In every medium there are bound to be revered classics that, in retrospect, actually aren’t very good. Occasionally, pieces of entertainment remain relevant over time not because they are necessarily great artworks, but entries in important series, or static reminders of the framework of their time. Video game history is interesting because unlike other major forms of entertainment like books, film, and television, video games have only been a part of entertainment culture for forty years. The definition of what constitutes as a “classic” is debatable within a field that has only recently learned how to walk on its own.
For the sake of argument, this list of fifteen classic games that actually aren’t very good covers games starting from the video game console that started the gaming revolution, NES, and spans to the infancy of the Playstation 2. Why? Because the natural halfway point between the release of Nintendo’s first home console and today is right at the turn of the millennium. While some may argue that games released past 2001 are modern classics, and others may argue that classics only cover the early days of arcade and action games of the mid-eighties and early-nineties, this list represents the progression of games from 1987 to 2001, a timespan in which games went through constant changes and evolutions to influence, and serve as a template for, what games are today in 2016. The entries here are sometimes fun experiences, but fun doesn't always equate to an overall good experience.
Simon’s Quest, the 1997/1988 NES classic, is frequently listed as one of the best games of its time. It tried, for the second time in the series, to depart from the traditional action adventure elements that started the Castlevania series. Unfortunately, its myriad puzzles were not well-thought out to be kind, and farfetched to be completely honest. Because there were no clues to assist players, the role playing game elements that were thrown in appeared to be sculpted by a team that didn’t fully understand the successful tactics of implementing problem solving components. Because of this, Simon’s Quest is a game that mandates the use of a strategy guide unless the player is on an incredibly bizarre streak of good guesses built entirely on luck over skill. Furthermore, the dialogue was atrociously translated from Japanese, featuring such infamous lines like “Hit Deborah Cliff with your head to make a hole.” The context of the computer dialogue was lost in translation, therefore, expounding on the barriers for entry. Simon’s Quest influenced the pinnacle of the franchise, Symphony of the Night, and other marvelous entries that followed, but Simon’s Quest is a sore spot in the lineage of this great franchise. A jumbled mess of partially realized ideas.
One of Nintendo’s cult status staples. Kid Icarus has remained in the minds of gamers thanks to its protagonist’s, Pit, inclusion in the colossally successful fighting game series, Super Smash Bros. The NES action platformer is known for being brutally challenging. Difficult doesn’t mean bad by any sense of the imagination, but Kid Icarus was riddled with bugs, odd level design, and moments that were better defined as unfair, not purely hard. The controls were inaccurate, the music didn’t quite fit the tone of the game, and the graphics were strangely outdated in a time when graphics weren’t that breathtaking to begin with. The so called high-scaling demands for completion were actually quite annoying. A difficult game that doesn’t inspire you to wage on after succumbing to yet another death.
One of Nintendo’s cult status staples. Kid Icarus has remained in the minds of gamers thanks to its protagonist’s, Pit, inclusion in the colossally successful fighting game series, Super Smash Bros. The NES action platformer is known for being brutally challenging. Difficult doesn’t mean bad by any sense of the imagination, but Kid Icarus was riddled with bugs, odd level design, and moments that were better defined as unfair, not purely hard. The controls were inaccurate, the music didn’t quite fit the tone of the game, and the graphics were strangely outdated in a time when graphics weren’t that breathtaking to begin with. The so called high-scaling demands for completion were actually quite annoying. A difficult game that doesn’t inspire you to wage on after succumbing to yet another death.Kid Icarus' cult of fans finally influenced the first entry in the series since 1991 for Nintendo 3DS in 2012, Kid Icarus: Uprising, a serviceable on-rails action shooter that will likely be the last appearance of Pit besides future Smash iterations.
The Legend of Zelda franchise is one of best of all time, featuring some of the most consistently superb, and a lot of the time, masterful games throughout the industry. Nintendo’s second foray into Hyrule is not one of them. Zelda II largely abandoned the top-down formula that made the original NES game so great, in favor of a mishmash of genres that felt forced and awkward. The overworld map transforms into a side-scrolling Mario/Castlevania hybrid when the hero, Link, makes contact with an enemy. The problem was that the overworld map wasn’t richly detailed due to the time spent creating the other half of the design, and the side-scrolling 2D portion was not nearly as satisfying as other games in the same vein. Exploration and discovery of new items and abilities is what makes Zelda games great, and it didn’t translate well here. If Zelda II hadn’t have been attached to its namesake, this classic would’ve likely been forgotten almost as soon as it was released.
The game that put Peter Molyneux on the map before the commercial success of the recently discontinued Fable franchise. Black & White was released in 2001 to widespread critical acclaim. Essentially a “god simulator,” players are born as a god created by the prayers of a family. The gameplay was literally the “hand of god” working miracles, interacting with the world and its occupants and fighting off the villainous god, Nemesis, who threatens to destroy all other gods. In order to make progress, players need to reign supreme across all villages on the island setting. The story is filled with contradictions like this, and its pretentiousness is apparent in all aspects of the game. It supposedly stresses good versus evil, but asks the player to influence people for self-gain. A gameplay component that asks the player to control different creatures isn’t particularly troublesome at face value, but since the player is god, this aspect is worrisome. Since exciting gameplay isn’t the focal point here, the qualifications for it being good are solely realized from the emotional weight and philosophical testaments. And neither is ever earned.