it over the coals.” This is the story of Hong Kong 97.

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    Fight Club

    Let’s See How Tough You Really Are

    Ladies and gentlemen! Introducing; the chocolate starfish, and the hot dog-flavored art by @StarPyrate.

    Fight Club as a film is not meant to act as a blueprint for how to live your life. The Tyler Durden persona has all the makings of a sociopath and is not meant to be emulated. Yes, consumerism sucks, but so do cults of personality and hyper-masculinity. Fight Club is a work of satire that a number of people have somehow taken at face value, while also somehow completely ignoring the best lesson it teaches: We’re all slaves to capitalism, and we must break free of our shackles. Now, can I interest you in spending sixty dollars on a Fight Club video game?

    Of all the video games based on movie licenses, this feels like it might be one of the strangest. Not because the concept of an underground fight club doesn’t inherently make sense as a fighting game, because that part obviously does. It’s more to do with the fact it’s a 2004 game release based on a flop 1999 movie** — the underlying moral of which is to dissuade the toxic masculinity on display, and the plot of which is based around a character whose philosophy is that you shouldn’t blindly buy every product that’s advertised to you. It’d be like, making a 1987 NES game based on Platoon, where the only takeaway the developers seemed to get from the movie was “guns are cool” while completely missing the real message that “war is hell.” Thankfully, that never happened.

    So yeah, I’m already going into this game with a fair bit of skepticism. I’m not really a fighting game aficionado to begin with, and I’m not particularly a fan of the film it’s based on. Of course, I’ll do my best to remain fair and impartial, but come on guys: It’s a movie-based game from 2004! I’m pretty sure the only movie game that came out that year that didn’t suck was The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, and that only sort of counts. But who knows? Maybe Fight Club is a diamond in the rough that’s just been waiting for its chance to shine. Oh, who am I kidding? We all know that this one is gonna — wait, what’s that? You’re telling me I can play as Fred Durst in this game?

    … Man, forget whatever BS I was talking about, and let me tell you what I’m gonna do now: We’re gonna get this review of Fight Club rollin’, baby!

    ** Yes, the film eventually managed to earn a tidy little $10 million in profit. But that was after a failed theatrical run, and some more years after making its way to home video. I don’t believe poster sales count towards this profit total, but if they did, you could probably tack another couple million dollars to that tally thanks entirely to those damn things. I swear, I don’t think I visited one dude’s dorm room in college that didn’t have a picture of Brad Pitt holding a bar of soap on their wall.

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    Ikki (NES)

    Challenge Stage, Start

    Sowing the seeds of rebellion, one gold koban at a time.

    You know, it occurs to me that we don’t cover nearly enough classically-recognized kusogē on this website. Obviously, this is something I should be working on remedying. But if we’re gonna dive deep into the world of Japan’s “shit games” scene, we should probably start somewhere around the beginning; with the game largely recognized as being the one which inspired the very term itself.

    For slang that gets tossed around so frequently (especially on the Japanese side of the web), it’s kind of astonishing that there isn’t really a concrete source on where the term kusogē originated? Best guesstimates seem to point to an unspecified 2002 issue of Famitsu magazine, in which illustrator and author Jun Miura seemed to coin the term while writing a retrospective essay on 1985’s Ikki for the Nintendo Famicom. A conversion of an arcade game released earlier that same year, the major complaints would seem to stem from the fact it’s not necessarily a great conversion of that existing game. Then again, I can’t be entirely sure of this, since nobody seems to be able to actually provide a scan of that original Famitsu article. But hey, if noted kusogē historian Heidi Kemps seems to sign off on this being the point of origin, that’s good enough for me.**

    In any case, Ikki seems like as good a place as any to begin our descent into the wild world of Japan’s worst video games: It serves as a fairly early title in the Famicom library, predating other such titles as Takeshi’s Challenge and The Transformers: Mystery of Convoy by as much as a full year. It has an arcade counterpart that we can directly compare it against, so we have ourselves a nice little point of reference there. And above all else, it most certainly has the reputation for being one of the original kusogē titles, which more than makes it worthy of review here. So, get your homing sickles ready, folks: The rebellion begins now!

    ** Heidi, by the way, is also a wealth of information on other aspects of Japanese games history, as well as being super cool in general. You should probably follow her on Twitter and watch her PAX panel dedicated entirely to the subject of kusogē — appropriately titled “Kusoge! Japan’s Awesomely Awful Videogames.”

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    Sonic Jam (Game.com)

    Keep the World a Safe Place and Defend the Floating Island

    Rolling around with one-channel sound.
    Tails-riffic art by @Spalooncooties.
    (Full-color variant available here!)

    Say what you will about modern Sonic the Hedgehog games, but at least they understand what is arguably the blue blur’s biggest selling point: He’s gotta go fast. Whether you actually have much input over said speeding or you’re simply made to sit and watch as the game handles most of the steering for you, that velocity is still something like a series staple that the franchise does not fare well without.

    In a previous article covering Sonic Labyrinth, we saw what happened when Sonic was stripped of his running shoes and made to move at a more leisurely pace. But even that game had its moments of high speed — barely controllable speed, yes, but speed nonetheless. So, howsabout we remove the variable entirely, by moving to a game system completely incapable of even conveying speed? A system that – despite coming out nearly seven years after Sega’s Game Gear – could only produce four colors in a monochrome palette and run at a top speed of what feels like five frames per second?

    I only had a handful of paragraphs with which to briefly describe Sonic Jam in our retrospective of the Tiger Game.com. But it’s a game which warrants further inspection: A Sonic game so completely devoid of any mechanical fluency or merit, it’s incredible that it was ever allowed to see release. Taking its name from the Sega Saturn compilation of Genesis Sonic titles (including 1, 2, 3 & Knuckles), Sonic Jam on the Game.com sold itself under much the same premise, though lacking the content from the original Sonic the Hedgehog. Unfortunately, those who bought the game would soon discover that it was lacking far, far more.

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