Five Terrible Video Games From The 1980s - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Five Terrible Video Games From The 1980s

This screengrab below is honestly the best part of the game.
The 8-bit era of the 1980s brought us so many classic video games; Donkey Kong, Tetris, Pole Position, Pitfall!, Lode Runner, Impossible Mission, Jet Set Willy, Defedner, Frogger, Super Mario Bros. Space Harrier and so many more. Pretty much every gaming platform had a killer title available for it, and the arcades were chocked full of exciting machines just waiting for quarters.

But for every yin there has to be a yang. Not every game offers rewarding playability, not every port or conversion is successful, and not every title is properly considered during development. Of course, just as some games sell a gazillion copies, others fail to impress and struggle to turn a profit or live on in our memories. We may think of them as "bad games" but really they were often just too average to catch the imagination of the gamers of the time. The ones we've rounded-up below aren't just "bad games" per se, in fact some of these titles actually sold incredibly well, but all of them have an enduring negative legacy that has far outlived their shelf life. Did you play any of them?...
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Atari paid in the region of $20–25 million to Steven Spielberg and Universal Pictures for the exclusive rights to produce a video game based on the hit 1982 movie. Trouble is, negotiations took so long, and wanting to capture the lucrative Christmas market, Atari left themselves with just five weeks to create the actual game if they were to have it in stores on the already announced release date of December 1982. Most Atari 2600 games at this time took in the region of six months to develop.

But meet the deadline they did, and pre-orders were as massive as the hype surrounding the title. Atari Inc. produced more cartridges for E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial than they had for any release before, and sold a total of 1,500,000 of them during the Christmas 1982 season. Unfortunately, although that may not sound like a small figure, it was a small fraction of cartridges produced, and as those sales all happened in a very short space of time, as soon as the reviews came out and people were made aware that the game featured "primitive" graphics, "dull" gameplay and a "disappointing story", sales of E.T. on the Atari 2600 screeched to a blinding halt. Eventually about 2.5 to 3.5 million unsold cartridges of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial were returned to Atari and ended up in landfill.

Despite the 1.5 million cartridges sold, the cost of licensing, development and huge production run meant that E.T. was one of the biggest commercial failures in video game history. It's release cost Atari Inc. dearly, both financially and with the public's trust for brand quality. Since release E.T. has consistently listed as the worst game of all time by many polls, including Electronic Gaming Monthly's 2013 countdown. Some considered it so bad that the title screen was the only good part of the game (see, I told you). However, as terrible in notoriety as it is, in 2009, GamePro named E.T. one of the "52 most important games of all time!" Not for any good reason mind, rather it was the only game to make the list for having a negative impact on the video game industry due to its roles in the 1983 video game crash and the downfall of the seemingly unstoppable Atari.
Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 (1982)
It's important to note that this is solely about the Atari 2600 port of Pac-Man, as detailed in the line above. Pac-Man as a game is awesome and one of the finest created. This version though, notsomuch.

Bearing little more than a passing resemblance to the original 1980 arcade game released by Namco, Atari actually spent a long time developing Pac-Man. But with instructions to fit the completed game on the cheaper to manufacture 4KB ROM cartridge, programmer Tod Frye soon realised that the simple Atari 2600 hardware could not adequately recreate many important aspects of the game. To deal with the limitations of the Atari VCS, Frye simplified the maze's intricate pattern of corridors to a more repetitive one. The small tan pellets in the arcade original were changed to rectangular "wafers" that shared the wall colour, and were programmed as part of the same fixed width graphic as the wall itself. To achieve the visual effect of wafers disappearing as Pac-Man eats them, the actual map of the maze was updated every time one was eaten. The toughest programming challenge, though, came with Pac-Man and the ghost characters. They were implemented using the Atari 2600's two Player object coding system, with one being used for Pac-Man and the other being used for all four ghosts. The result of this was that each ghost only appeared once out of every four frames, creating a flickering effect.

Like E.T., anticipation for Pac-Man was high, with pre-orders of near "four million" copies by the end of 1981. Prior to its release on March 16th 1982, the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man was predicted to sell 9 million units before the year was out. This would've led to a profit of $200 million for Atari Inc. Certainly nothing to complain about there, and Atari were so confident they produced more than that number of Pac-Man cartridges to cope with the inevitable demand. When Pac-Man did arrive it was indeed met with initial commercial success, just like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Pac-Man eventually sold a massive 7.7 million copies, becoming the best-selling game of all time (for a period), which was no doubt helped by Atari's $1.5 million advertising campaign, a huge sum buoyed on by all those pre-orders. Programmer Tod Frye must've been happy too, as he had negotiated a deal earning reportedly $0.10 in royalties per copy sold, netting a cool $770,000 from his work.

However, as reviews for Pac-Man became known, with critics calling it "disappointing", "devoid of what gave the original its charm", and labeling it "more Flicker-Man than Pac-Man" sales very quickly dried up. On top of that, disgruntled customers were returning their games for refunds, and by the Summer of 1982 many outlets began returning their unsold copies of Pac-Man to Atari. It was reported that Atari had an additional 5 million copies of Pac-Man sat in warehouses, waiting for a shipping date that never came, and that figure does not take into account the unsold returns from stores and customers. Reviews certainly didn't get better with time, and the Atari 2600 port of Pac-Man was consider the "worst coin-op conversion of all time" by Next Generation magazine, and IGN listed Pac-Man among the worst home console ports of arcade games.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1988)
The two games above were all Atari 2600 titles, but the Nintendo Entertainment System can also stake a claim to one of the worst games of the 1980s.

Arriving in 1988, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a side-scrolling action video game published by Bandai and loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson's novella. Gameplay alternates between the characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde based on the player's ability to either avoid or cause damage. A few decent reviews circulated prior to release, but as cartridges started finding their way into NES consoles around the world the game garned a negative reception thanks to its bad graphics, confusing gameplay, and poor use of the characters and setting.

The main problem with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and there are several, is that nothing is explained. Some characters harm the players, but some do not. And there's no explanation or reason, making gameplay utterly confusing. Not holding back, American video game magazine Game Informer gave it a 0.5 out of 10, ending the review by saying "Flawed on every fundamental level, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is possibly the most unplayable garbage available on the NES.

Across the years Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has continued to garnish negative reception within retrospective features. In 2018, Nintendo Life called it one of the worst games for the NES. Eurogamer were similarliry unimpressed stating "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde should be played by anyone who wants to learn more about good game design [ ⁠. ⁠. ⁠. ⁠] because this title makes everything so perfectly wrong that you could almost think it was deliberately designed that way." The website Something Awful, even awarded the game a score of −37!
Friday the 13th (1989)
There have been multiple Friday the 13th video games over the years. This one, for the Nintendo Entertainment System, certianly wasn't the first but has, perhaps, lived-on longer in legacy than any other. Given that this is a list of terrible 1980s video games though, it's not for any good reason.

Published by LGN, Friday the 13th sees players control a camp counsellor out to both escape from and defeat Jason. So far, so Friday the 13th-ish. Unfortunately once this largely side-scrolling game gets underway you realise you've been given a rock as a weapon, which unsurprisingly inflicts absolutely no damage on the demented Voorhees. Fortunately you can find upgraded weapons but if Jason catches you the game turns into some kind of Punch-Out clone with hockey masks. Not at all befitting of the movie franchise the game is trying to emulate.

From its "repetitive music score and amazingly frustrating gameplay", you'd be hard-pushed to find a sympathetic review or retrospective out there for the NES version of Friday the 13th, with Nintendo Power magazine perhaps providing the definitive word... "After playing a few minutes of this aardvark, you wanted Jason to slaughter all the counselors and then you. Anything so it would just end."

Now, if you want to avoid any NSFW content then you may want to leave the page now. We won't mind...
Custer's Revenge (1982)
Sex sales! From the early erotica novels of the 19 Century, through the 'What the Butler Saw' penny viewers, to the pornographic movie industry, there's a demand for sexual content. Naturally, with a huge emerging alternative form of entertainment in video gaming someone was going to combine the two. Custer's Revenge wasn't the first (that honour may go to the 1981 text-based Softporn Adventure) but it's notoriety will live on far longer than any other video game that would include sexual acts. And not in a positive way at all!

In 1982 US publishing house Mystique released three unlicensed games for the Atari 2600 all of which aiming for the horny teenage boy market; Beat 'Em & Eat 'Em, Bachelor Party, and Custer's Revenge. It's gonna get pretty nasty from here on out so don't say you haven't been warned.

In the aptly titled Beat 'Em & Eat 'Em players control two nude women; the goal is to catch sperm falling from a masturbating man on a rooftop without missing. That's really all there is to that. Bachelor Party was a 'Breakout' style game. The premise is that an unnamed bachelor is having his final fling with a room full of nude women. The equally unclothed bachelor is propelled repeatedly into the room of women by a container of "Spanish Fly" used as the player's paddle. The bachelor's has a large erect penis, and is looking to 'collide' with one of the nude women. When he returns from having collided with (and presumably had sexual intercourse with) a woman or after missing and hitting the opposing wall, his penis sags. It returns to erect when the bachelor is successfully launched again after hitting the Spanish Fly container. I swear I'm not making this up.

And then there was Custer's Revenge.

In the game, the player controls the character of "Custer," a naked man sporting a cowboy hat and a visible massive erection, obviously inspired by George Armstrong Custer (possibly not the erection part, I don't know?). Custer has to overcome various obstacles in order to have sex with a crudely depicted, large-breasted Native American woman who is tied to a cactus. As you might expect, the game prompted complaints from a number of groups - women's rights, anti-pornography, Native American, etc - for its depiction of (what was perceived as) General Custer raping Native American women. In response to the game's criticism, the makers of the game elected to preview Custer's Revenge for women's and Native American groups. Given its content, the mind boggles as to what the developers thought they'd achieve by bringing in groups like this for a play-test, it's hardly any surprise that their invitation was decelined and labelled as a publicity stunt. Even if that was a genuine move to placate concerned groups, the focused media attention caused Custer's Revenge to sell approximately 80,000 copies, twice as many as Mystique's other adult-themed games

It really was a sorry moment for the video gaming and gave lobbying groups more 'evidence' that the emerging gaming industry was corrupting young minds. Mystique ended up going out of business during the video game crash of 1983, but the memory of Custer's Revenge lives on. In 2009, it was listed as the most shameful game of all time by GameSpy, and in 2017 the third-worst game of all time by PC World.

There you go then, five terrible video games from the 1980s. Did you play any of them? Or maybe you can name some worse ones? Let us know in the comments below.

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