Playing a bad game may sound like punishment, but it serves a useful purpose – sharpening the critical facilities. It’s not enough to say a game is terrible when you are a reviewer, it’s important to articulate and put into words the specific failings. As the reviewer for an independent console website for nearly ten years, I have been lucky to play a lot of good games – but the rubbish ones stay with you just as long.
Need For Speed Carbon on the original Xbox was poor, the graphics shrouded in almost complete darkness and the game lacking the online features of the Xbox 360 version. Xbox Live title Marlow Briggs tried to be a good brawler, but was severely let down by bad level design, a clichéd storyline and hammy dialogue.
But to see some truly terrible games it is necessary to look back to my first love, the Commodore 64. The budget market in particular was plagued by shoddy work, and one such title was ROBOBOLT from Alpha/Omega Software.
Robobolt starts off badly with a grey title screen and dischordant music. Actually starting the game reveals just how bad this is going to be. The player controls a small robot (a small, vaguely circular grey blob that can be generously said to resemble a flying saucer of sorts) in a maze of bland corridors. Vague grey blocks show the walls of the corridors, differentiating them from the grey tiles of the floor. In the corridors are small white blocks – what the game excitingly calls Death Pods. There are four Death Pods on each level, which must be carried one at a time to the Assembly Unit. This is a small blob coloured with blue and white lines.
However, the four Pods must be collected in the right order. So putting them into the Unit the player receives a yellow block on the status panel to show it is the right piece. Otherwise it is back to searching for the next Pod.
Hampering your mission are the enemies, supposedly mobile viruses. These are shown by two different coloured blobs that look a similar shape to the player’s grey blob. Hardly exciting graphics here, and it gets worse. To stop the viruses draining your energy, you can fire a Power Bolt. This is a small black blob that seems to bounce off walls that are not there, or get stuck near the player if you accidentally hold fire for too long.
Firing the Power Blob drains your Radiation count. If that drops to zero, you lose a life. And if your Energy drops to zero, you lose a life. And when you lose all your lives, the hideous green high-score table appears. Entering your initials is greeting by a harsh buzzing sound and the realisation you have wasted your time playing this heap of incompetence.
It starts badly. It gets worse. And your reward for completing a level is just another bland and dull corridor almost identical to the last one. The graphics are some of the worst I have ever seen, the scrolling window is incredibly small and the background is about as simplistic as you will ever see. The gameplay is almost non-existent, as is the sound; probably a relief given how bad the title music is.
This game is a failure on every level. It quite rightly earned a score of 3% from the British magazine ZZAP 64. I used to use that magazine as a guide on what to buy, and I hope a lot of people realised this and did not pluck Robobolt from the shelves of their local software seller. The fact the magazine used at least two reviewers on each title gave you confidence in what they were saying, and all three roundly condemned Robobolt as a terrible game. In fact in the history of ZZAP there is only one other game that scored that low.
The software industry has come a long way in the thirty years since Robobolt was released, and a title that bad would hopefully never see the light of day now. Of course, that is not to say there are no bad games; the mobile app market is plagued by clones and pay-to-win games that have as little merit as this turkey. But when you spend your cash – and use the myriad of media to guide that purchase – you are less likely to end up with something as bad as Robobolt…