It's the best of the worst, so they're really the worst of the worst.
for every awesome game, there are many, many other mediocre ones – and some truly bad ones as well. Some of those offenders have cost us time and money, and scarred us with their awfulness. Crummy gameplay, janky controls, all flash and no substance? Been there, done that. And yet some games even sink below those common problems to become legendarily horrific.
For this list, we've done something different: we've pinpointed several of the games that are widely regarded as some of the worst ever made, but then we've also introduced some personal picks along the way that were specifically memorable for us – and not in a good way. Enjoy. Or rather, don't.
E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982)
Ah, E.T. – brilliant movie, but horrendous, nearly-unplayable game. It's the game so terrible that it not only helped crash the video game industry in the early '80s, but it also created the long trend of awful, licensed movie game cash-ins. Have we learned nothing from history?
E.T. was conceptualised and coded in less than six weeks to make a Christmas cut-off, and it showed in every way in this incomprehensible Atari adventure. In fact, thousands upon thousands of unsold copies were buried in the New Mexico desert: it's really that bad.
SUPERMAN: THE NEW SUPERMAN ADVENTURES (1999)
It's the Superman game so super they put "Superman" twice in the title – right? Nope, it's actually pretty horrendous. This Nintendo 64 trash heap is the worst superhero game ever created, and that's already a pretty rough category to begin with.
Krypton is covered in a thick haze of fog to try and mask the game's visual shortcomings, but it actually made things worse. And that's in addition to the terrible controls, dull gameplay, loads of bugs and glitches, and busted flying action.
INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996)
As a wide-eyed 11-year-old with pocket money burning a hole in my Bart Simpson wallet (yes, I had one of those), I wandered into Forward Video - my sleepy home town's knockoff version of Blockbuster - and convinced my mum to let me rent this for PS1. It had an F18 Hornet chasing down a UFO on the box!
Turns out, this sorry excuse for a combat flight sim is flat-out terrible. By the end of my three-day rental, I'd barely finished the first two levels because the controls were so clunky, graphics so bland, and objectives so repetitive. I was only allowed to rent one game every few weeks, too, so it meant waiting an eternity (to an 11-year-old) before I could get something better and purge this dross from my brain.
The kicker? I picked Independence Day over phenomenally good racing game Gran Turismo, because I'd actually heard of the movie tie-in before - even if I was still too young to have seen it.
RISE OF THE ROBOTS (1994)
Rise of the Robots was billed as a next-generation fighting game that would vastly surpass Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, with dazzling 3D graphics and artificial intelligence to enhance the combat experience. And all of that was a bunch of baloney.
Instead, Mirage's game ended up being incredibly clunky: the gameplay was dull and simplistic, the controls were unreliable, and the choppy animation ruined those admittedly pretty fighter models. We feel for anyone who dropped a bundle on this game back in '94, duped into thinking they would be playing the future of fighting games.
BIONIC GRANNY (1984)
If you weren’t alive in the mid-1980s, you might be unaware some 8-bit games were sold on tape for the princely sum of two quid. Most were garbage. Queen of the trashcans was Bionic Granny on the C64.
You controlled a deranged granny, whacking fleeing children with her cane while avoiding lollipops hurled by a furious lollipop lady. You moved left; you moved right; you stared aghast at a gaming abomination, dreaming of a brighter future – and how you might have put those two coins to better use.
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA CD-I GAMES (1993-94)
One listing, three games, and untold amounts of suffering. After Nintendo's plan to make a CD add-on for the SNES went kaput, partner Philips ended up with the rights to make Legend of Zelda games for its terrible CD-i system – and surprise, the games are just as terrible.
Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon both had tolerable side-scrolling action levels, but the hammy, hand-drawn cut-scenes almost singlehandedly ruin the entire franchise. They're that terrible. And final entry Zelda's Adventure is an even worse play experience, despite its classic Zelda overhead perspective, due to janky controls and an awful frame rate.
Likewise, Hotel Mario for CD-I is pretty bad, but the Zelda games really take the cake.
GRAND THEFT AUTO IV
Games are about escapism, right? They should transport you to other planets, or give you superhuman powers, or let you experience things you'd never otherwise be able to experience. At the very least, they should let you forget your boring reality for a few hours.
Well, my memories of GTA IV mainly involve answering the phone and being told to go and pick up someone from the airport. Or being told to take my girlfriend bowling. Or being told to collect the sodding laundry. The tagline should have been: GTA IV - Even more mundane than your life.
And on the odd occasions when I wasn't being told to do something really dull, I couldn't do anything anyway because I had no money, or just didn't want to because my flat was a stinking cockroach-infested hole and I had no job and I hated my life.
Maybe I gave up too early. Maybe it got a lot better. But I'll never know because I gave up and started playing something fun instead.
STREET FIGHTER: THE MOVIE (1995)
So you've made a crappy movie based on a great fighting game – what do you do next? If you're Capcom and that flick is Street Fighter: The Movie, then you create an even worse game based on the movie (based on the game).
Street Fighter: The Movie still had most of the classic fundamentals intact, but something happened along the way: using digitized images of the actors from the film killed the speed of the game, with long load times compounding the frustration. It's a total misfire: a tremendously bad plan then executed horribly.
NO MAN'S SKY (2016)
No Man's Sky promised me the world – no, endless worlds. This was championed as an epic adventure in a procedurally-generated universe, something no developer has previously dared. Hello Games promised the impossible, and they delivered, but not in the way I had hoped.
It turned the most exciting concept ever into one of the most tedious games of all time. I soon became bored of exploring deserted planets and discovering oddball critters. And that 'epic journey?' I've had more excitement walking to the corner shop for a pint of milk.
CUSTER'S REVENGE (1982)
E.T. might be the best-known Atari misfire of 1982, but Custer's Revenge is a much more deeply embarrassing cultural artifact from the same timeframe. This third-party Atari 2600 game put you in the boots of American Civil War Commander General George Armstrong Custer, and the whole goal is to avoid attacks and ultimately rape a tied-down Native American woman.
It's absolutely abhorrent, and yet some 80,000 copies of it were sold back when. Everything about Custer's Revenge is just the worst. In fact it's so disgusting we're not even going to publish a picture of it.
BIG RIGS: OVER THE ROAD RACING (2003)
Chances are good that you've never heard of Big Rigs, a low-budget PC title – and given the title, it's unlikely that you'd even remember a game this generic if you ever saw it in a store. But spend a few minutes with Big Rigs and it's sure to make a strong impression.
It's awful, of course – but that's because it's clearly unfinished, like a quick demo built in a couple days and somehow released as a full retail experience. In the initial version, the A.I. controlled opponent didn't move, plus without collision detection or seemingly any kind of realistic physics model, you could just drive your massive truck freely through walls, up mountains, and outside of the terrain map.
It has become legendarily awful in recent years due to YouTube, and the reputation is well deserved. Bravo.
Nintendo's original Cruis'n USA was a pretty entertaining arcade racer, and the follow-ups were fine – but Cruis'n is something else. This Wii exclusive, cobbled together from chunks of The Fast and the Furious arcade games, offers only a nightmarish jaunt.
From the intensely over-sensitive motion steering to the constant bugs, Cruis'n seemed like it was quickly slapped together and then never quite completed. And the incredibly brief runtime might be disappointing for anyone who actually paid for this junk, but I don't know if I've ever been so relieved to see end credits in my life.