Posted on Tuesday, February 5th, 2013 at 6:00 PM by Chris Smith
In a previous article, I detailed some of the games that everyone thinks are great, but which I believe are nothing special. Not everyone agreed with my choices, but that’s part of the whole “unpopular” aspect of an opinion piece. As promised – though slightly later than advertised – this article will focus on the other side of the coin: games that everyone else thinks are terrible, but which I think have merit. This turned out to be more difficult than I had thought.
As shocking as this might sound, it’s very easy to be cynical about something, doubly so when that something is very popular. As a games reviewer, I try to maintain a certain degree of impartiality, but there’s no escaping the fact that every honest review is going to be an expression of the reviewer’s own opinion. When you start involving aggregation sites like Metacritic, the average consumer can rest assured that they’re probably not going to buy a bad game. The only time you need to worry is when metascores are poisoned by multiple, negative reviews for some other reason (i.e. developer dislike or shady DRM practices)… or when you are one of the few that think differently than the majority.
With that in mind, I decided to consult this most handy of sites to see if there were any games ranking among the lowest-rated (on any platform) that I felt an innate sense of disagreement with. I only went back as far as the original PlayStation, since any further would probably be past the border of relevance. But even then, it turns out that it’s really difficult to find a universally disliked game unless it really IS terrible. So without further ado, here are a selection of titles that come as close as possible to being “games that nobody liked except me”.
Once ranked as the “25th Worst Game of All Time” by GamesRadar, this tactical RPG from Square-Enix was well-received in Japan, but largely disliked just about everywhere else. Critics panned it for being too difficult, too random and too disconnected. They were certainly right about the difficulty; I’ve not yet come across any other RPG with a learning curve as steep as Unlimited Saga. It does absolutely nothing to help the player get accustomed to the game, instead opting to throw you in at the deep end. This is not a good thing, and it took me a good while to get past the initial displeasure it induced.
The next barrier was certainly the battle system, which is very confusing until you figure it out, whereupon it becomes very annoying. But then you get used to it; like having to get up early on a Monday morning, you accept it for what it is. The last barrier is the feeling of disorganisation that results from having seven different protagonists on seven different storylines. Which character should I play first? Should I play all of them for a bit? I don’t understand, Square-Enix, why do you hate me?
Then something clicks. You endure enough of the confusion and dissonance and you begin to understand the genius hidden in the madness. It’s no secret that Japanese and Western gamers have radically different preferences when it comes to RPGs and nowhere is this better exemplified than in Unlimited Saga. Perhaps it was due to my overwhelming love of just about every JRPG – especially Squaresoft titles – that let me push through the punishment and into the excellence. The sad reality is that very few others outside of Japan will have experienced this game, and of those that did, most would disagree with me. But I really liked Unlimited Saga. It wasn’t a masterpiece by any stretch, but the heart of the game deserved much more praise than it received.
Maybe some of this is down to patriotism, since it was developed by the Scottish 4J Studios (who went on to port Minecraft to XBLA). Perhaps more pertinent is my status as a massive Star Trek fan, especially when it comes to the era spanning The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Whatever the combination of reasons, I really enjoyed Star Trek: Conquest. It’s one of the few games I own for my Wii, meaning it’s one of less than ten titles that I’m willing to endure stupid motion controls for.
Conquest is a mix of turn-based and real-time strategy, with multiple playable races. The bulk of the game is split between the turn-based “galaxy” map, where you move ships across the quadrant in an attempt to control every system, and the real-time battles that result from said movement. You get the feeling that almost every expense was spared for some aspects of this game… sadly, the battles are one of them. Top-down affairs that leave you drifting across the map on a completely 2D plane of battle, mostly bereft of any activity. Ships tend to be difficult to track down and fight when they’re flinging wildly across your screen.
The turn-based aspect is a little better, with token resource gathering and base building, but it remains rudimentary at best and you keep expecting better, or simply just more detail. Yet for all its let downs and inability to live up to, say, Starfleet Command III, it remains one of the few Star Trek games in which you can control your favourite ships. There are even some notable characters from the series (Tomalak, Weyoun and Dukat to name a few) which serve to ignite the fan-boy in me. Despite all its various faults, the bottom line is that I get to lead a fleet of Federation starships and defend the galaxy from an onslaught: that’s all it ever needed to be to make me happy.
IRON MAN normally the first person to criticise movie tie-in games, because they tend to be rushed, poorly made titles designed solely to get as many sales as possible off the back of the movie’s popularity. Often, parents will get these games for their children; the rest of the time, we either choose to ignore the reviews or don’t take the time to read them. Yet we continue with the same dogged optimism, hoping that the next game might be better. In reality, there are scant few movie tie-ins that can really be classed as “good”. For most people, Iron Man was not one of them.
Luckily for me, I was once again not among “most people”. As soon as I got back from the cinema where I’d watched the movie, I ordered the game. I didn’t care how bad it ended up being at that point. I’d become one of those enamoured sheep that formed a good chunk of the game’s customer base. I wanted to be Iron Man and play through those scenes I’d seen in the movie, and that’s exactly what the game provided. Once you got past the awkward controls and the somewhat quirky camera, you were left with precisely what I wanted. I flew across deserts and cities using repulsor jets. I fired beams of energy from my hands and chest. I snapped one-liners in the face of adversity and I loved just about every minute of it.
Does this make me a sucker? Does it justify the existence of every other half-baked movie tie-in? Probably yes and no, in that order. I spoke about impartiality before, but I can’t claim to have been impartial when describing my experience with Iron Man. I love superhero films and I can’t help but find some small measure of joy in the games based on them. I even enjoyed Superman Returns, which fared little better in the eyes of both critics and gamers alike. It may not have been a great game, but it was certainly fun for me to play… and isn’t that a lot of what really matters?
The same pattern repeats itself in all of the games I listed above: in each of them, I find something that counters the failures in design or gameplay, whether that be story, setting or characters. This something ends up being the overriding experience for the duration of play, meaning that whatever flaws end up rearing their ugly heads are quickly forgotten. This applies both in the short and long term, so I keep playing until the game is complete, then remember it fondly for years to come.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my unorthodox views in these two articles, but if you haven’t… well, that’s just your opinion, isn’t it?
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