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Growing Pains: Games Publishers Would Prefer To Forget

No matter how highly heralded in the game world, every game company has a few blemishes on their record they would just as soon forget. Whether they occurred during a publisher’s equivalent of the terrible twos, those awkward high-school years or a mid-life crisis, we can’t help but think that if given the opportunity, all of them might make some different choices.

Now, we’re not trying to be mean-spirited, and that’s the reason we’re focusing on thick-skinned publishers instead of individual developers. But when you’ve been around as long these heavyweights, it’s safe to say that the good games far outweigh the bad. So we look at this feature as we do those slightly embarrassing high-school prom photos of yours.

Our Method


We’ve broken down the top 10 publishers of 2008. To begin we compiled a list of each publisher’s lowest-rated games, keeping an eye out for oddities and trends along the way. We then listed the five lowest-rated games in their portfolio (usually dating back 10 years or less) and when applicable, included a Game Informer quote from the original review.

Full disclosure: We relied heavily on Metacritic—an aggregate website that collects reviews and averages the score—while compiling this feature. Metacritic has been criticized for taking the liberty of converting all critics’ scores to a 1 to 100 scale, which some believe can alter the original reviewer’s intent. However, Metacritic also pairs each score with a quote from the source, and tracks back to the original content. Despite these issues, we still maintain that Metacritic acts as a strong barometer to the general impressions of a specific game. If a game falls into the “generally unfavorable” or “overwhelming dislike” section, like most of those below, it’s safe to say they are duds.



Nintendo

Being a massive publisher and an industry trailblazer, Nintendo has had their fair share of bombs over the years. While scouring the bottom of Nintendo’s barrel we saw some interesting trends emerge. The most notable is that many of the lowest-scoring games in the past decade have been Pokémon titles. But this isn’t completely unexpected. Similar to other wildly popular and established brands, once they reach a certain level of success, chances are a deluge of unwarranted spinoffs will follow. Pokémon Dash, My Pokémon Ranch, Hey You, Pikachu! and several Pokémon Mystery Dungeon installments fell flat on their faces in the eyes of critics.

The Bottom Five
(Title, Metacritic Score, Platform and Release Date)

  • Tenchu: Dark Secret (37)
    Nintendo DS/2006
  • Pokemon Dash (46)
    Nintendo DS/2005
    What we said: “Don’t think of it so much as a game, but more as an exercise in anger management”
  • Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast (46)
    Nintendo Wii/2007
    What we said: “The lack of online racing and leaderboards makes this game even more useless. If you want arcade racing on the Wii, dust off your copy of Excite Truck or just wait it out for Mario Kart.”
  • Hey You, Pikachu! (57)
    Nintendo 64/2000
    What we said: “This game says, ‘Pikachu knows lots of ways to have fun.’ Really? Why didn’t the little *** share any of them with me?”
  • Wii Play (58)
    NintendoWii/2007
    What we said: “We suppose if you’re out to buy yourself an additional Wii remote, you may as well cough up the extra few dollars for Wii Play. Just don’t get your hopes up too high.”

Electronic Arts

Another big publisher, another long history. So what is EA’s Achilles heel? DS titles, evidently. We found that dual-screen ports of big titles have done significantly worse than their console (or PSP) counterparts. Take Burnout Legends for example. The DS iteration received a Metacritic score of 38, while its PSP partner brought in an admirable 86. What else faltered? Catwoman did just about as well as at the box office, and the DS versions of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Fifa Street 2 and Need for Speed Most Wanted left many wanting. Perhaps EA needs to stop feeling obligated to port their titles to every platform under the sun.

The Bottom Five
(Title, Metacritic Score, Platform and Release Date)

  • Superman Returns: The Videogame (33)
    Nintendo DS/2006
  • Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects (34)
    Nintendo DS/2005
  • Burnout Legends (38)
    Nintendo DS/2005
  • The Simpsons Skateboarding (38)
    PlayStation 2/2002
    What we said: “This may very well be the worst PS2 game on the market…The outcome is nothing short of a resounding d’oh!”
  • Disney’s Party (39)
    GameCube/2003
    What we said: “In utter honesty, there are few titles that have inspired such immediate and long-lasting malice in my heart and mind.”

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Activision


Activision is masochistic when it comes to taking on licensed properties. They can’t seem to say no, despite how bad it might hurt. Games based on the Weakest Link, American Chopper, Dancing with the Stars, Shrek and the History Channel all failed to impress. More recently, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen received a mediocre welcome. That just goes to show that not all properties are meant to go interactive.

The Bottom Five
(Title, Metacritic Score, Platform and Release Date)

  • Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing (8)
    PC/2003
  • Revolution (29)
    PC/2002
  • Pimp My Ride (26)
    NintendoWii/2008
  • Simpsons Wrestling (32)
    PlayStation/2001
    What we said: “The only enjoyment garnered is from the multitude of voice samples taken from the show. The rest of the game is, and forever shall be, a major disappointment and one of the worst PS-X games to date.”
  • Harley-Davidson: Race to the Rally (33)
    PlayStation 2/2006


Ubisoft

Ubisoft didn’t have one particular area to blame. Instead they suffered from a little bit of EA’s DS syndrome, and a little bit of the licensed blues. Beowulf, Hell’s Kitchen, Six Flags Fun Park and CSI: Hard Evidence didn’t impress, but neither did Emergency Heroes, Far Cry Vengeance, Sprung or Brothers in Arms: Double Time. And let’s just forget about Batman Beyond. It probably made Paul Dini cry.

The Bottom Five
(Title, Metacritic Score, Platform and Release Date)

  • Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (24)
    Nintendo 64/2000
  • Mucha Lucha! Mascaritas of the Lost Code (26)
    GameBoy Advance/2003
  • Crazy Frog Racer (27)
    PlayStation 2/2005
  • Peter Jackson’s King Kong (28)
    Nintendo DS/2005
  • Grey’s Anatomy (36)
    PC/2009



Sony


As a first-party publisher, Sony had a relatively small pool of games to draw from. And what they had held a higher average than their competitors on this list. Still, titles based on game show properties didn’t fare well, with Who Wants to be a Millionaire: 3rd Edition, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune faltering in critic’s eyes. EyeToy: Operation Spy, EyeToy: Monkey Mania, EyeToy: Play Sports and EyeToy: Play 3 all struggled to impress, proving that gimmicks will only get you so far with jaded gamers.

The Bottom Five
(Title, Metacritic Score, Platform and Release Date)

  • Go! Sports Skydiving (42)
    PlayStation Network/2008
  • Treasure Planet (44)
    PlayStation/2002
  • NCAA Final Four 2004 (45)
    PlayStation 2/2003
  • My Street (46)
    PlayStation 2/2003
  • NCAA Final Four 2001 (49)
    PlayStation 2/2000

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Take-Two Interactive/ 2K Games

Take-Two and 2K also struggled to satisfy fans of licensed properties. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Kiss Pinball and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer all floundered. As did Dora the Explorer: Dora Saves the Mermaids and the Ghost Rider game. And for some reason MLB Stickball didn’t prove entertaining. We could have seen that one coming.

The Bottom Five
(Title, Metacritic Score, Platform and Release Date)

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (26)
    PC/2005
    What we said: “This has to be one of the worst games I've had the displeasure of playing in quite some time.” (PlayStation 2 version)
  • Kiss Pinball (26)
    PlayStation/2001
  • Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (35)
    Nintendo DS/2007
    What we said: “Except for the ally AI, everything works; this is still a completely functional game. It’s just hollow and unfulfilling, from the basic combat right down to the objectives and level design. Strangely, for all its faults, I am thankful for one thing this        game provides: the opportunity to steer Johnny Storm face-first into oncoming subway trains” (Xbox 360 review)
  • Torino 2006 (36)
    Xbox/2006
    What we said: “There isn't a single feature, event, or option that ever rises above the very low bar of ‘half-assed.’”
  • Carnival Games: Mini-Golf (38)
    Nintendo Wii/2008

Sega
We may make fun of Sega’s blue mascot more than we should, but Sonic didn’t bottom out our list. Instead, the Iron Man game acted as a polar opposite to the movie, becoming a bomb instead of box office hit. The Incredible Hulk didn’t do much better and Golden Axe: Beast Rider failed to live up to its anticipation.

The Bottom Five
(Title, Metacritic Score, Platform and Release Date)

  • Iron Man (32)
    PC/2008
    What we had to say: “I played this entire game tense, angry, and praying that the next level would be the last. I never really felt like I was in control at any point during the game. The summer movie games usually bring misery, but I never expected them to bring this much pain.” (Xbox 360 review)
  • The Incredible Hulk (33)
    PC/2008
    What we said: “The plot, which could crack the Top 100 list for mankind’s greatest narrative failures, gets more confusing by the second, and somehow manages to be far-fetched even for a comic story…The only area where this game hits the green nail on the head is in the destruction.”
  • Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis (33)
    GameBoy Advance/2006
  • Stormrise (42)
    PC/2009
  • The Golden Compass (43)
    PC/2007
    What we said: “It pains me to say this, but turn off your TV and just read the book or head to your local theater. This is a story everyone must experience, just don’t try interacting with it.”

THQ

THQ appears to have an even harder time saying no to a licensed property than Activision. In fact, it seems like they just don’t bother trying. Licensed duds include Journey to the Center of the Earth, Monsters, Inc. Scream Arena, The Polar Express, MTV Sports, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Danger Girl, The Sopranos: Road to Respect, Rugrats: All Grown Up! and more. That’s not even the half of them. And what do they all share in common? Really low aggregate scores. Good thing THQ has quality games like Company of Heroes, Red Faction, Warhammer and Moto GP to balance all of them out.

The Bottom Five
(Title, Metacritic Score, Platform and Release Date)

  • Destroy All Humans! Path of the Furon(22)
    PlayStation 3/2008
    What we said: “The sad decline of the Destroy All Humans franchise is a minor tragedy, because the core idea here is fantastic.” (Xbox 360 review)
  • Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue (25)
    Nintendo 64/2000
  • Ping Pals (28)
    Nintendo DS/2004
  • Zoey 101: Field Trip Fiasco (31)
    Nintendo DS/2007
  • The Ripping Friends (38)
    Gameboy Advance/2002
    What we said: “The combat is basic, sloppy, and imprecise, and the spastic overhead camera often gets annoying.”


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Microsoft
So what’s the case with Microsoft, the final of the three publishers/console developers? Microsoft has its share of bad games, but surprisingly, many of them are Xbox Live Arcade titles. Considering the non-existent risk to Microsoft in publishing digital downloads, we see why the service is flooded with sub-par games. Spyglass Board Games, Dash of Destruction, Brain Challenge, Minesweeper Flags, Aegis Wing and more appear to be doing little more than cluttering Microsoft’s service. We could keep going, but we won’t.

The Bottom Five
(Title, Metacritic Score, Platform and Release Date)

  • Sneakers (28)
    Xbox/2002
  • Crazy Mouse (28)
    Xbox Live Arcade/2008
  • Zoo Tycoon 2: African Adventure (35)
    PC/2006
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle (37)
    Xbox Live Arcade/2008
  • Word Puzzle (43)
    Xbox Live Arcade/2007

Square Enix
A positive note to end on, the average score of Square Enix’s games (or component companies SquareSoft and Enix) tended to be higher than those we featured prior. Still, there were a handful of games that could have used a final once-over before hitting retail. Dirge of Cerberus, Drakengard 2 and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time come to mind.

The Bottom Five
(Title, Metacritic Score, Platform and Release Date)

  • Unlimited Saga (45)
    PlayStaion 2/2003
    What we said: “Interaction within the environment and the board game movement and structure are tedious and archaic.”
  • Crystal Defenders (52)
    Xbox Live Arcade/2009
  • Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure (53)
    WiiWare/2009
  • FullMetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel (56)
    PlayStation 2/2005
  • What we said: “The execution of this entry is almost unplayable because it's just so darn dull and clunky, but the ideas are there to make something interesting.”
  • Dawn of Mana (57)
    PlayStation 2/2007
    What we said: “It may not be the follow-up that fans of the Mana franchise have been hoping for, but cool visuals and an interesting story elevate it above the level of an everyday mindless button-masher.”

 

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