Captain Novolin

“Check You Feet for Dry Skin.”

“If only I had sufficient manual dexterity to consistently win…”
(North American box art)

As a member of a generation who grew up with video games as a constant part of our lives, many of us have memories of the “edutainment” titles from our childhoods: Those games developed with the goals of both educating and entertaining. And as games intended to be played during some of our most formative years, the memories of them can tend to stick with you. For me, the title that most continues to linger in my memory is The Secret Island of Dr. Quandary; and boy howdy, do I remember it vividly. Even though I had already encountered the likes of Doom by the time I got to Dr. Quandary, I still recall being deeply unsettled by what his secret island had on offer more so than any imp or cacodemon that might’ve caught me off-guard in a dark hallway. One of the very first visuals that a child is subjected to in the game is watching themselves get sucked into the mouth of a terrifying doll, as tense music plays and an old man maniacally laughs at them. Can you think of any better way to ease a young mind into learning and puzzle-solving?

The early 90s were sort of an odd time for edutainment software in general, come to think of it. There was this sense that kids had such easy access to what I’ll call “non-educational” video games, it was something of a challenge to get them interested in games that were more obviously meant to serve as teaching tools. And so, you saw developers having to try slightly more subtle approaches: Straight up terrifying kids in the case of Dr. Quandary, ecasting recognizable characters as virtual teachers à la Sonic’s Schoolhouse, and sneaking anti-drug messages into otherwise straightforward genre games like Wally Bear and the NO! Gang. If you were a developer looking to hook kids into your edutainment game, you had to come up with some creative way to grab their attention, and convince them that they weren’t just in for an interactive lecture.

And so, I picture in my head the creative team at Raya Systems sitting together in a boardroom, pondering as to how they might be able to interest kids in a game that would serve to educate them about the rather unamusing subject of diabetes. Just as they’re all about to call the whole thing off, one of them jumps out of their chair as they’re struck with a bolt of inspiration, and excitedly proclaims “Kids love superheroes!” The game practically writes itself from there, and the infamous end result is 1992’s Captain Novolin for the Super Nintendo. Today, we’ll be taking a crash course on the often-mocked release, and grading it on its abilities to both educate and entertain.

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The Bad Game Hall of Fame on Patreon!

For those interested in supporting the Bad Game Hall of Fame monetarily, we’ve just launched our page on Patreon! I’m still working out what sorts of perks and rewards are worth putting up and providing, and the logistics of how best to deliver them, but please know that I will always remain wholly committed to providing on promised goals and incentives.

Also, to be clear: I don’t intend to gate new articles behind a paywall, or hold back finished content for any length of time. The Patreon simply exists to provide a way for people to support the site, if they’re so inclined! Continuing to grow the site is still a priority, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to accomplish that by locking away and hiding the site’s core content.

Thank you for your time and consideration!

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Top Five: Best Books About the History of Video Games

In case the nature of my very own overly-long writing wasn’t something like a giveaway, I’m big into books — specifically those of the non-fiction, historically-oriented sort of variety. If a book can cover that criteria and do so in a way that’s entertaining and narratively engaging, that’s all the better. And naturally, being the dweeb that I am, a number of the books on my digital bookshelf pertain to the subject of video games, and the history of their development / the industry itself. I’m sorry if that’s all, like, super predictable of me?

I believe it takes a certain skill set to be able to write about video games in a fashion that’s actually compelling or entertaining. Maybe one day, it’ll be a skill I actually pick up for myself! But until that day comes, I suppose I’ll have to settle for just recommending some of my favorite books on the subject of video games. Obviously, I haven’t yet read every last book there is about games, and I’ve currently got a queue that’s pages-long in itself, so I’m not calling this list “concrete” or “definitive” anything; It’s all just my current personal preference, folks.

Oh, and because I can’t help myself, I also went and tacked on one “Honorable Mention” and one “Dishonorable Mention.” And boy howdy, lemme tell you: The latter of those is a real doozy.

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Shaq Fu

“My Wrap Is Better Than Your Rap.”

“He wears Size 22 EEE shoes on his feet.
His opponents usually wear them on their face.”

Knick-knack Shaq-attack, give Important Business Dinosaur a bone.

It’s hard to hate on Shaquille O’Neal. Outside of his career as an NBA MVP, he’s also earned himself the reputation of being one of basketball’s most lovable goofballs: Constantly charismatic, and never taking himself too seriously. At the same time, you get the feeling that no matter what this dude sets his mind to, he just commits to it 200%, and I admire that a lot. He’s also a man who refuses to be labelled as just being a figure in sports, willing to try his hand at anything he seems to develop an interest in; whether it be acting, rapping, or even pursuing a doctorate degree. And of course, he was even the star of his own video game, now with a sequel set to release nearly 25 years after the fact. Sadly, this last bit isn’t really an accomplishment all that worthy of celebrating.

1994’s Shaq Fu likely needs no introduction, but it’s gonna get one here anyway: It’s known as one of the very worst games of all time, making a multitude of lists and countdowns on the subject. It is the product of a very particular era in licensed games history, where celebrity brands found themselves associated with all manner of unlikely, seemingly unrelated genres of game. So reviled is this game, it’s spawned a website dedicated entirely to the purpose of tracking down and destroying every last copy of it. Even O’Neal himself has gone on to spoof his involvement with the title in all manner of media, able to find the humor in his name being tied to such an infamous product of 90’s excess. As a result of all this, Shaq Fu might very well be the most well-known bad game of all time.

At a certain point, Shaq Fu seemed to transcend the very medium of video games, and became something more… how you say, incorporeal? Seriously; folk seem to think of it less as a physical cartridge to be plugged in and played, and as more of an idea — some intangible, purely imaginable thing, spoken of more along the lines of legend rather than as a real product that was ever offered for sale. The problem here is, more folk have only ever talked about Shaq Fu than have actually ever played it for themselves. So much of what is “known” about the game is rooted in reputation and oral tradition rather than actual hands-on experience, giving the game this sort of mystical aura about it. But Shaq Fu is obviously more than just myth: There really is an actual game cartridge buried beneath it all!

So, here’s the score: I’ve gone and played through Shaq Fu, and now I’m here to write about what exactly made it such a hated game to begin with. Not only that, but I’m also here to discuss who developed the game and how it even came to be. But you know what? That still isn’t quite enough for me, so I’m also going to go ahead and review the four conversions of the game to different consoles and handhelds of the era! And hell, as long as I’m here, I might as well talk about Shaquille O’Neal’s hip-hop career too, because why the hell not? And when I’m finished with all that, I’m going to tell you why the sequel we’re getting now is a stupid idea, and why it will ultimately underwhelm everyone foolish enough to pay it mind. In the spirit of the man himself, “I’m a be a Shaq knife and cut [this game] with precision.”

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Snake’s Revenge

“What Is Metal Gear? I Have Never Heard of It.”

“You’re a combination Rambo, James Bond, John Wayne, and Lawrence of Arabia.”
Top-secret art by @Edupatilla.

Solid Snake is dead. The Hind Ds have left the Heaven, the victims have been bled, red velvet lines the cardboard box, so on and so forth.[♬] But in a cruel bit of injustice, his murderers have gotten off scot-free. I am of course referring to none other than Konami Holdings Corporation; the former games conglomerate turned pachinko peddlers. Konami is guilty of far more than just terminating some of it’s most beloved games franchises though, with far more serious charges related to their mistreatment of employees, attempts to discredit and stifle some of their star developers, and embarrassing bouts of mismanagement bordering on self-sabotage. In other words: They stink.

But Metal Gear is a franchise that has always existed sort of perpetually on the verge of death, what with Hideo Kojima himself wanting to retire the series for the better part of two decades. With each new installment in the series promised to be “his last,” Kojima has always demonstrated a desire to move on to new projects and to let sleeping snakes lie. Hell, even as early as the first game in the series, he had no immediate intention of producing a follow-up. It’s by a series of fortunate events that Kojima would be inspired to direct his own sequel — a series of events that would first see an alternate sequel developed entirely without his input.

Snake’s Revenge for the Nintendo Entertainment System released in North America in April of 1990. Despite being developed by a team within Konami of Japan, the game was never intended to be sold in its country of origin. Designed specifically with what Konami considered to be the tastes of the “Western market” in mind, it represents something like a divergence — an alternate path the franchise may have well traveled down, if Kojima had not stepped in to steer the series back on course. As a Metal Gear title developed without his supervision or even so much as based on one of his own ideas, the natural impulse of many of Kojima’s most ardent fans is to dismiss the game outright. But while it’s most certainly not canon, is that really sufficient grounds to write it off entirely?

Today, we aim to declassify this top-secret project, and uncover the shocking truths hidden within. We’ll order a sitrep on how this whole fiasco got started, proceed to the mission at hand, and recount the details of what happened after the game’s release in our debrief. So grab your guns, bring your bright red camo, and prepare to infiltrate the “FORTRESS FANATIC!”

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