Un-Valentine's Day: Game Stuff We Love to Hate
Un-celebrate Valentine's Day with some of the most loveably loathsome stuff from the past and present of video games.
It's Valentine's Day, and what better way to celebrate than painting everything pink and paying way, way too much for flowers and candy, right? Yeah, right. Whether you'll be flying solo this holiday or spending it with that special someone (and just wishing you were flying solo), you can join us in our un-Valentine's Day commiseration. We won't judge you, because we know you probably love to hate some of this stuff just as much as we do.
Now, keep in mind: We're not saying we hate all the games we're mentioning. On the contrary, some of the games we'll discuss here are among the best console and PC games of all time. They just had something about them that make us remember them fondly...or not so fondly.
Agree with our picks? Disagree? Did we neglect things in games you love to hate? Leave us a comment at the bottom of the page and let us know. Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are some of the things in video games that we love to hate most. Happy Un-Valentine's Day to you.
Though there are times when we love to hate it (or hate to love it), lousy voice acting has a way of infiltrating even the best games. For instance, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a crazy-awesome game with some crazy-terrible script reading from folks who have no business lending their voices to, well, anything. But every once in a while, an otherwise lousy game can gain monumental appeal with dialogue and delivery so bad that even B movie legend Bruce Campbell might object. But just like with great B movies, these blemishes and blunders are what get us to return to the games, just to laugh it up and shake our heads in befuddled wonderment one more time.
Let's face it...some games are infamous for their unintentionally funny voice acting--the same kind that made Jill Valentine of Resident Evil "the master of unlocking," and the same kind that made the bored-sounding civilians of House of the Dead 2 sound so hilarious as they unexcitedly begged for their lives.
And when game companies need to ship their games ASAP, what voice actors can be bothered with those little touches that make other games sound great? You know, like rehearsing. Or all those other excuses for why voice talent delivers wood. Overacting and underacting; hiring amateurs--or just getting some game developers to get up from their desks to perform double duty on voice-over; taking the first, and clearly best, take; the list goes on. And in "this fight is for Japan, or friendship," we must not forget that most notorious offender of all: localization. It's just too bad that the infamously bad translations of the Sega Genesis arcade-style shooter Zero Wing predated voice-overs in games. Being able to make fun of the voice acting in a game like that would've been sweet--but we'll get to that shortly.
Just a Few Games With Unintentionally Funny Voice Acting: Resident Evil series | The House of the Dead series | Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS) | Shenmue series | Need for Speed Most Wanted (Various)
In addition to enjoying a rich history of questionable video game voice acting, game players have long had a love-hate relationship with bad translations in games. Ask anybody who has been playing games for some time for their favorite translation oddities, and you're sure to hear quotes like "I feel asleep!" from the original Metal Gear, "I am Error" from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, or "All your base are belong to us" from Zero Wing. Proper localization wasn't always high on the list of priorities for developers in the late '80s and early '90s, but for some reason, nobody really seemed to mind a whole lot. It always made us laugh when Pro Wrestling informed us that "A winner is you," and we always chuckled when Terry Bogard declared, "Wubba, wubba. I'm in the pink today, boy!" in Fatal Fury Special.
While it's usually fun to make fun of sloppy translations, sometimes you just hate them. Nobody wants to slog through hours of hard-to-read text in a role-playing game, but that's just what you had to do if you were to make it through the PlayStation Portable's Legend of Heroes. It was nice that the developer of Castle Shikigami 2 tried to add some sort of a story to their shooter, but trying to decipher what "Holy Cow! Got a clue. Now this?" actually meant was an easy way to give yourself a stroke. There's something to be said for the comedic value of butchered English, but when you just want a game to make sense, it's hard to love.
Now that games have bigger budgets, bad translations are becoming less common. You're not likely to be told, "Wow you noble looking!" when playing Final Fantasy XII, but you certainly saw just that in Final Fantasy IV (also known as Final Fantasy II in the US). And while we might not get much in the way of wacky sayings here in North America, thanks to the large amount of English text in Japanese games, importers still get some treats, such as the way the Japanese version of Super Mario Sunshine congratulates you for picking up a "shine" item with "Shine Get!"
Some Games With Unintentionally Funny Translations: Metal Gear (NES) | Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES) | Pro Wrestling (NES) | Zero Wing (GEN) | Fatal Fury Special (Neo-Geo)| The Legend of Heroes (PSP) | Castle Shikigami 2 (PS2)| Final Fantasy II (SNES) | Super Mario Sunshine (GC)
Most fans of the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System grew up loving classic games like Metroid, Super Mario Bros., and The Legend of Zelda. And most of them also came to love--and hate--a certain character from the popular 1987 action-adventure game Kid Icarus (and the later 1991 Game Boy follow-up). Sure, we all remember that Kid Icarus was a great action game that had side-scrolling levels, vertically-scrolling levels, and free-roaming dungeon levels where the game's boss monsters awaited you. We remember that the soundtrack was fantastic, despite the limited audio capabilities of the NES, and that the game was loosely inspired by ancient Greek mythology. And we remember that you played as a sandal-wearing, winged whiz-kid archer named Pit who used his trusty bow and arrows to fight gorgons, cyclopes, and a guy who could turn him into an armless purple thing with legs.
See, when you're fighting to restore Mount Olympus to its full glory and having a blast while doing it, and you suddenly come up against a one-eyed purple thing in a cape who flings eggplants at you for some reason, you start asking yourself the tough questions. How, exactly, does this cape-wearing, wand-waving Eggplant Wizard guy fit into Greek mythology, again? What is he doing in this dungeon? Why can't I shoot?? It didn't matter how much of a roll you were on, how many hearts you collected as currency to buy the water of life, or how many mallets you picked up to free imprisoned soldiers to help you--your mighty adventures and awesome skills came to a screeching halt once the Eggplant Wizard zapped you. Once that happened, you had to limp your way to the dungeon's hospital to get cured, and until then, you were helpless, since Pit turned into a giant eggplant with legs who couldn't do much more than walk and jump. The annoying power of the Eggplant Wizard is just the kind of thing that we look back on and laugh at now that we're older, but we're probably all still glad he hasn't shown his ugly mug for some time.
For the past 20 years we've been plagued by the most insidious of video game enemies: the flying medusa heads in Castlevania. These floating heads fly across the screen (why do severed heads fly, anyway?) in an uninterrupted stream, bobbing up and down...just waiting to knock you off of a ledge to your doom. It doesn't help that these heads always appear in the most perilous sections of the game--at the very moment you're trying to hop across some platforms to make it to the next room, from just beneath your field of vision, that next medusa head floats right in and sends you flying. Swing that whip as much as you like. The heads won't ever go away. It's enough to make you as batty as Dracula himself.
The best part about the medusa heads is that you can find a good position and just whip away, killing one after another until you've finally managed to quell your rage. But it makes no difference to the medusa heads. They aren't an aggressive enemy, and they won't even go out of their way to hit you. It's almost like they know they can torment you without even trying, which makes them all the more annoying. It doesn't seem likely that we will ever see a medusa-head-free 2D Castlevania game, and somehow after all these years of putting up with those nuisances, we wouldn't want to see them go. Or would we? (Ed. Note: Yes, we would.)
Games With Those #*$?! Medusa Heads: Castlevania (NES) | Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (NES) | Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (NES) | Super Castlevania IV (SNES) | Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (GBA) | Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (DS) | Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (GBA) | Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS) | Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (GBA) | Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (DS) | Castlevania: Bloodlines (GEN)
Though much has been said about Capcom's fantastic action adventure game, Resident Evil 4, you don't always hear a lot about the game's supporting players. The "ganados" (Spanish for "herd") are the crazed villagers infested with a mysterious parasite that turns them into homicidal crazies--and terrific enemies for a game like this. They're pale, hairy, filthy people who make you uncomfortable just looking at them. And after their faces contort with rage and they stab you in the eye with a pitchfork or slash at your neck with a butcher knife while screaming for your blood, you'll have absolutely, positively no qualms about drawing your weapon of choice and blasting them good. Same goes for the "Illuminados," a sect of bloodthirsty monks who laugh maniacally while hacking at you with crude medieval weapons.
Given the way Resident Evil 4's combat system works, the ganados (and later, the Illuminados) are among the most satisfying enemies to beat down in video game history. The first few times you play through the game, you'll go through a learning process as you figure out their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. You can aim your gunshots at specific body parts--shooting them in the arms disarms them, while shooting them in the head or the lower leg staggers them and lets you whack them with a heavy-duty roundhouse kick or a devastating pro-wrestling "suplex" maneuver. Using melee attacks saves ammo and can also stagger large groups of your enemies. But even though they don't have guns and aren't as fast as your character, Leon, there are a whole bunch of them, and they like to sneak up on you from behind, or from just outside the periphery of your vision.
While Leon is fast on his feet, he can't strafe to the side or quickly leap backward, and he isn't always quick to reload his weapons, either. Once you think you've got the hang of fighting these guys, you might start to underestimate them--after all, hitting them in the face with anything, even a harmless egg, sends them reeling, and watching them hollering and carrying on just because they have a little egg on their face is pretty hilarious. But as you play through the game, you'll find yourself surprised by them at least a few times, as they sprint toward you across long distances, quickly duck under your gun sight to avoid getting shot, sprout giant tentacles that are hard to kill without grenades, and even casually saunter up to you and start strangling you...after you've already blasted their heads clean off! Resident Evil 4 is a game with some really vicious and memorable combat, and we have the ganados and Illuminados to thank for making it such a face-kicking, head-exploding good time.
Imagine your excitement as you find a $100 bill on the sidewalk. Now imagine the frustration of discovering that your wallet is full of other bills, leaving no room for any more. Do you leave the money on the ground and hope it's still there later? Do you take a $1 bill out of your wallet and replace it with the $100 bill, increasing your wad by $99? Do you go to a nearby store and buy a pack of gum with one of your dollar bills--you know, something you probably would have purchased at some point anyway--and then go back and pick up the $100 bill? It sounds ridiculous in a real-world situation, because hey, it's not like your wallet has a limited number of slots for bills, and even if your wallet were full, you'd just stuff the extra money in another pocket or hit the bank or something. But as ludicrous as it sounds, fans of role-playing games face this kind of situation all the time.
When you're adventuring through ancient ruins and deep dungeons, you're bound to stumble upon some fantastic loot. But you can't carry it all, because, well, it'd tough to walk or even move carrying a shield, a full set of heavy armor, two or three swords, a library of spell books, and several thousand gold coins. As a result, you have to learn to manage your inventory to make room for the essentials. That's a very difficult thing to do when it seems like everything is essential, or at least valuable enough to sell for a good amount of money, which can then be used to buy more "essential" items. This is exactly why role-playing fans love to hate inventory management. You might want to keep everything, but you'll never be able to carry it all.
They say good things come in small packages. In the case of video games, good things apparently tend to come in labeled wooden packing boxes. Crates are a long-lived cliché in computer and video games that have been ridiculed over the years by many as being an unoriginal way to pad out space in game levels so they don't look empty. How can a dystopian sci-fi future come to life in a video game? With a crate in the corner, which contains health packs. How about an exciting fantasy role-playing game that tells a tale of distressed damsels, dashing daredevils, and divers derring-do? Put ye old crates in ye old corner. And have them contain ye old healing potions. Worse yet, crates have also traditionally been a part of tedious puzzles that break up the action in otherwise exciting games. When we picked up those copies of Tomb Raider, Trespasser, and all those other action-adventure games all those years ago, we were looking to do all the cool stuff we'd seen in commercials and read on the back of the box. Not so much the pushing and pulling crates part.
Though they've been the butt of jokes about video game clichés (or, clichéd video game jokes, if you prefer) for years, crates have experienced something of a rebirth in recent years with parodies that acknowledge how they seem to be everywhere in every video game--the second Serious Sam game for the PC has a not-so-hidden secret that unlocks a roller coaster made entirely of crates, while in The Matrix: Path of Neo, Neo actually mutters an aside about the stacks and stacks of boxes before him. And with the advent of advanced in-game physics, crates aren't always things to be dreaded--consider Half-Life 2, which had a gravity gun weapon that let you smack your enemies in the face by picking up and flinging crates (and barrels, and cans, and toilet seats) at them. It's been a long time coming, but have crates finally reached the promised land, free from the contempt of jaded game players? Only time will tell. For now, you should totally go smash that crate back there. It probably has some health packs in it.
Snakers. For many of us, it's hard to even say the word without venom and spit on our tongues. For those who don't know, snaking is the heinous act of "powersliding" (hitting the throttle into a hard turn) to and fro down a straightaway. By swerving from side to side, karters can reach a near-constant state of "boost"--the additional bit of speed that you gain when powersliding in Mario Kart DS. Granted, it isn't all that easy to do. But only a snaker would call snaking a "skill." Seeing those orange-yellow sparks fly up time and time again, taunting us, is as infuriating to us as the flicking of a matador's cape must be to a raging bull. And just like the bull, honest and decent kart brawlers are left to a bloodthirsty, yet ultimately futile, charge. Snakers are reviled mostly because they don't abide by the ethics of the game; the only punishment they dish out is mental, save for those few inadvertently acquired peels. This kind of travesty is enough to make a good karter go and do something drastic--like racing backward--just to see justice served.
Ultimately, the only way to beat a snaker is to become a snaker. More-traditional means, like a barrage of red shells to the tailpipe, just won't cut it. But that kind of victory is immoral for those who hold karting near and dear to their hearts. So for the rest of us, who simply refuse to stoop to that level and are consistently relegated to second or third place (which, as every true karter knows, becomes the new first place whenever snakers are involved), we love to have nothing but hate--and maybe some blue shells--for them.
Games With Snaking: Mario Kart DS (DS)
It seems that most Xbox 360 owners love achievement points. And anyone who loves achievement points really loves easy achievement points. Why else would someone old enough to drive a car play a game like Open Season? Though we all love being able to get points with minimal effort, difficult-to-earn achievements have a special place in our hearts, too.
Let's face it--people like showing off. Earning a tough achievement, such as eating all four ghosts with all four power pellets during a level of Pac-Man, is a way to show off just how awesome you are to your friends. You'll be the envy of the whole neighborhood if you're able to waste 53,594 zombies in Dead Rising, and it's a testament to your dedication if you're one of those people who drove on every single road in Test Drive Unlimited.
There's a fine line where an achievement goes from challenging to nearly impossible, and that's where the love turns to hate. People love a challenge, but hate being faced with an achievement they just can't get. Do you know anyone who was ranked #1 in the world in Tiger Woods 06? How about anyone who caught one of those pesky viruses in the first weeks after Need for Speed Carbon launched? Live Arcade has some particularly egregious offenders. Smash TV has an absurdly difficult achievement where you must beat the game without using a continue. Imagine the look of disappointment on the faces of the few people who were able to do this when they realized the achievement didn't even work! You've got a better chance of running across a giant panda than finding someone who somehow made it through 100 waves in Robotron: 2084. How is that fun for anyone?
Developers take note: We love the satisfaction that comes from getting a creative yet challenging achievement. We hate spending hours of our lives trying to get achievements that are hard just for the sake of being hard, or those which only a few people in the world are capable of getting.
Some Games With Really Hard Achievement Points: Smash TV (X360) | Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 (X360) | Robotron: 2084 (X360) | Joust (X360) | Need for Speed: Carbon (X360) | Dead Rising (X360) | Test Drive Unlimited (X360)
The cartridge-loading mechanism for the Nintendo Entertainment System represents one of the most classic tales of love-hate relationships with video games in history. As kids, we saved up what little money we had to buy that shiny new NES cartridge, or we waited patiently for it to become available at rental, or we even did the unthinkable--pretended to be that one kid's friend at school so we could borrow that game. And wouldn't you know it, when we finally got the game home...we couldn't get it to work.
We tried blowing on the cartridge leads. We tried blowing into the cartridge system. We tried waving the cartridge in the air like a fan, for some reason. We tried pushing the cartridge all the way in. We tried inserting it only as far as it needed to go. We tried turning the NES power on and off repeatedly. We even tried pushing down the cartridge extra-deep by shoving in another cartridge on top of the first one. We tried just about everything to get that thing to work. Sometimes, when we had a new game we really wanted to play, we were practically begging: Please, Nintendo Entertainment System...we just want to enjoy you and the wonderful game experience you have to offer. Please, just work.
With the heyday of the NES console hardware behind us and a new world of classic NES games available through the Wii's Virtual Console system, we're glad the days of cartridge-blowing are behind us, however fondly we might remember fighting with that cartridge loader.
Commemorate the day with some Un-Valentine trivia!
Those are our Un-Valentine's Day picks. What do you love to hate about video games? Post your comments here!
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