Welcome to part 2 of CelJaded’s top 20 overrated video games. This list contains entries #10-#1 so be sure to read part 1 first if you’re just now joining us.
“Are ya ready? Here we go!”
#10 – Space Channel 5
The Sega Dreamcast is home to many fondly remembered games and despite its rather drastic commercial failure, Space Channel 5 is one of them. This is a difficult one to sum up in terms of being overrated because there is simply no way of denying the innate charm and overall likeableness that this game gives off.
It’s a rhythm action game similar to Parappa the Rapper except it’s dressed in Sega‘s unmistakable glitzy flair and is accompanied by the sort of Sixties’ chic and infectious swing that wouldn’t be seen out of place in an Austin Powers movie.
Designed as a title with broad appeal, Space Channel 5 casts you as the reporter turned intergalactic heroine Ulala as she dance-battles her way through space aliens intent on the musical conquest of Earth. It’s fairly on the level for a Sega game, then.
The premise is certainly fun and many sources over the years have become infatuated by the almost irresistible appeal. But what about the actual gameplay itself?
What we’re looking at here is an on-rails dance ’em up. If that’s even a thing.
In much the same way as Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s other famous game Rez, music plays an important part in the enjoyment factor and it is rather fun to see the once captive humans join your dance troupe once you start doing well. Space Michael Jackson even shows up at one point if you’re really skilled. It’s bizarre.
What really kills this game though is the controls- they don’t seem very responsive to your input and it becomes a huge problem considering how highly dependent this game is on rhythm. You’ll enter the correct combination of moves time and time again only to have Ulala flail about like an idiot because you apparently didn’t do it properly.
And you’ll continue to get the actions wrong. You’ll might get some right, but the rest will likely be unsuccessful. Despite the intended concessions towards the more casual player, this game is strangely difficult for beginners, who will almost certainly be put off after a few tries. It doesn’t help either that there are no checkpoints, so if you fail a stage then it’s right back to the beginning and right back to viewing all of the same cut scenes that you’ve already seen.
Speaking of levels, Space Channel 5 has precisely four levels to its name. Four.
So if you do somehow manage to acclimatize yourself to the controls then you’ll find those four levels lasting you an hour at best. A token “extra” mode is included, but it’s just window dressing. Overall this game has nothing that will keep you playing past a few hours, thus relegating it to the status of a curiosity piece at best.
Between the retro-futurism, catchy beats, and odd silly moments, this could have been a go-to rhythm action title for the Dreamcast, but the overall gameplay and astonishing lack of package value do way too much damage to the final verdict.
It may be worth mentioning that I had originally placed Space Channel 5 behind Jet Force Gemini on this list but the staggering number of inappropriate Ulala
cosplay fancy dress photos that kept turning up during my re-examination of this game were egregious enough to warrant a step higher! Maybe I’m just bitter.
I always did like those shoes though.
#9 – Mario Kart 64
Why is it that after sampling the wonderful 3D delights of Super Mario 64, I find myself driving blurry 2D sprites in Mario Kart 64? It wasn’t a big stretch for other racing games like Diddy Kong Racing to include 3D characters. I’m just saying…
The tracks feel a bit too wide open and it’s a niggle that extends to the game’s battle mode as well. Locating your opponents in a reasonable time frame is tricky because of the sheer amount of unnecessary space. It’s a problem I’ve seen before (Extreme G and Fur Fighters immediately spring to mind) and whilst not a deal breaker, this coupled with the fact that there are only four battle arenas, makes it hard for me to get excited.
I’ve always found the catch-up mechanics in this game to be tedious as well. You’ll collect these ‘mystery boxes’ on the track that will grant you a special power-up ranging from near-useless banana peels to the downright unfair lightning bolt.
It seems that the further you are in front, the more useless your power ups become, meaning that the guy behind you usually has an innate advantage simply by virtue of not being as good as you are. This artificial competitiveness extends to the single player mode too where you will frequently witness AI racers catching you up and passing you because of their unfairly boosted engines.
Although I’ve not played its prequel game on the SNES, from what I can see Mario Kart 64 doesn’t appear to offer anything spectacularly exciting or new to the formula which is a bit of a shame considering the leap from 16-bit to 64-bit processing power.
I would be surprised if subsequent Mario Kart games haven’t now eclipsed this effort in popular opinion, as I still can’t really see what made Mario Kart 64 so special when compared to the plethora of good racing games for the N64.
#8 – Borderlands
In this “RPG with guns” you you play as a bounty hunter who must explore the post apocalyptic world of Pandora in search of a place called The Vault. A woman and a wacky robot are helping you find it for some reason and… I think that’s about it in terms of plot. There’s very little commitment to any kind meaningful story and it’s clear early on that the developers have interpreted the RPG part of their game to mean “it has experience points in it”.
Think Fallout crossed with Diablo though and you’ll know exactly what to expect from Borderlands; it’s incredibly derivative in that and almost every other sense. And really, that’s my main criticism. Borderlands feels like an amalgam of those previously mentioned titles with a bit of zany (read: unfunny) humour thrown in for good measure.
Almost every quest is of the “kill X” or “fetch Y” variety; something a dozen other games will have already soured you on many times over. Similar to an MMORPG, the actions you take rarely impact the world around you. Enemies respawn repeatedly and there will be plenty of time spent grinding character levels and collecting weapons with randomized attributes.
The predetermined levels of the enemies you face impact the difficulty in a severe way too. Repeatedly perform side quests for example and you’ll level up much higher than your foes thus making the rest of the game a breeze. A bit of balance would have been nice considering the decision was made to incorporate twitch based shooting into the mix.
Perhaps the single biggest factor that gets trigger-happy gamers so excited about Borderlands is the fact that it is an RPG hybrid featuring guns rather than the more traditional swords and shields; something that was always strangely hard to come by before Fallout arrived on the scene.
#7 – BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger
I almost feel like you have to love anime in order to truly like BlazBlue. What makes me say that? Well for one it is absolutely loaded with just about every cliche character, plot contrivance, and ridiculous hairstyle that the art form is known for. Reserved anti-heroes, arrogant villains, and anthropomorphic cat ladies with enormous breasts are all present and correct, so before you’ve even begun the tone is coming across as very familiar.
It’s like they consulted White Wolf Publishing during story-boarding too because the confusing plot is weighed down by a lot of specific jargon that will leave anyone who actually cares about the setting feeling rather baffled and likely underwhelmed.
But aside from its aesthetic, BlazBlue just isn’t anything the regular fighting game fan hasn’t already seen before. If you’ve ever played Arc System’s previous game Guilty Gear then this is just more of the same and arguably with less personality.
BlazBlue looks fantastic though. It has incredible animation and a lot of raw character detail even if it does lack Guilty Gear’s catchy rock soundtrack. But then in terms of gameplay, for the more casual player at least; it seems to come down to button mashing, owing to how overly fast it all is. At least compared the standard of beat ’em ups I’m used to; there’s very little pacing or tactical reading of your opponent- it’s just too fast for its own good at times.
I’ve seen the comments that suggest this is a game created with the “hardcore” in mind; but all I say to that is: why? Why make your systems so obtuse? Why make your final boss so ridiculously cheap and unfair? Why make key moves require such perfectly timed inputs and memorization that only a small portion of the world’s players are going to appreciate? SNK went out of business doing this kind of thing so take it from them; it’s not worth it!
Street Fighter IV took great strides in making beat ’em ups more accessible to new players (end boss notwithstanding) so it was rather upsetting to see BlazBlue head firmly in the opposite direction.
Not quite what I was expecting.
#6 – Black & White
If there’s one thing I’ll say about Peter Molyneux, it’s that he certainly talks one hell of a game.
Regardless, Black & White still threatens to replace Populous as the god simulator that most people tend to think of first; it seems to be that accepted now.
Featuring an interesting magic and AI system, I had high hopes for this one but was ultimately underwhelmed at every turn. This is yet another one of those PC games with painful controls. You need to click so often when moving the camera that it’s common to click on things you didn’t mean to. A bit inconvenient when you’re a god that, let me tell you. Dropped a tree on a worshipper’s head there milord? Sorry about that!
The sphere of influence is a right in pain too. Your omniscient godly hand can only operate within said sphere and on later levels that can lead to a lot of frustration. By level 4 or 5 you’ll have to game the heck out of Black & White in order to get anywhere with the go-to tactic being to build a row of houses towards your rival deity (to increases your sphere of influence) so you can eventually rain deadly fireballs upon their unsuspecting temple.
And good luck with that by the way because the aiming system in this game is nothing short of terrible. In order to cast any spell in fact you must first invoke that spell by drawing special patterns on the ground and to say this can be twitchy and imprecise is an understatement.
The most notable part of Black & White of course is the AI creature companion; a giant anthropomorphic avatar of your will that takes the shape of a somewhat deformed animal of your choosing. The AI system for the creature is certainly interesting as you can teach them to do all sorts of things (if you have enough patience) from assisting your disciples to pooping on an enemy village!
But a wealth of problems stop me from enjoying this game. Why are the buildings so bloody difficult to construct? The game is extremely coy in giving out information like this and it feels rather unnecessary when you consider how far a checklist with helpful pointers would have gone (it’s something the sequel would introduce).
Yet in spite of these many flaws, Black & White would go on to become enormously successful. Will wonders never cease!
#5 – Micro Machines
Okay, this will be the last racing game on this list, I promise!
It’s funny because I actually planned to have Re-Volt show up around here somewhere too but I think I’ve ragged on the genre enough for one article.
It’s not because I dislike racing games though; quite the contrary in the fact. But it’s interesting nonetheless to see how many examples I’ve highlighted so far; clearly this is a genre with several games that I would have expected to be much more divisive than they actually are. Case in point: Micro Machines.
I don’t think there was a single magazine publication from the early Nineties that didn’t absolutely adore this game as it seemed every issue would have a writer talking about how brilliant it was and how it was one of the best games ever conceived.
It’s not hard to see why in all honesty. This particular video game series was developed in a time long before network play was common and so like any title that could harness a good multiplayer experience for the folks sitting in front of the telly; it was always destined to be in the coveted good books of the common gamer. The original Micro Machines was even capped at two players, but it didn’t stop people from going potty about its sheer pick-up-and-play appeal.
But that’s enough backstory, so let me just skip to the part you want to read about: the reasons why I don’t like the game. I can sum that up with one simple criticism: this is a racing game where YOU CAN’T SEE WHERE YOU’RE ******* GOING!!
The action takes place from an overhead viewpoint where you control miniature cars that zip around imaginative household locales; a workbench, a kitchen counter, maybe a bathroom or a pool table. Everything looks crisp and colourful and there are several different vehicles to play with including mini sports cars, speedboats, and even a tank with a working cannon.
But the overhead view is extremely close to the track which means you will frequently hit obstacles and fall off segments of road simply because you’ll be going too fast to anticipate the various drops and hazards that litter each stage. The game doesn’t so much come down to skill or to reaction time or careful observation of position, it comes down to memory. Experience has taught me that the player who best memorizes the layout of each track is the one that’s most likely to win. You may think it a feature that’s true of many racing games but in this one it feels like the only feature really worth considering.
It’s easier to overlook this weakness when playing with a friend as Micro Machines’ 2-player mode is certainly a lot of fun. But it’s only at its best so long as neither of you know the tracks all that well. This way you can be terrible together and a have a jolly good laugh at that.
It’s not the only criticism I have of course. The graphics are suitably small scale and there’s no in-game music either so it gets pretty repetitive listening to those little engine sounds and screeching wheels all the time. And don’t expect any overly diverse gameplay either. With the exception of the tank course, there are no projectiles, no power-ups, and no shortcuts (that I can remember at least) to keep things interesting.
The two sequels would eventually do a bit better by this series (despite inheriting most of the same weaknesses), but as it stands, I generally find Micro Machines to be an exasperating experience.
#4 – Street Fighter III 3rd Strike: Fight for the Future
I’ve often seen Street Fighter III labelled as one of the best beat ’em ups ever made, usually in reference to this entry subtitled 3rd Strike which is Capcom‘s third and final revision of the arcade original.
It’s hard to argue with the view that “this game rules” at least from a presentation standpoint as the stage backdrops, character animations, and overall sprite work in this game is superb. Similarly, the audio is powerful (even if it does include some god-awful rap music) and the controls are fairly sleek and elegant.
But 3rd Strike makes several controversial changes and whilst I’m usually all for trying something a bit different, I don’t at all appreciate the way in which Capcom went about doing that on this one.
The first big change was to the character roster. From what I recall, in the original blueprint for this game, Capcom sought to erase every existing Street Fighter character from the line-up until fan outcry prompted them to do otherwise. This is not so much of a problem; it’s nice to want to mix things up a bit, especially when you consider the number of Street Fighter II revisions that have been released over the years (each with a largely similar range of playable fighters), but just look at this veritable circus of freaks that 3rd Strike introduces:
- A gigantic, almost immobile wrestler resembling André the Giant.
- A green haired emo dude with moves reminiscent of Guile and Sagat.
- A clownish assassin with stretchy arms and a moveset reminiscent of Dhalsim and Blanka.
- An ancient one-armed hermit.
- A robot/guy in a robot mask who brawls whilst dressed in a trench coat and fedora.
- An anthropomorphic shape-shifting blob of goo that can transform himself into weird shapes.
- A ripped gentleman who appears to be wearing a nappy.
Street Fighter II was a bit of a rogues gallery when it came to characters too, but it was definitely nowhere near as over-the-top as this. Granted there are a few more realistic fighters to choose from other than what’s mentioned above, but for gamers like me it’s still a big turn-off when much of the roster is too embarrassing to even look at.
Street Fighter IV would go on to reinvigorate the beat ’em genre with its more forgiving learning curve and familiar cast of characters. I know it’s certainly closer to the Street Fighter sequel that I wanted when compared to this particular entry.
#3 – Super Smash Bros. Melee
I’ve yet to meet a single Nintendo enthusiast that doesn’t absolutely worship the disc on which this game is burned. And unlike some Nintendo games that have failed to hold my attention, I actually devoted a significant amount of time to Super Smash Bros. Melee.
What is deserving of praise is the gigantic roster that features tons of Nintendo‘s best loved characters including Mario, Samus, Pikachu, Link, and many more. It’s nice to see some of the more obscure Nintendo rogues accounted for too including the Ice Climbers, Captain Falcon and the like. You’ll need to spend many hours unlocking all the secret ones so in terms of re-playability, there’s a lot there.
The first problem for me, however, is how so many of the characters have similar move sets. One character tends to control in an identical fashion to the next and that really spoilt the initial excitement I had in trying out each fighter and the multiplayer mode got boring after a while due to its repetitive nature.
And I dislike how each character’s health bar is a percentage; I absolutely hate how downright arbitrary and unthematic that feels. Damage is measured in percent; when your character takes a hit it increases your percentage bar, but then getting to 100% doesn’t lose you the game as you might think. In fact, the counter can actually go up as high as 999% The number itself is arbitrary and merely acts as a representation for how far your character gets knocked back when hit.
The goal in this game is to knock a character off the screen as, presumably at least, it would be too harsh for the kids at home to watch poor Mario keel over and die after taking too much punishment. When knocked flying though, your character has the opportunity to inexplicably perform these weird ‘air jumps’ in an attempt to get back onto the stage before falling into the abyss.
And why is the final boss a giant glove!? That has to be one of the worst final bosses in the history of video gaming.
A solid (and arbitrary) 73% from me.
#2 – Ecco the Dolphin
Receiving near universal acclaim during its original release in 1993, Ecco the Dolphin perhaps holds the distinction of being the first popular game that I, as the saying goes; hated even as a kid.
Despite representing some of the most cutting edge graphics and animation that the 16-bit era had to offer, the actual gameplay in this title is frustrating beyond belief. And it’s such a pity because the premise of an aquatic adventure where you get to play as a dolphin is about as original as it gets.
But following the iconic mid-air flip that you’ll perform in the opening moments of the game, Ecco the Dolphin quickly descends into the obscure, leaving you with very little clue of where to go or what to do next.
It’s all very well asking an adult to persist in sussing these puzzles out, but try asking that of a kid back in the day. They’ll have had Streets of Rage in that cartridge slot so fast that Ecco’s bloated corpse would barely have had enough time to break the surface.
Even for adult players though, this game is stubbornly obtuse. You’ll eventually learn to use your sonar to communicate with friendly marine life but the clues they offer are so enigmatic and unhelpful that it can be a waste of time even bothering. I’ve played Discworld games that were more logical and forthcoming than this.
The frustration mounts even further when you come across enemies that respawn almost immediately after you turn away from their original position and many times you’ll swim right into a spike-fish that re-spawned on top of you from the corner of the screen.
I hate Ecco the Dolphin. Always have, always will.
#1 – Tetris
Over 170 million copies sold. The most ported game of all time; available on almost every entertainment system known to man. Frequently topping lists as one of the greatest and most addictive games ever made and withstanding that test for more than 30 years. Being played right now in homes, on computers, on mobile phones and even on the side of buildings, the world over. And yet, I consider Tetris to be the most overrated game that I’ve ever played.
It sounds like devil worship, but please try to bear with me on this one. I recited those impressive statistics just now to give you an appreciation for what we’re really talking about, but you don’t really need me to explain Tetris, do you? Whoever you are currently reading this, whether you’re an avid gamer or not; you’ve played Tetris. You know Tetris.
I’ve used the Game Boy artwork above because it’s the first version that I, and likely many others, will have played before. It’s arguably the most famous and popular version of the game and whilst not the main focus of this piece- I will specifically be talking about this original handheld version of Tetris for the moment.
I suppose my main beef with this game is that it can be rather mundane- similar to what I said about Portal. It’s an ingenious puzzler in some ways, it’s remarkably accessible and instantly playable, but I just don’t get much pleasure out of playing it like other people evidently do.
You drop blocks, form a line, drop the next block, form a line, maybe stack a few more blocks, try for two lines or even the coveted four. But it’s funny how few actual puzzle elements there are in Tetris if you really stop to think about it for a second. There are no chains, no combo bonuses, no special drops and no real “plotting” outside of the set pieces and the way they fit together. Just look at any of the awesome speed run videos for it and note, besides how impressive and amazing those feats are, how routine it actually makes the game look.
The lack of additional puzzle elements does lend Tetris a graceful simplicity, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s never one I relish the thought of playing for too long as a result.
Much like Alexey Pajitnov’s subsequent puzzle game called Hexic, it’s unfortunate how quickly you can create situations from which there is no recovery. Should you accidentally block one of your lanes at any point, it can have severe consequences on the run as a whole. With the exception of a fun 2 player session, there are no additional modes in the Game Boy version of Tetris; it tends to just be for high scores. Again, the simplicity in that is elegant much in the same way as it is with Space Invaders, but your long-term enjoyment hinges on it entirely. High scores alone have never been enough for me, personally.
And as an aside, I’ve always been rather dismayed at how resistant the core Tetris formula is to change. It’s an arguable point, but when it comes to Tetris sequels, spin-offs and clones, I’ve seen it all and rarely have I enjoyed any of them. Tetris 2, The Next Tetris, Tetris Plus, Sega Tetris, Tetrisphere, Tetris Attack… the list goes on and on.
Ultimately I think of Tetris as a phenomenon that has done incredible things for this hobby and a certain respect for the title will always be with me as a result of that. But as for the actual game itself, honestly, I don’t care for it.