Ten of the Best Gaming Guilty Pleasures
Every form of entertainment has some products that fall into the “guilty pleasure” category, and gaming’s no exception. Whether they’re so-bad-they’re-good, or games with some sort of hilarious flaw, or cheesy cult classics, or just the sort of thing you wouldn’t want anyone to catch you playing, what follows is a list of ten games that you should definitely play – just maybe not for the reasons the developers hoped.
I think Boiling Point is the only game in the world which can actually claim to possess patch notes that have reduced me to actual tears of laughter. Try these on for size:
Fixed: Size of the moon.
Fixed: Jaguar floats across screen at treetop level.
Fixed: NPCs die on contact with grenades, not from explosion.
Police station cannot be destroyed by a crossbow anymore.
NPCs now avoid obstacles when moving.
Boiling Point was a hopelessly ambitious open-world FPS/RPG hybrid, created by a small-ish team that wasn’t quite capable of making the finished product match up to the ambition… which actually makes Boiling Point a lot more interesting than it has any right to be, as it’s a game in which very weird things happen with alarming regularity.
Ironically enough, after a few patches a lot of these weird little issues have been ironed out and the game has somehow become a bit less entertaining. Objectively, it’s probably a much better game than it was and far closer to the original vision, but I miss the mad little unpatched version. A good game? Not really, but bloody entertaining nonetheless.
Deadly Premonition is not a good game. It’s not. You can’t convince me. The driving? Awful. The combat? Abominable. The ‘scary’ enemies? Mostly laughable. The animations? The voice acting? The presentation? The graphics? All appalling. (Although I do like the music.)
And yet it all works. I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but crucically I don’t care: Deadly Premonition is a terrible game and, despite this, it’s one of the most bizarrely enjoyable things I’ve played in quite some time.
It’s even surprisingly ambitious; every person in this horror-themed murder mystery follows a strict schedule every day, and if you’re suspicious that someone might be bumping others off then you can follow them around, go to their home and peek through the windows, and generally investigate – or just piss around doing side-quests like fishing.
Just don’t look at the car number plates, because someone thought it’d be a good idea to put massive spoilers on them, and remember to shave and change clothes regularly or the FBI will fine you for being an untidy agent. Just like real life.
But that’s not even the real joy of the game. Oh, no. You see, if you’re the sort of person who likes to watch things like Plan 9 from Outer Space, Hercules in New York or Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, then you have to play this game.
Stick it on Easy difficulty so you can race through the combat and just enjoy the unbelievable cutscenes, the ridiculous story, the Sinner’s Sandwich, and most of all the one-sided conversations between “FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan. Please, just call me York. That’s what everyone calls me,” and Zach, who might be a voice in his head, or an imaginary friend, or the player, or… something. And these conversations (and many others) tend to be about old films or cartoons. I guarantee that, after the game’s intro, you’ll never look at Tom & Jerry the same way again.
What the hell is this game? I don’t know, but it’s probably the only genuinely so-bad-it’s-good game I’ve ever played. Some games are buggy, some games are uninspired, some games are poorly made, and some games are crap. Deadly Premonition has somehow distilled a load of very bad game elements into something of a masterpiece. Every single minute of it – every piece of music, every line of dialogue, every ludicrous plot twist, every awful combat section – is enjoyable. I don’t know how it’s possible, but it is. Faults and all, this really is a must play.
Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis
I’ll state, flat out, that I’ve barely played Secret Files 2 – but I have witnessed most of the first half. When Andy Alderson previewed this back in 2009, any and all work I did ceased completely while I sat, bemused, listening to the unbelievable voice acting and observing the ridiculous puzzles, occasionally offering suggestions on how to solve the regular brain-teasers.
Secret Files 2 is probably the point-and-click adventure I reference most often, because it’s almost the pitch-perfect example of what’s both wrong and right with the genre. There are some utterly nonsensical puzzles (“use rollerskate on UFO” being one of my favourites) combined with a wildly varying quality of both writing and voice acting, and yet this all adds up to make something weirdly compelling. If you’re anything like me then you want to see what the next batshit insane puzzle involves, and you want to hear the unbelievable accent of the next character. More sarcasm from the protagonist is always a good thing, too.
To some extent, I think that’s what guilty pleasures are all about: enjoying yourself for reasons completely unrelated to the actual quality of the game. In that sense, Secret Files 2 is totally worth a few quid in a sale.
Earth Defense Force 2017
This is perhaps the one game on this list that I’m afraid may actually trigger some sort of backlash, so: I love Earth Defense Force 2017. I love it because it’s a shoddy B-movie of a game. I love it because of the ability to tear down buildings with a single rocket, and because of the way the corpses of giant ants ping-pong around the map, apparently having been weighed down in life by nothing more than a soul.
It’s great fun, simply put. It’s clumsily assembled and it’s not the sort of thing you’d ever show off to anyone as an example of gaming as high art, but the huge weapon count, massive potential for destruction, and scores of bizarrely bouncing foes actually make it one of the few games on this list that’s worth playing on its actual merits.
EDF2017 is unashamedly and unabashedly a game. It exists solely as a piece of entertainment and it succeeds at that flawlessly, with the cheesy presentation only adding to the fun.
Chaos Wars is a Japanese strategy RPG which shoves together characters from Shadow Hearts, Growlanser, Gungrave, and a variety of other titles into one big tactical mish-mash. Crossover SRPGs are nothing new in Japan – just look at the popularity of the Super Robot Wars series – and, hey, they’re normally pretty good. But the English localisation of Chaos Wars…
Look, just make sure you’re not trying to eat or drink anything and then listen to this. If that doesn’t sum up why Chaos Wars makes this list, I’m not sure what will.
Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball
I don’t think I’ll ever live this down, but I like Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball. No, really. It’s a game I actually enjoyed, and not for the obvious (jiggling) pair of reasons.
I picked this up on a whim for £2.99, and I’d say it was worth every penny. Yes, it’s unbearably sophomoric. Yes, the actual volleyball is terrible, and so are the rest of the minigames. Yes, there’s a rather creepy mode in which you can take photographs of the Dead or Alive ladies as they recline in a variety of picturesque environments. Yes, the entire point of the game appears to be to unlock new bikinis. And yes, I’m utterly ashamed that it’s in my collection.
But after playing so many games themed around tension and horror and violence, playing a game with absolutely no threat whatsoever is bizarrely refreshing. You lost a game of volleyball, or went broke in the casino? Oh well. Never mind. No worries. It’s not like anything bad will happen.
Match this up with an upbeat, pop-themed soundtrack that would be unbearably happy in any other game, and playing DoA:XBV starts to feel a bit like a holiday at a really shit resort. You can just do whatever you like, with all of the little minigames and songs flowing into each other to create a strangely relaxing experience. It’s a terrible, terrible game, but it’s one of which I’m surprisingly fond – and not because of those bouncing, oversized reasons I mentioned at the start.
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened
There was no way this was ever going to be great. A combination of Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft is the sort of idea that gives me a pleasurable little prickle at the base of my spine, and there have even been a couple of occasions in which it’s been done right (Neil Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald, say). But then you marry the idea to a point-and-click adventure and… well…
It’s not terrible, exactly; there are a few nice pieces of deductive reasoning, and I suppose it’s an adequate point-and-click adventure game despite some awful spots of pixel-hunting. It’s just that – through a mix of poor writing, some atrocious voice acting, and Watson’s incredible teleportation ability – it’s inadvertently hilarious; moreso, now that the graphics have dated considerably. Watching a corpse’s head fall off as a snake pushes through it (complete with dramatic music, if memory serves) will never be quite as funny as when it’s done with a low-poly model and some rubbish animation.
So no, it doesn’t so much live up to its lofty inspirations as it does fall off them into a chasm, but it’s still an enjoyable romp – even if for all the wrong reasons. How enjoyable? Well, I enjoyed it enough that I actually have the two follow-up titles in my collection. You’re never going to see me call it a good example of the genre or a fantastic use of either license, but it’s got a warm place in my heart because it’s so adorably naff.
Takeshi no Chousenjou (“Takeshi’s Challenge”)
Takeshi no Chousenjou is probably one of the worst games ever made. No, really. The game itself – a 1986 Famicom title, made by Taito with ideas offered by comedian/actor/writer/literally everything else imaginable Takeshi Kitano – was basically a sadistic attempt at annoying gamers, with a series of utterly absurd challenges, instant deaths, and a habit of forcing you to redo hours of gameplay for mistakes you couldn’t anticipate. How hard? Hard enough that a second strategy guide was released after the first, and people still couldn’t beat it. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the offices were fielding around 400 calls a day from angry gamers.
There’s a side-scrolling shooter section in which you can’t move upwards. There’s a karaoke section in which you need to sing into a microphone, perfectly in time with the music, and get it spot on multiple times in a row. There’s a section where you have to put down the controller and do nothing for an hour. You can die on the password input screen.
That might sound like it’s stretching the definition of a guilty pleasure, but the truth is that there is a perverse joy in playing the game today. Back in 1986, this must’ve seemed like a sick joke at the expense of Japanese gamers, and I can only imagine how annoyed people must have been if this was one of the few games they bought that year. But now… well, now the joke isn’t on us. We can laugh right along with the game. If that’s not a lot of guilt to go along with a bit of pleasure, I don’t know what is.
Postal 2 is the sort of game you play and enjoy, but you really, really don’t want your significant other or your parents walking in when you do so. It’s so over-the-top in terms of how unspeakably vile it is that it crosses over into the realms of gross-out comedy; writing about how you can set someone on fire, cut off their head with a shovel, and then pee on the corpse to put the flames out (before kicking the head into a crowd of civilians who immediately begin vomiting, naturally) may not seem funny in text, but it’s so unrepentant about all of this that when you do it you’re more likely to be amazed that it’s possible than sickened that you did it – if you’re of a tolerant mindset, at least.
It’s not a particularly marvellous game – massive difficulty spikes, in particular, make it quite a frustrating experience – but as a way of relieving a bit of tension, it’s almost unparalleled. Just don’t use a cat as a silencer in front of a non-gamer. They’re unlikely to forgive you for quite some time.
Enchanted Folk and the School of Wizardry
“What’s that you’re playing on your DS? Phoenix Wright? Professor Layton? Maybe chilling with some Picross?”
“No, I’m playing Enchanted Folk and the School of Wizardry.”
“No, no, it’s not as awful as it sounds. It’s sort of like Animal Crossing, only you’re a trainee wizard at a magical school, like in Harry Potter, and… um… you’re looking at me funny…”
There’s nothing wrong with Enchanted Folk, except that it’s not the sort of thing you’d ever want to actually admit to playing. It’s a slightly clunkier version of Animal Crossing, only with a nifty casting system, and lessons, and everything’s themed around magic and fantasy. It’s pretty neat.
But you try telling someone that you’re playing a game called Enchanted Folk and the School of Wizardry, and you try explaining that it’s sort of like Hogwarts opened up a branch in Animal Crossing. Assuming you’re over the age of 13, just imagine what your friends would say.