Sonic The Hedgehog (1991)
Sonic is unfairly maligned in modern gaming, there are a handful of solid titles in his series. There’s a tradition of Sonic games having incredible opening levels, full of open space to zoom through, secret areas, and banging tunes. That began here, but after Green Hill Zone much of the game is spent in a frustrating start and stall loop.
Dance Dance Revolution (1999)
The arcade dance machine was released in Japan in 1998 and quickly became a cultural shockwave. The PlayStation release followed six months later, with the grossest sheet mat you have ever seen in your life. The entire appeal of DDR is the feedback of the arcade machine, the blaring Europop-inspired J-pop. You simply can’t achieve that with the PSone, its sound chip can’t handle it.
Final Fantasy VII (1997)
Yes, it revolutionized gaming, and yes the soundtrack is magnificent, but this is pre-2000 Square we’re talking about. Final Fantasy’s 4-9 was a run of some of the best RPGs gaming would ever see, each in their unique way. VII struggled in ways the remakes look to rectify, IX will never be remade because it’s perfect, and they probably lost the code.
Wii Sports (2006)
Wii Sports had one job to do, instantly teach you this brand-new motion control technology. In that sense, it succeeded and now gets to brag about technically being one of the best-selling games of all time. The problem is, that the motion control technology was garbage. Wii Sports Resort would fix all of this and is genuinely incredible.
Worms 3D (2003)
Some Worms games got the transition away from 2D spot on, but Worms 3D isn’t one of them. The pace had changed, your wiggly warriors had to shuffle faster to cover more ground. That removed a little of the strategy, and paired with a camera that just won’t behave you end up missing how simple your beloved worms used to be.
Crash Bandicoot (1996)
Crash’s new sleek and stylish mascot persona flies in the face of what jorts are all about. The Crash Remake Trilogy are all great games… but the original Crash was utterly merciless. For a game marketed towards children, the difficulty curve ramps up tremendously, leaving half of the game closer to frustrating than fun. Woah indeed, Crash.
The Sims 3 (2009)
The Sims 3 and 4 both received roughly similar critical appraise. This unfortunately gave EA the go-ahead to nickel and dime every penny they can from innocent people who are just trying to act out their My Chemical Romance fanfictions. The Sims 3 began EA’s trend of segmenting basic elements behind paywalls.
Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)
For the kind of heights that the series would eventually climb to, Halo’s first shot at the concept got a lot of things right. A lot was riding on its success, with a huge budget and a hype train that promised the next step in the Console Wars. Historically it was, but more for where it would go than what it was at the time, which was quite drab and clunky.
GTA V (2013)
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” describes a lot of game studios but perhaps none more so than Rockstar. The formula they landed on for the open-world genre made more money than God with a cheat code booklet but at the cost of essentially knee-capping the industry. GTA V is an okay game, gorilla glued onto a money-laundering machine that hates you.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
Bethesda has become the court jester of the games industry. The release condition of some of their games has been borderline unethical, and over a decade of Skyrim ports still haven’t fixed the issues. Outside of technical performance, there was little room to role-play in the RPG and entire stat trees were useless.
Bioshock Infinite (2013)
While Bioshock 1 is remembered for its oppressive atmosphere and late-game twist, Infinite is remembered for its quite stunning atmosphere and story that morphs into a Mobius strip, purely to suck itself off. Not much about the experience felt cohesive, it was a shooting gallery with shiny walls.
Call of Duty: World at War (2008)
Although this Treyarch-produced entry was the beginning of the zombie survival mode, it did precious little else to justify returning to WWII. The unprecedented success of the first Modern Warfare changed first-person shooters forever, and expectations were high for a similarly innovative experience. Instead, WaW gets stuck in a trench and digs its wheels in.
Horizon: Zero Dawn (2017)
Many would argue Horizon is underrated, having released both its entries close to Zelda’s one-two punch of BOTW and TOTK. In truth that was probably the best thing for the series, which now gets to pretend it’s an unfairly overlooked classic instead of a repetitive, slow, and monotonous grind through bog-standard AAA open-world design.
12 Minutes (2021)
Time loops are an excellent premise for a game, as is the idea of setting one in a single apartment. So what the hell happened here? The loop makes narrative sense, as gross and weird as the narrative is, but it seems to fight the gameplay, puzzle design, and dialogue at every possible turn. Just play The Outer Wilds again.
Far Cry Primal (2016)
Primal is one of the highest-rated Far Cry games, which only proves Ubisoft has bludgeoned their fans enough that a coat of caveman paint impresses them. Pre-historic settings are fertile grounds for great game design, but Primal did absolutely nothing unique with its premise. The sheer waste of potential is one thing, but somehow making a saber-tooth tiger boring is another.
The Last of Us (2013)
Sony put a great deal of money behind The Last of Us, both in development and marketing. That money shows, it looks, runs, sounds, and feels expensive, and the performance capture of Joel and Ellie adds an incredible depth to the characterization. Outside of that, it’s a play-by-play of well-worn ‘zombie’ tropes with repetitive shooting galleries padding out the gameplay.
The Binding of Isaac (2011)
The rogue-like genre owes a great deal to Isaac, but the little man needs and deserves to die. For Good. Edmund Mcmillen’s flash game sensibilities are always enjoyable, and Isaac genuinely has enough content to have lasted this long, but bullet hell has evolved. It’s limited environments and slower general pace makes it difficult to revisit.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2001)
While it has an instantly recognizable style, the Ace Attorney games are a slog to sit through. It’s not even that the writing is bad, it has some charming characters, genuinely laugh-out-loud gags, and interesting cases. It’s just. So. Slow. The bulk of the game is a visual novel, which doesn’t mesh well with the immediate gratification of a puzzle-solving game. Unlike Danganronpa.
Fable II (2008)
The 360 era isn’t thought of as a great time for RPGs, but many point to Fable II as an example of how it wasn’t all so bad. There was an ethereal, almost uncanny feel to Fable II that made it impossible to put down, but striped to studs, so much of it just feels awful. Everything is so disconnected, it’s like playing through a stroke.
As a creativity tool, LittleBigPlanet was a lot of people’s first exposure to the idea of making games. Custom online levels could be played with friends, and you could all get angry and scream that sometimes the controls just don’t work. The actual, developed levels were also bog-standard, which isn’t very inspiring at all.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010)
Amnesia was one of the first horror games to see widespread virality through the newly forming “Let’s Play” YouTube trend. It works best in clips, where you can cut around the endless minutes spent sneaking past the same monsters. It stops being scary pretty quickly, around the time you realize it’s using puzzle design from the 1990s.
From the creators of Limbo, this similarly abstract game received overwhelming praise. There’s only so far you can take abstract though, and Inside felt like it revelled in not answering any questions. It feels thematically similar to some of Caryl Churchill’s plays, but they don’t make you replay scenes because you didn’t start running on the exact right frame.
Assassin’s Creed (2007)
Though its realization of the Holy Land was visually stunning, the pace is mind-numbingly slow. The breaks back to the modern day are at their most intrusive early on in the series, but with the first, you also have to waste time during the good bits. Altair stops being a badass when his job is listening to an old man talk until the Crusades end.
Super Mario Odyssey (2017)
Odyssey was polished to a mirror sheen, designed for fast, fluid platforming fun. It nailed that perfectly but at the cost of what feels like basically everything else. Being too easy isn’t exactly a flaw, but the level design felt bland to accommodate. The moons came far too quickly, and even most of the music was forgettable.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006)
This more mature, saturated take on Zelda was exactly what fans wanted. Those who complained about Wind Waker’s cartoonish art style loved this gorgeous, traumatized vision of Hyrule. It was beautiful but felt quite one note with its design. While it’s certainly better than its following entry, it ranks lower on the list of all-timers.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (2015)
This game and its production were subject to an intense media cycle. The final game in a legendary series, headed by perhaps the most famous director in the industry, and a company who were in the middle of some serious trouble. Konami likely had a big boss-sized role in Phantom Pain being unfinished, and the initial wave of highly controlled praise.
Civilization II (1996)
Civilization II marked a point where the series formed its own identity. They began expanding the idea of win conditions by adding diplomacy and trade, and the idea of your output and waste affecting the environment. It just lacks so many quality-of-life upgrades the series would pick up, and doesn’t do anything of particular note to stand out, despite its great reviews.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)
Both this game and its sequel are lauded as some of the best RPGs from the golden era of companies like Bioware. The writing is certainly its best quality because everything feels absolutely fried. Bugs and glitches are common, enemy AI is all over the place, you will just die sometimes and it’s the force telling you to stop playing.
Rock Band (2007)
The 2000s were a competition between Activision and Harmonix to fill your home with as many ugly plastic controllers as possible. Harmonix was the first to spice things up, adding a microphone and drum set to the mix. More instruments means less quality for each though, and these things felt like an etch-a-sketch you spent $60 on.
Fortnite (Until they removed the building)
Fortnite had an unreal amount of tension in its early days. Everything was simple and quiet, there was an eerie sense of threat to the bland, blocky world. Then Rick from Rick and Morty happened and everybody turned into twitchy-fast, energy drink-ridden children who build towers instantly and orange justice on your corpse.
Fallout 4 (2015)
Each of the prior Fallout games, except Tactics, had something worthy of praise, Fallout 2’s exceptional dialogue options and expansive quests, Fallout 3’s wide-open wasteland swimming with radioactive charm. This latest mainline entry had okay exploration but so many glaring issues with its story and characters you only feel the need to explore to escape the rest of the game.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day (2001)
The novelty of a cartoon animal saying curse words had worn off by the mid-90s. There wasn’t much Conker could do to help the genre, but he could have at least tried. While it is intentionally annoying and off-putting, it does so in a way that’s aged terribly. The gameplay feels like molasses even compared to late 90s platformers.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses (2019)
It’s a little ironic that the anime Harry Potter suffers from the same issue as both of those things separately. Quantity over quality. The overall structure of Three Houses was sound, it’s repayable and customizable but only to a surface-level degree. In streamlining gameplay and expanding the roster, most characters are too monotonous to avoid blurring together to form a kawaii dementor.
Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward
The glorious, phoenix from the ashes story of FFXIV continues to grow. Having now had its supposed final expansion, it’s possible to scientifically verify that Heavenward was the most overrated. There was a lot to anticipate, but the new classes didn’t live up to their inspirations, and Machinist saw few diehard mains.
FIFA (Whatever year is your favorite year)
There was a point where Fifa and Pro Evolution Soccer competed for market dominance. Evo’s body is buried under the Qatar stadium now, and FIFA reigns supreme. They’ve gotten lazier and even more greedy, with each game serving as a roster update for the children’s slot machine to keep pumping out Teves, with his bulldog-like approach.
Outside of being a graphical benchmark for PC gamers to try and melt their components, the original Crysis had little to offer as a first-person shooter. It was flanked by the likes of Half-Life 2 and Modern Warfare and, though its superhuman skills were fun, even the shiny graphics got dull from the lack of a central hook.
Golden Sun (2001)
Regarded as perhaps the best JRPG on the Gameboy Advance, Golden Sun does get a lot right. Its sprite art is vivid and unique, and the battle music goes impossibly hard, but the central pull of the story is incredibly weak. Exploration is stunted and ultimately unnecessary. Dungeons repeat over and over again, and everybody talks like a robot.
These kinds of immersive, alternative gaming experiences can be truly wonderful. Even the team’s prior release Flow, a similar vibe-based movement game, had more visual appeal and kinaesthetic weight. Flower has you control a gust, blowing petals through a collapsing world. Leaf blowers exist we don’t need help visualizing wind.
Detroit: Become Human (2018)
It’s either brave or stupid for a writer to take on a civil rights but with robots story, and David Cage sure is an ambitious writer. In terms of visual spectacle, Detroit not only looked incredible but had a cohesive art direction that set it apart from a lot of AAA games. The story this clearly expensive game tells is truly bewildering, even for a Frenchman.
Dead Space (2008)
Dead Space followed up on Resident Evil 4’s shifted gameplay formula to create some truly meaty combat. Fighting messed-up space demons in the halls of the Ishimura made for some delightful moments. It’s a shame the halls of the Ishimura are all you will see, as the linearity makes every beat, including the twist ending, totally predictable.