What is a "cursed" videogame? I'd argue any game that feels like it should be a Simpsons background gag (see: My Dinner With Andre: The Arcade Game, Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge), or else could be the game people are playing on-screen in a videogame-themed episode of Law & Order: SVU. The Mystery of the Druids, Limbo of the Lost, the Eragon movie tie-in, Golf Magazine: 36 Great Holes Starring Fred Couples, the 2014 Thief reboot, there is a case to be made for "cursed" status for all these games.
One of my cursed games is probably The Spongebob Squarepants Movie: The Game, released for sixth generation consoles and based on the Battle for Bikini Bottom engine. I have a crystalized memory of being nine years old, sat on the floor of my parents' finished basement in front of one of those massive aughts-era rear projection TVs.
I was playing The Spongebob Squarepants Movie: The Game on original Xbox, but I was listening to my dad's CD of the U2 album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, on my dad's old Sony Discman. While I was immersed in the finest(?) soft rock Ireland had to offer, to an external observer, this tableau would have been largely silent. If that's not cursed, I don't know what is—someone go back and save that boy.
Have you ever loved a cursed videogame? Here are our answers, as well as some from our forum.
Robin Valentine, Senior Editor: “Cursed” is definitely the word I’d use to describe Let It Die. This bizarre action-roguelike from Suda51 was objectively rough—it was frustrating, it didn’t run well, half its systems made no sense, and its awkward multiplayer components were reliant on a playerbase that was doomed to shrink days after release. But by God it had style.
When a game starts with a conversation with a skateboarding grim reaper called Uncle Death, you know you’re in for something special. Its bizarre splatter horror meets Japanese arcade culture meets Hieronymous Bosch visuals was like nothing else in gaming, and I would genuinely place Naomi Detox, an apathetic teenage girl who hangs out in the game’s hub and tells you about how horrible her boyfriend Justin is, in my top five favourite videogame characters ever.
All that swagger was so compelling that for a while I was able to convince myself that I was actually enjoying playing Let It Die, but eventually my patience for throwing myself at the same grimy, unforgiving levels over and over and awkwardly managing my stable of fighters to defend against attacks from other players ran out, and I was forced to wave Uncle Death and Naomi goodbye. I couldn’t even bring myself to try the very suspect-looking sequel, Deathverse.
Mollie Taylor, Features Producer: What if The Sims was all boobs and also really, really bad? Well, 2005 called with Playboy: The Mansion, a semi-steamy sim brought to you by the same developer who got fired by Blizzard for doing a terrible job of Warcraft 2's Beyond the Dark Portal expansion. It manages to take all the things that make The Sims engaging—needs to manage, careers, complex social relationships, random fires—and completely does away with them.
Who needs all that anyway when you can be Hugh Hefner himself, throwing parties, having sex with women and convincing them to pose topless on the cover of each haphazardly thrown-together issue of Playboy you're tasked with making? Don't forget to schmooze with journalists so they can write the articles too, the entire reason people buy and "read" Playboy, of course.
I wouldn't say I love the game, but I certainly have a soft spot for its incessantly annoying jazz soundtrack and deeply tragic 2000s videogame sensibilities. It's terribly dull in every single way, but it's a nice reminder of the era where absolutely everything had to be a videogame. Even saucy magazines.
Lauren Aitken, Guides Editor: I'm not sure everyone would agree it's cursed, but for me, Spore definitely was. I made some truly horrifying creatures in Spore and when I first played it, it was on the shittest laptop imaginable so it ran slower than normal which made things ten times worse. It's a game I think about often because the premise lured me in like the weird little fish I am but sometimes I think it was all a fever dream. Why did it need to be made and, more to the point, why is there not a 2023 version?
Another would probably be Bugs Bunny: Lost in Time. I don't know what made eight-year-old me think it was going to be fun, but I remember it being the first time I played a game and feeling like ????? the entire time. It was just bad and weird and I did not understand what I was supposed to be doing, which hasn't really changed. Bugs Bunny was bested only by the Small Soldiers movie adaptation video game. Weird. So weird.
Everything was dark and gloomy and there were so many strange noises coming from the dark and it just ruined what was (okay, is) one of my favourite films. The music was so bombastic for a silly game about a little plastic dude and it lives in my head rent-free.
Rich Stanton, Senior Editor: My secret shame is a mobile game: Deer Hunter [Editor's Note: Is Rich a Deer Hunter Classic fan or a Deer Hunter 2018 enjoyer? Only the man himself knows]. It's not a good game. It's not even an especially edifying game. It is a first-person shooting game where each level is a small landscape where various animals, including but not limited to deer, gambol around: and you line 'em up and blow those furry critters away.
So far so standard. But what hooked me in Deer Hunter was the close-up slowdown effects. Think Sniper Elite. As the challenge increases you have to aim for the brain or the heart or the lungs of an animal and, when you take the shot, the game moves into a kind of slowmo bullet cam that tracks your projectile all the way into the poor animal's body, before everything returns to normal speed after the hit and the carcass slumps to the ground.
This game treats a good shot on a deer like a heroic moment, the highlight of humanity's achievements, and I find this effect hilarious. To the extent that even though I don't really game on mobile I still have Deer Hunter on my phone for whenever I'm especially bored. It's full of mobile F2P bullshit, the upgrade paths gouge you, killing animals for sport is not good practice, everything about this game is bad. But I love it.
Evan Lahti, Editor-in-Chief: [straightening a fedora, Evan blows a theatrical volume of smoke into the air]
int: noir game critic's office
Sure, since y'asked nice, I'll gab about game that broke my heart: I reviewed LawBreakers. I gave it an 84. I called it "Nimble, graceful, and original" and "delightfully nuanced." I praised its "low-grav ballet" even as I criticized its characters and modes. I was one of the most enthusiastic voices in the world on this flawed-but-interesting video game.
LawBreakers was taken offline one year later, and Cliff Bleszinski's studio Boss Key folded with it not long after. Zero percent of players prestiged, according to achievement data. Taken too soon, forever in our hearts, forever aesthetically dissonant, RIP 2017-2018.
Harvey Randall, Staff Writer: When I was a kid I played the hell out of Adventure Quest's flash version. It was a relic of the old internet—is, it still exists, though I doubt it'd be recognisable to me today. Back when I was playing it, it still had like, 2000s-era flash graphics mixing it up with the slightly more detailed stuff they were doing in a low-budget mash of artstyles. Here's a clip (god bless you, MMO hut). Anyway, I was a werewolf, I hit monsters, it was a good time.
Then there was Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue for the PS1. For some reason little Harvey was obsessed - probably because we didn't have a lot of games, but also when you're a kid you don't really have a critical eye for anything. I remember hopping around the first few levels a lot. The opening theme is burnt into my head. Absolute banger.
Jacob Ridley, Senior Hardware Editor: I played a whole lot of Xbox 360 arcade game 'No Luca No' in my younger years. If you aren't aware of it already, it has a simple premise: you stop a cat from eating your cereal. It was so easy to play a whole lot of it.
Maybe it's unfair to call that game cursed, but it's definitely one of the weirder ones I've played too much of!
Andy Chalk, US News Lead: Remember the original Prey? Took more than a decade to get that sucker from concept to clearance bin, an ugly schmozzle that involved multiple development teams, an almost-cancellation, and a complete switch in game engines. When it finally came out, it was an outstanding shooter and a pretty good sales success, too—and yet somehow, plans for Prey 2 immediately ran face-first into the same swirling mass o' troubles that plagued the first game.
The second time around, there was no saving it: After 3D Realms couldn't make it happen, Bethesda acquired the rights and dazzled us all with a brilliant cinematic at E3 2011, but ultimately pulled the plug on the whole thing for reasons it was never entirely clear about. Prey—the name, not the game—eventually came back in 2017 as a System Shock-inspired immersive sim, and it was great—and it tanked, and now Arkane is doing stuff like Redfall.
Anyway, Prey (2006) is excellent and you should play it. If you can find it, that is—it was pulled from Steam several years ago. A powerfully cursed game indeed.
And god dammit, I still want to play this:
Jon Bolding, Freelance Contributor: I've been playing Dwarf Fortress since at least 2008 and I don't expect to ever stop. This is a game where too many sock-finding calculations will crash your PC—so yes, Ted. I've loved a cursed game.
From our forum
Alm: My first gaming system was the Gameboy. We didn't really know what games would be good back then. I would say that most of our Gameboy games could be classified as cursed.
One of the games I started with was Bart Simpson's Escape From Camp Deadly. Being young, I kept at it, believing I was just bad at the game but, looking back, reviews were not good.
It holds a place in my memories of equal love and aversion.
Pifanjr: Do the Star Wars Lego games count? I feel like those games have no business being as good as they are. I fairly recently tried playing one of them with my daughter, but the platforming controls were sadly still too difficult for her.
Zloth: I just recently discovered the joys of having my ruler be cursed in Old World, so I'm trying to avoid being triggered here....
I've played quite a few games that were outright unplayable at launch - thus earning a ton of cursing from many players. Arkham Knight was pretty fun a year after showing up on PC. Sword of the Stars 2 was fairly good a year and a half after release. X Rebirth was fun enough two years after release that I played through it twice!
Mainer: This may or may not fit your criteria for a "cursed" game, but for me it would be Gothic 3 from Piranha Bytes released back in 2006. The game was cursed from the start with the forced release when the game was clearly not ready or complete, by then-publisher JoWooD. Hundreds of bugs on release, dialogue not triggering, critical NPCs not being where they're supposed to be which usually resulted in quests (minor or major) to break completely.
But I loved that game (and still do) with its open world exploration, combat, and dialogue choices when dealing with the Orc occupation of the mostly human continent of Myrtana. With a dedicated group of modders, the community patch was created and eventually fixed the vast majority of bugs. Current version is 1.75 which is available on Steam in the beta branch.
Kaamos_Llama: I think just about every game I ever played as a kid on the ZX Spectrum was haunted in some way, but I'm damned if I can remember the names of any of them.
I spent a lot of time as a slightly older kid playing World Championship Boxing Manager which was pretty terrible by even 90's standards. You wanted cursed right?