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Can a video game be so bad, it’s good?

by Brandon Russell | April 5, 2015April 5, 2015 6:00 am PDT

I love bad movies. The kind of films that are so appalling they’re somehow elevated to an exalted, sacred state—that effable paradise beyond cult fervor. The cheesier and more cliché, the better. Con Air is a fine example. I’d also throw Tokyo Drift into the pile of awfulness. Between the two, I can’t get enough, to the point where if I stumble across either on TV, I’ll drop everything I’m doing and give them my undivided attention.

I’ve missed appointments because I couldn’t tear myself away. It’s bad.

There are numerous lists out that have already explored the topic of “movies-so-bad-they’re-good,” so I won’t even attempt to make my own. But it got me thinking: does this sort of brilliant ineptitude also apply to video games? Are there titles out there that are so terrible, they’re actually enjoyable?

I’m not talking about Call of Duty or other annual franchises. I’m talking the kind of small miracles that exist in spite of their obvious incompetence. Games like E.T. for Atari, Superman for Nintendo 64. These are the type of games so impressively disappointing, you have to wonder if someone—anyone—played them before they were released. Every so often they emerge from the swampy sludge of badness, like a phoenix, and somehow turn their terribleness into something you can’t stop playing. It’s happened to me—and it can happen to you, too.

I have more movie examples than I do gaming. But after thinking about it, one game that stood out for me, a game I grew up playing, was Mission Impossible for Nintendo 64. It tried to be many things when it was released in 1998—a mix of Mario and GoldenEye. And it’s true that it presented a lot of fun ideas. But, boy, it was a stinker. It was worse than that; a game so unbearably bad that it was like digital torture, an excruciating exercise in patience and willpower.

Mission impossible

It was worse than standing in line at the DMV, or going through a security checkpoint at an airport. Next-level bad. Rage quit, throw-your-controller-into-the-fireplace-and-burn-it-to-a-crisp bad. It makes my blood boil just thinking about it.

You play as Ethan Hunt, an immortal super-spy who works for the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), which consists of Avengers-like heroes tasked with completing the most outrageously dangerous assignments. The setup is grand, and going in you expect an award-winning experience because the movie was great and featured Tom Cruise running around like a maniac. But it’s nothing like the movie.

The game has players carry out mission-based objectives that vary in difficulty and scope, using stealth, puzzles and shooting elements as a basis for what could have been a great spy adventure. And it all seems harmless enough in the beginning, but the early fun is only an illusion. The game quickly reveals its true self, with mechanics that are so absolutely terrible, and level design so baffling, that completing a task takes more luck than actual skill. In order to progress, you’re required to participate in a sadistic ritual of trial and error; if you complete an objective, it’s never because you meant to, you simply stumbled across the answer by mistake.

That basically sums up Mission Impossible in a nutshell.

But even the level design and structure were flawless compared to how atrocious the controls were. With the camera permanently affixed in a third-person perspective, controlling your character was clunky and laborious, like trying to control someone attempting to dance on ice while inebriated and blindfolded. You just can’t do it. And it all comes to a head in what should have been the game’s best mission.

Mission Impossible lasers

Similar to the movie, players are required to descend into a server room while avoiding a series of harmful red and yellow lasers. But since you’re unable to accurately control your character, what should be fun and engrossing is immensely infuriating. Even worse, the game likes to give you hope, to pretend you might be getting the hang of it. That is until you hit the yellow laser and your mission fails. Back to the beginning. You know those carnival games that give you you the false impression you can win? Mission Impossible is a lot like that; it’s designed to make you fail. Whether that’s through clever planning or gross incompetence, I’m still not sure.

“Yeow! Those lasers sting.”

If you’re still not convinced that Mission Impossible is a truly appalling game, Darklordjadow1 best explains how bad it really is over a two-part YouTube review. It’s not pretty, and it’ll definitely convince you to never pick the game up. If you didn’t get a chance to play Mission Impossible when it came out nearly 20 years ago, consider yourself lucky. There is zero reason to subject yourself to that kind of mind-numbing anguish. Don’t do it.

I know it sounds like I abhor Mission Impossible, and I do; I do with every bone in my body. But buried in the deepest depths of the game’s core, there lies the smallest, most minuscule level of fun. The best way I can describe it is like watching paint dry or grass grow, but I still managed to find amusement from an otherwise very dark, very bleak experience. I don’t remember if I ever beat the game—probably not. I didn’t have the mental fortitude at that age. But I played it a lot. More than it deserved.

What “so bad, it’s good” game have you played?


Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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