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
- 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.
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?
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”)?
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.