If you play games with any regularity, it's inevitable that you'll eventually come across a roughly-made, unbalanced, unpopular, or straight-up broken title that you grow attached to regardless of how low the score on Metacritic drops.
Despite friends telling you that you're crazy for liking it, maybe there's a certain character that resonates with you, or a unique concept that no other game has captured. Maybe there's one puzzle that lit your brain on fire, or you adore a unique visual style. Whatever the reason, I'm betting that every gamer out there has at least one of these awkward, ugly ducklings that they hold dear—and I've invited a group of guest writers to kiss and tell.
Tonight, there is no shame and no judgment. Tonight, there is no regret. Tonight, I invite you to join us in embracing things that may not be worth $60, but hold priceless value in our hearts.
Tonight, we revel in Broken Love.
Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to realize there's a problem. When it comes to the Sonic the Hedgehog series, rock bottom needed to be hit about six times. No bottom was rockier for the blue rodent than the 2006 game Sonic the Hedgehog, (commonly referred to as Sonic '06 to avoid confusion with the original) which was an absolute disaster of a game that I'm still not convinced wasn't just one giant troll on the Sonic community.
Sonic '06 is technically a platformer in the same way the blood of baby seals is technically drinkable. The shell of what the genre represents is there, but everything within that shell is a broken disaster. Physics are nowhere to be found with Sonic being able to literally stop in the middle of a loop, standing completely upside down while thirty feet in the air. Falling through the ground is about as common as jumping, and the enemies have a hilarious habit of spawning directly under the player's feet. To top it off, there's a power-up in the game that unintentionally lets Sonic jump infinitely because it wasn't implemented properly, allowing Sonic to literally fly through the levels. I wouldn't be surprised to find out this was done on purpose as an apology for the atrocious controls.
I've played several games with bad stories, but never one that was trying this hard. Sonic '06 desperately wants you to care about the plot, but it's told with some the worst voice acting and ugliest character models of any game this generation. The humans all look like chattering pirate skeletons from Disney World, and the animals look like sock puppets covered in grease. The plot is a horrific pile of demons, time travel and interspecies romance, all culminating with the most awkward kiss in video game history.
Sonic '06 is a game I've gotten every achievement for, and spent probably close to one hundred hours on. After all the insults I've just tossed at the game, this will probably be a surprise. What kept me playing, despite all of its crippling flaws, is the fact that this game is bad to the point of being both hysterical and fascinating. While a game like Final Fantasy XIII might have me throwing in the towel before hitting the 10 hour mark due to the dull story and rigid structure, Sonic '06 had me yearning to see what failed gameplay mechanics, unlikeable sock puppet characters, and plot hole-ridden cutscenes would be vomited into my face next. The term "so bad it's good" has never been more appropriate.
I could go on about how the load times are dreadful and the vehicle sections are almost unplayable, but really it all just leads back to the same point: Sonic '06 is one of the funniest games I've ever played. There's nothing else like it, really. It manages to find the sweet spot between broken and unplayable, and all that lies there is endless laughter. The fact that this disaster was actually released at full price is something that will forever boggle my mind, and I can appreciate the game just for having that effect on me. It's truly one of a kind, and I can say in all honestly that it's something every gamer should experience. At the very least, it'll make all other games, movies, funerals, and horrific near-death experiences seem outstanding by comparison.
Some games, like religious prophets, simply come before their time—before they can be comprehended by the masses. This was the first strike against Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. The game had cutting edge features for the PlayStation 2—features present in today's modern generation of games: cel-shading, an AP driven battle system, and roguelike mechanics. Capcom took a big chance on Dragon Quarter, and many fans felt that in doing so they created a game that was not definitive of the Breath of Fire series. That was the second strike against Dragon Quarter, ultimately dooming the game to relative obscurity and criticism—and yet I would list Breath of Fire's final iteration among my favorite titles on the PlayStation 2.
I was young when I played Dragon Quarter (its localization was released 9 years ago). Prior to that I had played Breath of Fires 3 and 4 and loved them both. They featured classic RPG fare: kings, knights, and castles—but they were lovable in their own right. Dragon Quarter defiantly shed all but the essentials needed to construct a new Breath of Fire experience: a boy named Ryu who could turn into a dragon and a girl named Nina. That necessary core was transplanted into a dystopian world in which humanity resided in an expansive labyrinth of underground bunkers. The government oppressively assigned citizens to live in certain sectors, most far below the surface and plagued with low quality air. The implications of such a cruel world were not lost on me, especially as I watched the suffering inflicted upon the game's heroine, Nina, due to the environment. I still recall scenes of her coughing up blood and struggling to breathe. It was all very real and frightening but I felt genuine motivation to right the atrocities of this world.
The first time I played Dragon Quarter I didn't progress far before getting a game over. I struggled with the game's AP driven battle system, in which both movement and attacks consumed AP. After my game over, I was given an option as to how I wanted to continue, either starting over entirely with my items intact or continuing from a previous save, forfeiting any EXP I'd earned. It dawned on me that progression wasn't necessarily a straight path in Dragon Quarter—in instances like this, it was better to take my spoils and start over with a slight advantage. This was the first time I played a game that could be considered roguelike in nature and the gamble of pushing forward or losing everything quickly become addicting, standing in stark contrast to the flat world of try-again, turn-based combat I once knew so well.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter is a testament to creation from destruction. After burning away baggage the series had accumulated over the years, the creators were left with room to innovate, and that is precisely what they did. Haters be damned, this game is something I love and will never forget.
Most people who bought Microsoft's Xbox bought it on the strength of Halo, so when many of those people bought Gunvalkyrie, they expected a brawny, high-budget first-person sci-fi shooter. Instead, they got an alternate history steampunk third-person shooter. Many copies returned to the used bin just as quickly as they left it. Those who persevered with this quirky title, however, discovered something special.
Imagine a game set circa 1906, in a world where the British Empire conquered Earth and explored the stars via its mastery of technology. This British Empire maintains an elite military force, populated by the world's best and brightest, equipped with mechanical flight suits called Gearskins. When Dr. Hubble (progenitor of this miraculous technology) goes missing, the Empire sends a fleet Irish woman and a burly Japanese samurai to investigate. Imagine this future imbued with a blend of Victorian glamour and organic French art nouveau, a future envisioned by H.G. Wells and George Melies filtered through the imagination of a daring Japanese developer (Smilebit, creators of Jet Grind Radio and Panzer Dragoon Orta), with just a spike of Starship Troopers, and you're close.
Now here's the broken part. Imagine a third-person shooter where it is impossible to simply use the left thumbstick to move and the right thumbstick to aim.
The jetpack-equipped protagonists are capable of astonishing feats of dexterity: a skilled player can stay airborne almost indefinitely, racking up infinite dash combos while destroying hordes of insectoid aliens. Getting to this level, however, requires hours upon hours of patience with little direct payoff. Gunvalkyrie is short, and there are no multiplayer modes. Only the promises of higher scores—and additional rewards in the game's equipment shop—encourage continued play. It's no wonder disgruntled Halo players tossed the game after learning they could not shoot beyond a 90-degree firing arc without clicking in the right thumbstick.
Those who master Gunvalkyrie's controls will discover the deep reaches of Tir Na Nog, the game's setting: a wonderfully eerie, and truly alien planet. In Naglfar's Pit, the game's most memorable level, the player must jump and boost his way to the top of a dark alien hive, all the while listening to the disembodied recorded voice of Dr. Hubble. It is here where the player first gets the opportunity to fully practice the game's boost combos, and truly let his skills shine. For those who have experienced it, it's a moment no other game has really duplicated.
It's not hard to see why Gunvalkyrie flopped. Looking back, it's a wonder that Sega approved it at all. Its peculiar setting is tough to summarize in a press briefing, it had no multiplayer in an era when Halo was king, and its unorthodox controls don't really pay dividends until several hours into the game—but for those who mastered the boost dash and quick turn, Naglfar's Pit remains a fond memory.
by Michael Peterson
Xenogears is more than broken. Broken is a thing you dropped on the sidewalk. Xenogears is a slow motion car crash.
Popular opinion is that the brokenness comes on the second disc, where the result of the budget drying up and the staff getting shanghaied to work on other projects is most plainly obvious. It happens so much sooner, though—think of how the supporting characters each get shunted to the side one by one, how each new town is less complex than the previous one, or how a narrator suddenly appears out of nowhere to keep things moving along. It's a strange RPG, too, where everybody has most of their skills before you've reached the halfway point.
When I say that the crash is in slow motion, I mean it: each individual moment can be looked at as it passes, can be examined as just a little bit more wrong than the moment before. The most promising game of its genre, of its generation, flying apart and sending shrapnel everywhere—and all you can do is watch.
There's a monument to everything that I love and hate in Xenogears that rises above the rest. Both figuratively and literally, the Babel Tower stands. I love the feel and the atmosphere of this crashed ship—the dawning revelation that it's the ship from the opening cutscene, and that answers to the plot's mysteries are beginning to unfurl. I love that as a dungeon, each leg of the trip has a distinctly different feel. That said, it sure is awful to play—What better sign that the vehicle was out of control than allowing random encounters to trigger mid-jump in an area that hinges on precise platforming jumping?
I find Xenogears fascinating as a step-by-step examination of things going wrong—like Lost In La Mancha, or a Hearts of Darkness with a less happy ending. But I also love it for its ambition—the sheer size and scope of what it tried to do in an already collapsing RPG genre—and because of the surprising joy it radiates. For such a cynical little story, it pops up in unexpected places. There's joy in the references to all of their favorite things, the image of orphan children acting as mission control for their religious superhero, and yeah, even the bizarre sidekick Chu-Chu's stand against the killer robot.
Xenogears was the Little Engine that Could, even if it didn't.
Continued in Part 2
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody's looking, and his favorite game of all time is a toss-up between the first Mass Effect and The Witcher 3. You can catch his written work here at GameCritics and you can hear him weekly on the @SoVideogames Podcast. Follow Brad on Twitter and Instagram at @BradGallaway, or contact him via email:
bradgallaway a t gmail dot com