5 games that are surprisingly popular in spite of sucking so bad

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Bad games are everywhere. They hide in stores, online, and in our collections. But just because a game is bad doesn't mean it can't be good. Okay, I know that doesn't make any sense. Just bear with me.

There are a few select games out there that were critical failures, featured repetitive gameplay, or were simply mechanically broken, but became popular despite (and in some cases because of) these quirks. Every gamer has at least one bad video game that they love for some reason. Perhaps it's the soundtrack, perhaps nostalgia, but for whatever reason, they hold a place in hearts and minds everywhere. So with that in mind, let's take a look at a select few bad games that are (and were) inexplicably popular.

Shadow the Hedgehog

Where did it all go wrong, Shadow? You were doing so well with Sonic Adventure 2. Sonic Heroes wasn't that bad either. And then they gave you guns.

Shadow the Hedgehog, upon release, was almost universally pointed to as a warning of what can happen when edginess goes too far. Reviewers saw the game as a betrayal, as did older fans of Sonic games. It wasn't just seen as a bad game -- it turned into a laughingstock, a punchline, an Ed Hardy-shirt-wearing caricature of itself. 

That said, despite the admittedly terrible gunplay mechanics, Shadow the Hedgehog was a solid 3D platformer for its time. Readers of Nintendo Power voted it the Best Platformer of 2005, and the game actually sold incredibly well. Sega reported that the game sold more than one and a half million units, if you can believe that.

In addition, the game's branching paths mechanic and multiple endings were a pretty huge innovation at the time. There weren't many other games that had gone all-in on this type of storytelling style, and although much of Shadow the Hedgehog was reliant on ideas from older Sonic games, this element was a true innovation, giving the game a significant amount of replay value.

So next time you want to make fun of Shadow the Hedgehog, pop the game in again. You'll be surprised that it's not nearly as bad as you might think.

God Hand

Not all of Clover Studio's games were hits. God Hand was a commercial failure, and garnered, well, let's say "mixed" reviews. IGN gave the game a meager 3 out of ten, and they had every reason to. The game is a mess.

The level design is laughably linear, the combat, while deeply customizable and satisfying, is repetitive, and the difficulty of the game can be ridiculous at times. It's buggy, unpolished, and not particularly pleasant to look at. So why, then, is the game listed as one of the top 100 PS2 games of all time? Why is this bad game featured in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die? Why has it inspired such a cult following?

In short, it oozes charisma. The main character's powers are so over-the-top that it's ridiculous, and the inanity of the combat eventually stops being frustrating and starts being charming. There's a minigame where you can bet on a rabid chihuahua race. You spank a certain class of enemies to death. When you defeat an enemy, they fly off into the sky with a Team Rocket-approved "ding!".

It's not smart, it's not polished, and it is, at the end of the day, from an objective standpoint, a bad game -- but it is endlessly, overwhelmingly fun. 

Shaq-Fu

There are few games that have been more maligned than Shaq-Fu. Initially released to mixed reviews,the game has, over the past years, become regarded as one of the worst games of all time. 

Featuring frustrating AI, almost-impossible-to-pull-off special moves, sluggish fighting, and an insane difficulty curve, Shaq-Fu deserves a lot of the criticism that it gets to this day. That said, the game was a commercial success, having been ported to a wide variety of platforms after its release. And if you happen to revisit the title, you may find that it's actually not that bad.

Despite the odd pace of the fighting, the combat is smooth and the sprites are smoother. Perhaps it's because of this that Shaq-Fu fans raised almost $475,000 to crowdfund a sequel to the game.

Cooking Mama

You might be surprised to see this title on this list. Cooking Mama was a sales behemoth for Majesco in the mid-2000s, and not many consider it to be a bad game. But revisiting the game today reveals a startling truth: the game truly does not hold up.

Even Food Network addicts are likely to find the game's mechanics dull and repetitive, with little opportunity for creativity or finesse. At its core, the game is essentially a Warioware clone with the off-the-wall charm replaced with cooking themes. It's fun, yes, but critics, upon release, gave the game middling-to-bad review scores. They cited the fact that it's nice as a bite-sized treat from time to time, but if you really want to dig into the game, you'll be left wanting more.

Despite all this, the game holds a well-deserved place in the hearts and minds of gamers everywhere as a fun, cute, and bright diversion.

Superman 64

Are you sitting down? Good. Because you'll need to brace yourself for this. Superman 64, one of the worst games of all time, led all N64 games in sales in June of 1999, and in July of that same year, was named the N64's 3rd best-selling game.

One question arises when all this information is considered: How could this happen? How could one of the worst games ever, a game with terrible visuals and controls, one that took the world's most iconic superhero and forced him to fly through ring mazes... how could it have been so successful? 

Revisiting the game does not help. The game is a complete joke. It controls terribly, the missions don't make any sense, and the difficulty spikes are awful. So why, then, was the game so successful?

Well, for starters, back in those days, it wasn't so easy to find video game reviews. Not everyone had the Internet, and not everyone could afford Nintendo Power. A game based on a property like Superman would have the kind of name recognition that would make people take notice when they saw it on store shelves. But there's another reason Superman 64 did so well, and the answer is a surprising one

The game was not for us.

Titus, the game's developer, has said that the game was targeted at children aged between 9 and 11, and that the game scored highly on surveys of that demographic. This means that despite its flaws, the game offered them something of value. Playing a game where you could be Superman and fly around in a 3D world must have been massively exhilarating to them, regardless of the banal missions or terrible level design. There were few other games that based the core gameplay off of flying around in a 3d space, and for all its faults, Superman 64 filled that void.

It may be one of the worst games ever made, but in its day, it was insanely popular.

Can you think of any other bad games that sold surprisingly well, or any deeply flawed games that you love anyway? Let us know in the comments!

Published Jul. 29th 2016

Featured Contributor

RobotsFightingDinosaurs has been writing about games for 10 years and playing them even longer. Despite the millions of hours he's played across multiple gaming generations, his favorite games are The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild and Super Smash Bros. Robots has written for Polygon, Thrillist, Kill Screen, and more.


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