13 Wasted Rentals: Hours I'll Never Get Back
January 22, 2016
|Since everyone's doing their top tens and best of 2015s...|
It's cool seeing everyone's top tens and favorite games of the 2015, especially when some of the titles I love make someone else's list. I would whip up such a lineup for myself, but I think everyone else already has those subjects covered well enough. I'd rather voyage in the opposite direction and discuss games that were less satisfying...
As a youngster, I received $5 for a weekly allowance, $10 if I mowed the lawn or shoveled the driveway during the snowy months. Although I occasionally saved up my cash for new games, I usually blew it on MTG cards and video game rentals. Some of the carts I checked out were awesome, like Final Fantasy III/VI, Castlevania, Chrono Trigger. Others, though, were godawful. In fact, I could spend a whole afternoon chatting about the lackluster games I've rented over the years: from first one I picked up, Time Lord on NES, to the last game I brought home (which many people will disagree is a wasted rental), Sky Odyssey on PS2. I thought instead of regaling you with my ten most beloved, I'd spin thirteen tales of terror in which a younger version of me drops some of his cash down a toilet and wishes he had a job. I suppose we should start with:
1. AD&D: Heroes of the Lance (NES)
Video games helped me to be honest with myself. I used to hang out with a group that didn't appreciate fantasy-based works of entertainment and made fun of RPGs as being "for dorks" and the like. In truth, I was a dork who loved stories about knights and dragons and was too afraid to admit it. Playing Dragon Warrior
,Final Fantasy IV
, and Shining Force
helped break my intellectual dishonesty, which expanded my rental base considerably. I embraced my inner dork and decided I should grab what looked like the nerdiest roleplayer on NES from Video Unlimited: Heroes of the Lance
To my chagrin, I discovered that Heroes of the Lance
wasn't an RPG. It was a sidescrolling action-adventure game with light RPG trappings. Like any poorly made actioner, you profit from avoiding conflict as much as possible while struggling with a painful control scheme, and basically watch your entire party perish within minutes due to a piss poor battle system. Combat is stilted and often results in either your untimely demise or at very least large chunks of your HP disappearing. In order to engage opponents, you have to get close enough to them to compromise yourself. Constant confrontations eventually wear you down until your entourage is monster chow.
Some gamers have actually mastered this one, but I'm guessing only after years of wandering. There are no landmarks to tell you whether or not you're on the right path, so all you do is meander until you accidentally find your way to the final boss. These days, you can scope out a Let's Play or YouTube walkthrough to discover where to go, but let's be honest: this game and its clunky physics aren't worth devoting time to watching videos composed of ceaseless, unnecessary chatter while attempting to trudge through shoddy dungeon designs.
2. Deadly Towers (NES)
My time with Deadly Towers
is similar to the above experience. I was at Video Unlimited, a local rental store that's now defuct, and noticed some box art featuring a knight grasping a sword with a fortress over his shoulder. After thumbing through the manual, I began to realize that this game sounded an awful lot like The Legend of Zelda
(only you collect bells from instead of Triforce pieces) and nearly wet myself with excitement. I rushed it to the counter and read the manual on the way home, my excitement growing with each page.
Calling Deadly Towers
a poor man's Zelda
would be an understatement. For starters, there are no in-game maps, so you have to wander everywhere--again with the wandering...--in the hopes that you'll stumble upon the correct path. Even worse than that, every screen is chock full of stock foes like snakes and bats fighting alongside a whole menagerie of amorphous creatures (most of which are just bouncing colored balls). You can't step more than a couple of feet without bumping into something, even when you see clear terrain, because enemies either spawn on top of you or zoom across the screen before you can dodge them. It also doesn't help that you have to walk just about to the edge of the screen to get the viewing perspective to scroll and that there are copious narrow walkways with killing ledges next to them. I think you can see how that combination can be deadly... Perish and you start from the beginning of the game again, although you get to keep the bells you've snagged--assuming you somehow tolerated the game enough to defeat at least one boss.
Oh, but then there's the worst part: Deadly Towers
is loaded with dungeons, the entrances of which are invisible
. They don't always lie in intuitive locations like dead ends, either. You could be walking along and fighting evil, and suddenly you're in a dungeon. The chambers of these passageways are similarly full of creatures, such to the point that they often damage you right as you enter a room and before you can react. Typically, this results in you flying backwards out of the room to the previous chamber. Worst of all is that the dungeons can actually loop. Technically, you could have an endless loop with sixteen chambers connected either horizontally or vertically, which makes these stages even more difficult to navigate. You might think to go by landmarks, but you'll find nary a distinguishing feature in any of these realms besides a slight change in color and maybe enemy arrangement--both of which could be repeated at any time in a dungeon.
Never mind that most of the dungeons you accidentally crawl into are unnecessary as well...
So yeah, Deadly Towers
if Nintendo hated its fanbase...
3. Demon Sword (NES)
Repeat the same train of thought from the first two entries and you have the same ruse that lured me into renting Demon Sword
. The image of a bold warrior lifting a humongous many-pronged blade that exuded fire was all it took. I knew this wouldn't be an RPG, but I figured it could at least be Conan meets Ninja Gaiden
. As you can tell, it led to a night of wishing I had rented Super Mario Bros. 3
, despite owning it.
Typically, when a game is difficult to control, it's either slippery or stiff. Demon Sword
is a tad over-responsive, plus its jumping physics are ridiculous. You fly through the air, a la wuxia movies, and can pretty much skip most of the first level by just leaping. The only problem is that enemies constantly plummet from the sky at peculiar angles, so you end up jumping into them. You could engage them in combat, except your means of offense include a butter knife and shuriken that only travel about five feet in front of you. Worse, some of these weapons only damage or stun your foes rather than instantly kill them, so they can still pose a threat after taking a blow. Killing with the blade is a liability because its range is so short that it's unlikely you'll land a strike without getting hurt. Sure, the blade does lengthen after defeating a couple of bosses, but even then its range remains laughable.
Boss encounters are an anticlimax, as they pit you against monstrous men who run erratic routines. Thankfully, you can easily dispatch the first couple by keeping your distance, because all these guys tend to do is jump up and down, maybe sometimes side-to-side. Their leaps are tremendous, giving you plenty of room and time to run beneath them and dodge a collision. When I fought the second boss, all I needed to do was crouch, wait, and throw stars rapidly when he landed. Eventually I forced him into the corner and shurikened him into oblivion. For a game that has such difficult and overlong levels, you'd think even the first couple of bosses wouldn't be such pushovers. The trouble is getting to the bosses requires a lot of frustration in dealing with inadequate combat and wonky mechanics, combined with a teensy health bar, three lives, and no continues.
4. Doom (SNES)
The early '90s were an exciting time for gaming. Third-person perspectives in video games were becoming more of an option than a standard, as polygonal graphics and first-person exploration were popping up everywhere. Titles like Doom
and Virtua Fighter
showed us what we could expect from the future, and it was exhilarating. As a lover of Doom
who didn't own a PC, I figured to give the SNES version a good whirl, expecting it to be a fairly faithful iteration of its PC cousin.
Oh, what a surprise I was in for...
had to do away with a lot of features, understandably. You couldn't save progress and only three of the episodes were available ("Thy Flesh Consumed" was completely AWOL). Worse, you could only access certain episodes through certain difficulty setting, so you couldn't play through the third one on the easiest mode.
Worse than any of that, though, the game played horribly. Environments transformed into a blur of pixels as you moved and foes were difficult to discern from the rest of the graphics at a distance. You also couldn't move with as much ease as you could in the PC version, which made even basic combat unnecessarily challenging. I also hated how enemies tended to get the drop on you because they could cause more than a trifling amount of damage before their sprites were even visible. It's pretty bad when a game makes you regret forgoing a booster pack of MTG: Fallen Empire (which was considered the worst Magic set of its time, at least until Homelands came along) to rent it.
5. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (NES)
Yes, I actually did rent this. Oh god, why did I ever...?
I caught glimpses Jekyll and Hyde
in a gaming magazine's preview back in the day. It was a fair and impartial article, which made the game sound like a modest sidescroller paired with a Castlevania
clone. Assuming the role of Jekyll, you had to traipse across town to a chapel for your wedding while taking a minimal amount of damage. Occasionally Jekyll turned into Hyde and battled demons and the what have you, and that's what piqued my interest. Screenshots depicted strange skeletal horrors and gloomy surroundings, all of which got my horror-loving heart thumping. I had to play this game, but I couldn't locate a copy of it anywhere... Until Video Unlimited opened across Highway 2...
What I didn't know before renting the game was that Jekyll slowly ambles to his wedding as if he's favoring a broken leg. That being the case, avoiding damage was a lot trickier than I had imagined it would be. In fact, it was seemingly impossible at times. Worse, everything from cats to kids to dapper gentlemen with bombs (WTF?) were out to get ol' Jekyll. After he becomes enraged, Jekyll turns into Hyde and begins walking in the opposite direction from the church, causing you to lose ground. The controls become more responsive, but in some ways too much so. Hyde also auto-scrolls, which makes avoiding damage, again, needlessly tough. After transforming back, you then must recover your old progress and once again abide the game's snore-inducing, sluggish, lackadaisical mechanics and dreary soundtrack. I'm not sure who thought that a slow-paced action game with stiff response and a frustrating alternate world would be even the slightest bit entertaining, but I can only imagine his position with the company was open after this cart hit store shelves.
6. Hydlide (NES)
All of the best RPGs on NES weren't available in my puny hometown. In order to play those, I either had to borrow them from friends or outright buy them. There were plenty to rent, including the NES ports of Ultima
games and Hydlide
. Whatever. I wasn't choosy.
was the game that made me wary of roleplaying titles, because I hadn't learned lesson until renting it. It provides you with a primitive overworld full of monsters to kill off by colliding into them, thus damaging yourself in the process. Getting through the game is more than a mere task, too. At one point, you can only advance when you've killed two wizards simultaneously using a wave spell. Typically, I ran out of MP while doing this and had to wait years for it to replenish. The real kicker is that the game doesn't tell you which tasks need to be fulfilled in order to advance the campaign. Instead, you have to guess your way through a list of obtuse labors while your television speaker belches out a skull-splitting rendition of the Indiana Jones theme song.
What I don't understand is how this atrocity received two sequels (one of which has an enhanced port on SNES) and a remake on Saturn.
7. Peter Pan and the Pirates (NES)
Let it be known that I didn't get to the "horrible game based on a crappy cartoon" segment of this blog until the seventh item. Honestly, there's a good number that could fill those shoes, but this one takes the cake. I only rented it because I was familiar with the series, though I didn't care for it. I thought maybe the game would be good for an afternoon rental and ended up inserting one of my own cartridges instead.
For those of you who don't know, Fox had a show in the '90s based on Peter Pan that sported lame animation and Captain Hook with a powdery wig. Apparently the show was successful enough to warrant an NES platformer, but not popular enough for the game to not suck. Peter Pan and the Pirates
is brimming with rudimentary stages in which you fly around and knife Hook's goons to death. The only problem is that the flight mechanics are awful and the combat is dull. Floating into platforms causes you to plummet and occasionally die, and battle requires you to get within kissing range of your adversaries. You might try to levitate past the pirates and avoid altercations, but your flight power is finite and murdering every pirate is required. It's a mindless, boring title with almost no redeeming qualities.
8. Pit-Figher (SNES)
Yes, it's true: I rented Pit-Fighter
on SNES. I played and somewhat enjoyed the arcade iteration at one point, so I thought maybe the console edition would bring me the same moderate amount of delight. No such luck.
Well, that's putting it lightly, actually. I despised this game so much that I begged my dad to drive me back to the rental store, where I lied to the cashier and said that it was behind Final Fantasy III/VI
and I grabbed it by mistake. They allowed me to switch it out for a different rental, which turned out to be the aforementioned RPG.
is a ruthless game. Its control scheme only allows for button mashing and doesn't feature much in the way of strategy or unique maneuvers. On top of that, foes tend to get the drop on you more often than they should, usually barraging you so heavily with blows that even basic movement is impossible. Your only recourse is to find an effective attack to spam until your opponent's life bar reaches zero. Upon advancing to the next stage, you'll discover that your hit points haven't recovered, the enemies are faster, more furious, and more numerous; and survival becomes an impossibility. Unlike the arcade version, you can't plink a quarter into the slot for an instant revival. If you die once, that's it; you're done. As a youngster, I couldn't even best the first combatant, much less beat the game with a single credit. It's no surprise why Pit-Fighter
pops up on a lot of "worst game ever" lists across the internet.
9. Shadow Man (PlayStation)
Alright, so technically I didn't rent Shadow Man
. However, I owned the PlayStation version so briefly that it may as well have been a rental. This Soul Reaver
clone had a decent enough concept that I eventually sought the Dreamcast version (which I have played through) and donated the PS edition to Goodwill.
's main issue is that it's too powerful for PlayStation to handle properly, yet the developer crammed it onto a PS disc anyway, resulting in a product akin to Doom
on SNES. It's evident when you initially reach Agnetta's abode and are assailed by what appears to be a pair of quadrupedal turd monsters. You open fire on the vicious fecal matter only to hear it yip. Egads, those are rottweilers, not shit! Unfortunately, the docile pups become aggroed by your inability to discern them from the rogues gallery and thus begin attacking.
As I've said with every entry thus far, it gets worse. When you enter the "dark world" or whatever it's called, you can't find your way around because it's a huge mess of pixelated textures. Enemies tend to blend into the environment and can only be spotted when you notice a mess of colors moving independently. The worst, and the part that made me rage quit, is one sequence comprised of killing traps and conveyor belts. If you've gotten this far, you might've noticed that the animation is so terrible that the game is laggy, and thus it's difficult to properly time jumps. More often than not, you leap too late and end up ground beef.
It's not bad enough that the game sports major flaws without the performance issues brought on by the PlayStation's inability to run it smoothly: a confusing rail, over-reliance on block puzzles, and an abundance of irksome harpy-like monstrosities, not to mention banal combat and ridiculous boss encounters. However, the PlayStation version exacerbates what's already a flawed game by piling on even worse shortcomings.
10. Spectre (SNES)
came out when first-person shooters were a newish concept (see the above passage on Doom
). Until I caught a glance of it at Video Unlimited, it was believed that FPSs were exclusively a PC/MAC thing. I thought this was proof positive that consoles were capable of hosting the exciting, young genres that were bleeding out in the '90s. I eventually begged my parents for some spare cash and this was the one I happened to grab.
Oh how I love to squander money!
was rudimentary even at the time of its release. You guide a tank through a 3D world to collect flags and fight off other tanks. It's basically Atari 2600's Combat
rendered with the SuperFX Microchip (if I'm not mistaken) or MIDI Maze
for SNES. It plays like freeware product with a price tag.
The game's primitive concepts are nothing compared to its wonky, inadequate mechanics. There is no strafing, even though its absolutely what a game like this needs. Your only means of avoiding damage is either a very floaty jump that's more of a liability and a warp device you can only use every so often. Your only other hope for survival is to just bear any damage you receive--because you can't maneuver deftly enough to dodge it--and attempt to nab as many restorative power-ups as possible. Even if you manage to survive the first few levels, enemies eventually engage you in combat and damage you before you can turn around to face them. The one that always gets me is a special trap that nails you from behind, because it doesn't appear on your radar and you thus have no way of knowing it's there.
may have worked on other platforms at the time, but it's a clunky, joyless piece on SNES.
11. WWF Super Wrestlemania (SNES)
I got into WWF around 1992 and watched it religiously until 2001. I didn't really get sucked in until Shawn Michaels had to drop the Intercontinetal Championship in 1993, which resulted in a battle royal where the two remaining wrestlers had to face off for the strap next week. It came down to "The Model" Rick Martel and a newly face-turned Razor Ramon (Scott Hall). Martel jobbed the next week, giving Ramon is first of four IC title reigns. From there, my butt was in the seat every Monday at 9PM. Sadly, once the "takeover" angle started with WWE vs. WCW/ECW, I lost interest in American professional wrestling and only occasionally came back to see what had happened after I'd stopped watching. In all the years since giving up WWE, I've only returned to watch one worthwhile match, and that was Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker at Wrestlemania.
But I digress. My enjoyment of WWF meant renting anything bearing the moniker. Super Wrestlemania
happened to be just such a game, and it took me about four or so rentals to realize it's probably one of the worst of its kind. Super Wrestlemania
had a good roster and very easy going mechanics, but the wrestlers all had the same move set and no frickin' finishers
. Playing as Hulk Hogan was no different from playing as Sid Justice was no different from playing as Earthquake. Super Wrestlemania
's only advantage was that it was the only game at the time that had a Survivor Series mode, which is a four-on-four elimination tag team match. Were it not for that, I don't think I would have rented it multiple times.
12. WWF Super Wrestlemania (Genesis)
I didn't own a Genesis until the end of my freshman year of high school. I always dreamed of having one, though. I would browse the Genesis isle at the rental store and wonder what it would be like to play some of the strange and interesting carts on display. There were only a handful of RPGs available, so I didn't have many of those to drool over. What caught my attention instead were the system's platformers, brawlers, and 'versus-style' fighting games. Of course, a couple of WWF license products also called out to me, especially the Genesis version of Super Wrestlemania
Although it sounds the same as the game listed above, the Genesis iteration plays a bit differently and features a tweaked roster. Gone are Earthquake and Typhoon, replaced by Papa Shango and British Bulldog, for instance.
Sadly, though, the mechanics received the opposite of a face lift. So uh... a facedrop? Where before the game was stable but dull, it's now awkward and overly difficult, even on the easiest setting. I found this out when I pitted Ultimate Warrior against the computer's IRS. I could barely get a hit in and struggled to figure out its confusing grapple system. Before my health was even halfway depleted, the game hit me with a huge surprise in the form of IRS's Write-Off. That's right, you can execute finishers without even wearing down your opponent.
Perhaps the silliest part was watching Shawn Michaels pull off the "Side Suplex" (which is what most video games called his pre-Chin Music finisher, the actual name being the Teardrop Suplex
). Rather than executing a proper modified back suplex, he pulled off a vertical one and then awkwardly landed sideways.
Michaels wasn't the only one who suffered, as several of the finishers on display are executed improperly, as if the developers had no idea how any of the moves were supposed to work. Hulk Hogan, for instance, sat on his opponent rather than delivering a legit leg drop. Then you have Ted DiBiase, whose Million Dollar Dream resembles a sexual act.
I never rose to the occasion and lost patience before I could learn to enjoy the game. This rental ended up gathering dust for a day while my SNES copy of WWF Royal Rumble
received all of the love it can handle.
For the last entry, I decided to break alphabetical order. Before getting into this game, I thought I'd list some honorable mentions who didn't make the list because they weren't the worst products I've rented (or because I didn't feel like replaying them so I could write about them):
- Roadrunner (NES)
- Skuljagger (SNES)
- Sky Odyssey (PS2)
- Super Putty (SNES)
- The Simpsons: Bartman Meets Radioactive Man (NES) [this one almost made the list]
- Beavis and Butt-Head (SNES)
- Castelian (NES)
- Street Combat (SNES)
- Athena (NES) [this one also almost made the list]
- Samurai Showdown (SNES)
- Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls (SNES)
- Primal Rage (SNES)
I saved a particular tragedy for last because it has consumed more time than any bad game should. I rented this bad boy multiple times and didn't discover how truly vapid it was until I played it with a walkthrough. The game I'm referring to is:
13. Tombs and Treasure (NES)
, add turn-based combat, an RPG-ish experience system, and a whole bunch of "gone forevers" and dead ends, and you have Tombs and Treasure
. This is a graphic adventure game that seems reasonable at first, until you get critically stuck. The crappy thing is that there are several scenes that require you to do things you wouldn't think to do, like combine certain items, inspect one random cobble out of a screen full of many, and even examine and open items from your inventory before going too far.
As for the RPG elements, they're phoned in. When fighting a boss, you have to pay attention to whether or not you deal critical damage. If you're not crippling the creature with each blow, then you need to level up. You can do this by fighting other bosses. Basically, all the RPG system does is force you to visiting locations in a certain order. There's no strategy involved when fighting them, either. If you're strong enough to deal major damage, then all you need to do is continually select 'fight' and it'll eventually perish.
Regardless of how many times I rented this game, I painted myself into the same corner. Yeah, I was young and not clever enough at the time to make it through this title, at least not until we got the internet. Even then, I didn't actually bother to go through the game until my college years, and by that point I didn't care if I used a FAQ or not. Completing the campaign and seeing it's "so not worth it" ending told me that I basically sunk a whole bunch of time into an adventure that didn't matter. Never mind that Tombs and Treasure
isn't particularly bad. The reason it tops the list is that it took me several rentals and countless lost hours to discover that it's middlin' at best.
Thus concludes the list. Go away.