You’ll have heard of Superman on the N64, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle on GameCube and South Park on Playstation for being particularly terrible video games.
But you might not remember the rubbish video games from a time when 15-year-olds programmed titles in their bedrooms that were then released, before being pirated and sold at car boot sales.
It was a time when fat car parking attendants could be the main character in a game where players helped him eat all the pies. A time way before PlayStation, when Toshiba tape decks were the unreliable portal into digital entertainment.
This golden age of shit video games is the subject of Stuart Ashen’s new book, Terrible Old Games You’ve Probably Never Heard Of. The YouTuber recently hit 1m subscribers with his channel, ashens, which deals with the ever-important task of reviewing hugely sub-standard products.
It features Ashen’s hands, a beat-up brown sofa and a swathe of duff products including fake Star Wars toys, weird fizzy drinks and an electronic toy violin imported from China with the tagline: ‘Wonderful sound. Strange shape.’
“There’s a lack of charm in video games now,” Ashen says. “They’ve become homogenised. You look at their covers and they’re all big beefy men with a rifle over his shoulder. At no stage do you see somebody that’s had all their clothes nicked.”
He’s talking about Streaker, a game where you play a man whose clothes have been lost, with the player charged with the task of finding them before they get arrested.
“Actually that’s an example of something that you’d never be able to sell to a large computer games developer these days,” Ashen explains. “But it’s nice to have these crazy ideas.
“The more people you involve in anything, the less likely it is a strange idea will survive. Now they all get watered down as more money and regulations come in. If it’s some kid in his bedroom, drinking Special Brew and occasionally programming something, you’re going to get something very odd out of it.”
Despite this yearning for the strange days of British computer games, the early 80s was a time huge swathes of rubbish video games hit the market too.
“It was the real wild-west of British computers. Systems like the Oric Atmos would pretty much publish anything just to get a game out there sometimes. It’s unbelievable now that they would dare to charge money for some of them,” Ashen explains.
“15-year-old Matthew Smith famously created classics like Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy in his bedroom,” he concludes. “But sadly not all of them had his skillset.”
In homage to video games you’ve probably never heard of, Ashen gave Loaded a rundown of five absolute shockers.
“A horrifying game. It’s a really badly thought out twist on Space Invaders but there’s only one successful way to play the game, which is to move your ship from left to right and constantly fire. If you do that you win, if you don’t do that, you lose. It takes the player out of the equation as once you’ve worked that out, it’s the end of it being a game.”
“This was a German title where you shoot animals. It’s so ridiculously basic that they slide across the screen like a cardboard cutout. The stupid thing is that every single one slides across in the same place, so you leave your cursor in one place and tap it as they go past. They tried to add to it by making the cursor a target, but it didn’t help much.”
“This one’s awful as the player is an afterthought. There’s literally no game, so you’re incidental in proceedings. It’s random whether you succeed or not, and the odds are horribly stacked against you. You may as well just flip a coin.”
“I remember this one from before researching the book and had a weird memory that it was an insane fever dream of cartoon characters jerking around and exploding. You couldn’t work out what the hell was going on. I looked into it to make sure I wasn’t just confused at the time, but that really is all that happens. It’s an audio/visual mess. You start it up, see a load of colours and noises, have no idea what on earth is going on and then suddenly it’s all over, you lost, and you can’t really figure out why.”
“This game simply doesn’t work. It was released twice, which still shocks me, and both versions were impossible to play as they both had a bug that meant that the controls didn’t work. You can hack into the source code and fix the controls, only to discover that there is still no game to play.
“It’s the most bizarre thing, but we managed to track down the story. The summary is that the programmer was legally bound to write something for a company that he really didn’t want to, so he sent them something they couldn’t possibly release. But they did anyway. Twice! That must be the worst in the book actually. Although I’m not sure it even counts as a game at all.”
Terrible Old Games You’ve Probably Never Heard Of is available now on unbound.
Loaded reporter Robert McCallum has written for many leading culture magazines and websites about music, sport, science, politics, fashion and arts. Follow Robert at @therobmccallum