In defense of “bad” games

By Zach Walton

In gaming, there is an almost universally accepted notion of what is a good game. The funny thing though is that we don’t know what makes it good beyond the usual praises of solid game design, stellar graphics and fun factor.

The same thing can be said of bad games. We all know when a game is bad, but do we truly know what makes the game bad?

The examples of good games over the past few years are all great titles. We have “Mass Effect 2,” “Red Dead Redemption,” “Uncharted 2,” and the list goes on.

When we look at bad games, we see a lot of shovelware and generally terrible games. There are always those games that are classified as bad that have some aspect to them that makes them truly great.

Take Square Enix’s “Nier” for example. It’s an action-RPG that bucks the trend of JRPGs having heroes who are comprised of a bunch of teenagers trying to take down an evil force bent on destroying the kingdom, or worse, the world.

Western game critics have been decrying these tropes for being far too unoriginal for years now. Why is it then when “Nier” and it’s completey atypical approach to the JRPG get critically and commercially panned? It goes against the very thing that other games like “Final Fantasy XIII” are criticized, yet ultimately praised, for.

The same could be said of “Alone in the Dark,” a reboot to the classic horror franchise that innovated many aspects of survival-horror. Many people have thought that survival-horror is getting old, and “Alone in the Dark” innovated in the field by having real-time healing of wounds, using the environment to survive and being a generally average man caught in an extraordinary situation.

The game was a perfect recreation of what survival-horror is all about: survival. It was largely ignored and panned by critics and players alike. Why is it when games try to innovate, they are hated upon by most members of the gaming community?

This isn’t to say that all innovation goes ignored or hated by critics. Many games such as “Flower” or “Shadow of the Colossus” are praised for their unique worlds that offer something different and are rewarded for it. I think they succeeded because they created a genre within their genre.

“Flower” was a puzzle game that incorporated music and casual gaming into its core mechanics. “Shadow of the Colossus” was an action-adventure game that only contained boss fights that worked like puzzles. They didn’t try to fix or change a genre, they created a new one within it.

It would seem that those games that are considered “bad” are the ones that try to fix the inherent problems with the genre or introduce new ways to enjoy said genre. They don’t create new experiences that push the boundaries of the genre. They instead fine tune it with new gameplay mechanics that makes it feel more real in the case of “Alone in the Dark” or a more mature story like in “Nier.”

There are bumps along the way and these examples aren’t perfect. They instead represent a developer trying to get more out of their respective genres without turning it into something else entirely.

Review scores don’t mean everything and word of mouth can only go so far. Take a chance on a “bad” game. You may be surprised. I bought “Nier” for only $15 on a whim and it became my game of the year for 2010. There are surprises around every corner.