A Response to a Fignorant GamesRadar Article

GamesRadar is kind of Fugly

If you were asked to attribute a specific name to the shallow, and often ill-conceived articles that appear on game-oriented websites when real news is in a lull, what label would you give them?  Would you merely call them ‘filler’?  Or would you go farther and use more descriptive words like ‘garbage,’ ‘stupid,’ or ‘complete failure’?

In the case of GamesRadar’s article, The Fugliest Games Ever Made, you’d likely use those words and a lot more, peppered with profanity, and probably with some vague threats of violence.  Written by so-called “content” editor, Justin Towell, this list of games is so inconclusive and arbitrary, it almost seems that the games listed were drawn from a hat.  Here’s the list of the “fugliest” games of all time, according to Towell:

  • Toejam & Earl: Panic on Funkotron
  • Nucleus
  • Streets of Rage 3
  • Earache: Extreme Metal Racing
  • Sabre Wulf
  • Sonic & Knuckles
  • Mirror’s Edge
  • Sega Rally Championship
  • Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing

I’ve only played four of the nine games on the list, but of those four, none of them deserve to be dubbed the ugliest game ever.  And looking at the screenshots and commentary for the others, I get the feeling that the other five games are just as undeserving of that title as well.

First of all, I’d like to point out that style isn’t a bad thing, and style certainly shouldn’t be confused for poor design.  Games like Toejam & Earl or Nucleus employed a unique style to make their game worlds memorable, and the designers should be congratulated for that, even if they weren’t always a complete success.  According to Towell however,  we should look down upon these games; in his opinion, we should hold the style of all past games to modern standards:

“We didn’t realise how garish this game is until we downloaded it off Virtual Console recently. Squiggly wiggles in scrolling backgrounds no longer say ‘cool’.”

We’re rapidly moving towards a time where most games are starting to look way too similar to each other, and the best GamesRadar can do is go back in time to trash past games that tried something a little off the beaten path?  Forgive me, but that seems counter-intuitive.

Earl Chillin'

Doesn’t look too bad to me.

Another thing I find particular offensive about this article is that Mr. Towell repeatedly makes the mistake of equating the technical limitations of game platforms with bad graphics.

Streets of Rage 3 used a dot pattern to simulate transparency.  The Sega Genesis didn’t have the capability to do hardware transparency, so developers had to find ways around it.  This was a common technique at the time.

Sega Rally Championship was a 3D racing game on the GameBoy Advance.  The fact that Sega even got a 3D engine working on the GBA is so incredible that I think the low resolution of the rendering should be overlooked, at least in terms of “fugliness”.

Sabre Wulf was created in 1984 for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, the UK equivalent of the Commodore 64, by a two man team.  The ZX was an 8-bit system running on a Z80 processor (a slower version of the one inside the original GameBoy), so naturally, the graphics it pushed weren’t particularly amazing.

Towell, speaking of Sabre Wulf:

“At the time of the game’s release, the screen was so busy we couldn’t work out what was going on.

Now, of course, that lushness has wilted somewhat, especially in the face of games like Tomb Raider Underworld, to the point where its colour palette now looks like someone ate a load of cheap confectionery and barfed it all back up in 259×192 resolution.”

Apparently Mr. Towell didn’t go any farther than Wikipedia for his “research.”  Kinda makes you wonder if he’s ever played Sabre Wulf, doesn’t it?

Wiki Wulf

I guess it’s easy for Virtual Console to become a place where spoiled gamers can download a few games from yesteryear and then loudly conclude that the graphics suck because they don’t mesh well with modern standards.  For those of us who understand the concept of ‘context’, however, I hope that Virtual Console (and services like it) remain a fun place to go for the occasional retro gaming experience.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with finding appreciation for the current graphical limitations of games by playing older games now and then, so long as you remember that most of those games could not have looked better than they did because the technology (and oftentimes the expertise) just wasn’t there yet.

But now, even as I’ve gotten past GamesRadar’s complete ignorance of context, technology, and style, I find myself asking: why are Sonic & Knuckles and Mirror’s Edge on this list?  S&K’s graphics were good for the time, and are in my opinion, still some of the best you can find in 2D platformers.  Mirror’s Edge isn’t ugly at all.  Does Justin Towell truly believe that one psychedelic background effect can ruin a game?  If a handful of people get motion sickness from a game, does that make its graphics bad in any way?

“The screen’s just a mess of colours and glowing white orbs. But wait… this is the bonus level after all! And it’s horrible. Everything’s pulsating like the lightshow you get from a migraine.”

How am I supposed to take commentary like this seriously from a guy who, only a few paragraphs prior, lavished Geometry Wars with praise (“bonfire night explosions of colour and joy”)?

Sonic vs Geometry Wars

Maybe I shouldn’t expect so much from GamesRadar, but I can’t help it; articles like this give me the feeling that they either don’t have any kind of editorial staff, or they simply don’t care what passes for content these days.  Or perhaps this is merely the result of a lazy viewership who never questions the veracity of the articles it consumes.  But how is it possible to publish an article like this, without harboring at least mild contempt for your site’s viewers?

It’s truly a shame when articles like this, which contain nothing but dopey opinions and half-baked zingers, make the rounds and generate ad revenue for sites like GamesRadar.  I just hope this model of online content-sans-content doesn’t become the norm, especially with many major news publications taking their magazines onto the internet, and leaving print behind.  There’s enough garbage online as it is.


  1. Phantom - Over a year ago

    GamesRadar is, and always will be, a joke of a website. They’re turning into a website that can’t write anything interesting, so they end up writing trash like the article mentioned above. The article is only there to create hits for their website, which just shows that no one gives a shit about what they’re writing about to begin with.

    As a gamer, I know there are literally hundreds of different things that an author can write about when it comes to games. It’s when you get down to writing “The Top 10” or the “Blank Games of All Time” lists, you know the author is having writers block. Any idiot can make a top whatever list, which you can clearly see by the GamesRadar author in the above links. It’s just sad that the author couldn’t even pick games which can be equally agreed upon. Mirrors Edge? Sonic and Knuckles? This guy doesn’t know what a bad game looks like even if one kicked him straight in the face. Superman 64, White Men Can’t Jump, Congo… there are plenty of other games out there which look much worse than what the author has mentioned. It’s too bad that GamesRadar will never understand this, and it’s the driving reason why I don’t even bother to give them hits.

    1. FredFredrickson - Over a year ago

      I probably shouldn’t bother given them the traffic either – but sometimes it irks me that people who have no idea what the hell they are talking about actually make money writing articles like this one, while many others out there would gladly take their place, and bring more knowledge / wisdom to the table to boot.

  2. xot - Over a year ago

    GamesRadar is a news aggregator that tries to pass itself off as a professional blog, which by their very nature are trying to pass themselves off as journalism. In other words, bogus-cum-bogus. I subscribe to the GamesRadar RSS feed, but only to find more interesting articles posted elsewhere. Actually, I don’t think I do anymore, I was getting too much crap. I have been ignoring my RSS feeds for a couple of months which is why I’m not sure.

    As for the article, that list is idiotic. Some of those games are certified classics. This sort of myopic analysis makes me think of other bloggers who create “Greatest (fill-in-the-blank)” movie lists without including a single black and white film. “Black and white? That just sounds boring.” I’ve actually heard people say that. As a student of film, it boggles.

    Your point about confusing technical limitations with poor design is sadly true. There is a thread on GMC, the question: “Would you play a game with Atari graphics”. It’s disappointing enough that people base their play choices on graphics, but when “Atari graphics” becomes a synonym for “crap graphics”, that starts to make me angry. I very nearly posted a tirade about that in the topic, but had second thoughts because most people seemed to understand the difference. It’s no secret that I’m a dyed-in-wool Atarian. I hate see those older systems disparaged, because I used to use and program on them everyday, and I’ve made a point of studying them deeply. The hardware work of Jay Miner et al. and the software work of the likes of Activision deserve the utmost respect.

    Last night I was reading some reviews of Atari 5200 games, and so many of them were negative because the reviewer felt the developer had not improved them enough over the more primitive Atari 2600 versions. He completely failed to appreciate that the Atari 2600 versions were simply pushing the hardware far beyond what was expected of it. The Atari 5200 hardware can’t be exploited in the same ways and the games he was reviewing were already pushing it to its limits. It’s dumb to penalize them for not doing the impossible.

    1. FredFredrickson - Over a year ago

      Exactly, very well said, Xot. I always think it’s funny – when I go back and play old games, I often think to myself, “man, I can’t believe that we’ve come so far from this!” And sometimes I’ll admit, it’s hard to imagine people being so enthralled by games where you’re a square battling other squares… but when you put it all in context, not only do you garner a newfound appreciation for “old school” graphics, but you better understand where the game’s designers were coming from. I’ve learned a lot of what I know about game graphics simply from studying older games; there are a lot of great techniques in older material. It’s too bad that today’s gamers (and sometimes even developers) dismiss the older stuff as just plain “bad,” without a second thought about how these games’ graphics are still relevant today.

    2. Yourself - Over a year ago

      That’s because people are morons. Like this one guy who keeps posting this topic in the experts forum asking about importing Source SDK maps into GM. If he keeps doing it I’m going to be forced to actually send him a PM. The only reason I haven’t done so yet is because I’m afraid I’ll offend him when I call him an idiot.

  3. James Rhodes - Over a year ago

    I still prefer classics over 3D modern games, simply because of their style. Especially when the 3D gets in the way of gameplay.

  4. Highway Child - Over a year ago

    Well, here we go again. Another blogger complaining about the content on GamesRadar.com. You know, what I don’t understand, is how someone can read a few articles from a site and call the whole site a rotten cesspool of profanity and unprofessional nonsense.

    I once read an article stating that all that the journalists at GR wrote about was tits and farting. Do you know how many articles on GR are about tits and farts, pro-blogger Martin?


    45% of the articles on GamesRadar pertained to boobs and farts. Now, what was the other, what? 55% of the writing on that website? You say it’s unprofessional blabber, no? Well, I love harshly criticizing what people do for a living, but isn’t this a tad stupid? What, do you think that GR is three guys who work on the website together online? What’s this I hear, then? They actually have two major office buildings?

    You know, I have to admit, the articles on the UK side of GR are pretty bad, but you can’t just drive a whole site into the ground because of some of the things there. You know, it may be obscene, but when I’m not reading IGN or Gamespot for news, I go to GR. Why? Because it’s funny, goofy, irreverent… no– entertaining as a whole!

    Lay off for a bit.

    1. Martin - Over a year ago

      I think you missed the point of my rant there, Highway Child. I wasn’t complaining about the entertainment value of the site. I was complaining about how wrong the article in question was.

      It’s one thing to spend half your time writing articles about how much you like boobs and farts. That’s fine with me, and though it makes the seem very unprofessional, some people dig that. What I do not like is people writing articles and speaking from an authoritative position on a subject that they clearly do not understand. How many people will read the article I mentioned and think that everything isn the article is 100% factual and true?

      It’s great to have a sense of humor, and to entertain your site’s visitors. But when you try your hand at journalism, check the facts please. With the internet at your fingertips, you have no excuse not to, and I will not “lay off” when stupid people spread wrongful information just because they are too lazy to do some basic research.

    2. Guy1 - Over a year ago

      45% of their articles are about boobs or farts?
      Where did you get that number?

  5. Vir - Over a year ago

    I know I’m about a year late to the party but there is some dire need for clarification.

    @HighwayChild: where did you get 45%? That is beyond incorrect. In TalkRadar Episode 46 they confronted this very topic. As of then, less than 2% of their content registered under the tags “Sexy and Babes” which are the tags they use for those articles. 2 percent. Though thank you for defending GR. Very much appreciated.

    @xot: “I subscribe to the GamesRadar RSS feed, but only to find more interesting articles posted elsewhere. Actually, I don’t think I do anymore, I was getting too much crap. I have been ignoring my RSS feeds for a couple of months which is why I’m not sure.” Really? I subscribe to their RSS feed to find better articles. Actually I don’t. Cuz I don’t actually pay attention to it so I’m not sure. This isn’t elementary school anymore, quit trying to sound cool. You just come off as uninformed.

    @Martin: You expect an article in which you agree with 100% of the content? Not gonna happen. For example I disagree strongly with your blogpost here and you have some valid arguments but I’m not damning you for it. I’m not calling it garbage, or peppering it with strong words. I’m accepting that the internet is a big enough for both of us. I agree that Mirror’s Edge and Sonic were beautiful games. I agree that it’s unfair to knock old games for looking old. But all I have to do is not read the article, or at WORST post in the comments “Yeah I think Mirror’s Edge was a really pretty game”. CRISIS AVERTED. If the internet was everything you agreed with, wouldn’t you find it pretty boring? How long can you really go in a world of yes men. Opinion is the spice of the internet. It’s how you deal with it that decides the rest of the entree.

    GamesRadar is not a site to go to for your gaming news. By the editors own admission, you would be crazy to visit GR for that. There are a million other sites dedicated to that. If you want entertaining frivolous articles that are written for FUN, then go to GamesRadar. Clearly you don’t like what they do, so quit visiting the site. It’s a big internet guys.

    1. Martin - Over a year ago

      Sure, it’s an opinion piece, but it comes from such an ignorant point of view, something had to be said about it. I’ve played many of these games, and as an artist, I’ve always appreciated them. They are great examples of what you can do with a very restrictive medium, and I think that until the author of this article understands that, he should expect people to balk at such backwash.

      There’s a lot of things on the internet that I don’t agree with, and everyone is, of course, entitled to their opinion – but sometimes your opinion is wrong, and in this case, it was Games Radar’s turn. You can’t hide that under the guise that it’s just entertainment, because even entertainment can be absolutely wrong and utter garbage. I stand by what I said, and if you happen to be the author of the article, I hope you do better research the next time you decide to write a piece like this.

  6. Monty - Over a year ago

    Sounds to me like pure jealousy. Get a sense of humour Martin! :P

    1. Martin - Over a year ago

      Hey, I’ve got a great sense of humor. But what is the point of making jokes about material you obviously have no understanding of? It just spreads misinformation and makes you look stupid.

      I’m not really sure why you would think I was jealous, or what exactly I am supposed to be jealous of, either.

  7. moth - Over a year ago

    Most of their journalists are a bunch o pricks,only one or two you can take seriously.

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