Video games were frequently weird in the '90s. Like, "What were they thinking?" kind of weird. Looking back, it's almost refreshing in a way to see such bizarre attempts at entertainment, considering the relatively homogenous crop of mainstream games that fill game store shelves now. Indie games can still be strange, but few things match the earnest attempts at crossover success produced by developers during the golden era of cartridges in the 1990s.
Sometimes the weird old games were cheap knock-offs of established brands, and other times they were equally cheap attempts at advertising to children through gaming. In either case, the major recurring theme in weird '90s video games tends to be "cheap." That might be why these games fall into that Uncanny Valley level of enjoyment: they sort of LOOK like normal games, but even just a few minutes of playtime reveal their hollow insides. Here, we've collected the weirdest video games from yesteryear for your enjoyment.
Seaman takes "wtf" to new levels of "oh god no." Developed and released for the Sega Dreamcast in Japan in 1999, it was a perfect storm of "wrong place, wrong time, wrong idea, please stop." You play as the lucky new owner of a Seaman, a mysterious species of fish with a horrifyingly lifelike human face. You have to learn how to care for the upsetting-looking thing, all the while trying to not to cringe so much your face just collapses in on itself. Sega prided itself on originality, often to a fault. The Dreamcast was ahead of the curve with online play and open-world exploration of minutiae (see: Shenmue, also super weird), but sometimes being too original just means being an outcast.
Fun Fact: Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy provided the narration for the English language versions of the title, adding an extra element of, "Why is any of this?"
Developer: Jellyvision, Vivarium Inc.
Genres (Video game): Simulation video game, Digital pet
Publisher: Sega, Vivarium Inc.
Platform: PlayStation 2, Dreamcastsee more on Seaman
Once again, Sega is coming through with the weirdness. Released in 1990 for arcades and the Sega Master System and Sega Genesis, Michael Jackson's Moonwalker focuses on Michael Jackson finding and rescuing children. Hindsight tells us this is a horrifying idea and that Michael Jackson should never be trusted with rescuing children, much less doing so with magic spinning powers. You can kind of see why a Michael Jackson video game might make sense in the early '90s: he was the biggest pop star alive and Sega just wanted to sell some games. But understanding its context still doesn't make this any less completely insane and bizarre.
Developer: Sega, Emerald Software
Genres (Video game): Isometric projection, Shooter game, Shoot 'em up, Platform game, Action game, + more
Publisher: U.S. Gold, Sega
Platform: MS-DOS, Sega Game Gear, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, Master System, + moresee more on Michael Jackson's Moonwalker
Before Papa John, the creepiest mascot belonged to Domino's and their "Noid" character. Domino's executives were so convinced this strange man in a red jumpsuit would be a hit with kids, they commissioned a video game based on the character for the original NES. Yo! Noid was originally developed in Japan as Kamen no Ninja Hanamaru but publisher Capcom teamed up with Domino's for the US market and swapped out the Japanese game's main character for the Noid and released this abomination in 1990. The game is fairly standard and uninspired: some half-thought-out creatures are terrorizing New York, the Mayor calls the Noid to defeat them, he demands payment in pizza. In other words, capitalism doesn't make sense and this ungodly creature was born as a result.
Developer: Now Production, Capcom
Genres (Video game): Space trading and combat simulation games, Platform game, Action game
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment Systemsee more on Yo! Noid
The development meeting for Shaq Fu probably went something like this:
Person 1: "Shaq is popular."
Person 2: "Fighting games are popular."
Person 1: "Why are we still having this meeting? Let's just combine those things and make ourselves a nice amount of money."
Come to think of it, that "conversation" may have just been one deranged executive muttering to himself.
Released for the Genesis and Super NES in 1994, the game finds Shaquille O'Neal traveling to a dimension called the Second World where he must rescue a young boy named Nezu from an evil mummy called Sett Ra. Hopefully, that sentence was as boring to read as it was to type. Even though the game is pointless, it gained enough fans to successfully crowd-fund a sequel called Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn, which is currently in development. See kids, it just goes to show: if you're dumb, pointless, and weird, you can make it far in this world with the right celebrity endorsement.
Developer: Delphine Software International
Genres (Video game): Action game, Fighting game
Publisher: Electronic Arts, THQ
Platform: Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Game Gear, Sega Mega Drive, Game Boy, Amigasee more on Shaq Fu