Unlike movies so bad they’re good such as The Room or Trolls 2, you have to interact with a bad game. We can look away from Tommy Wiseau's bare ass or a particularly corny sex scene and the movies keeps trucking along, ready for us when we are. A bad game laughs at you while you struggle with its controls or wade through slow, tedious design. You have to push it along and bear the full weight of its flaws, rarely leaving enough energy left to laugh back. But a few games manage to stay just playable enough, or revel in their badness so much, that they’re still possible to appreciate.
If you’re the type that can see beyond hideous graphics or nonsensical dialogue and still find something to love in a messy game, then we have a few suggestions for your playlist.
Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair
EDF thrives on badness. This dead simple game is about blowing up as many alien bugs as you can with comically overpowered weapons, and it's full-tilt ridiculous at all times. But the great part is that its story pretends to take itself seriously, with melodramatic voiceover and dialogue playing out over every mission while you blast giant ants with a rocket launcher. Ugly, simplistic graphics are its most noticeable quality, but those graphics allow EDF to pack hundreds of enemies on screen. That scale is pivotal to how fun and frantic the sandbox combat ends up being.
The bad English VO is really what does it for me, though. It's either delightfully cliche or brilliantly self-aware, but either way, I love love love the clunky voice command system that lets players sing, line-by-line, the EDF anthem. What a game. —Wes Fenlon
Layers of Fear
Some people will tell you Layers of Fear is a horror masterpiece. I’d guess those people don’t watch much horror. If you don’t know, it’s a first person haunted house game where you play as a tortured artist slowly losing their mind. If anything, I’m less scared of having a psychological breakdown now because I know what to expect: animated baby dolls, hallways that change when you look away, and plenty of messages left on the wall in something that looks like blood. But through its parade of horror cliches, Layers of Fear transcends.
Once you realize everything can be predicted and that the scares are lined up one after another, each subsequent attempt comes closer to feeling like you’re watching a hooded teen showing you the scary magic they learned online. You’ve seen these tricks hundreds of times over, but the earnesty and enthusiasm with which they’re thrown at you is endearing enough to hang around. Sometimes it will be hard not to laugh (especially when one of the baby dolls sprints down the hall and bonks their head on a dresser), but don’t feel bad. It’s effective horror, just not in the way it was meant to be. —James Davenport
I’ll start by saying I don’t think Deadly Premonition is bad by any measure, but I’m in the minority. Many are resistant to its sparse, janky-looking PS2-era open world, not to mention the stiffness of its characters. But I love these things: they contribute to the uncanny, edge-of-reality atmosphere this game is so adept at conveying. The sleepy town of Greenvale, Washington is as dream-like and unreliable as its bumbling, goofy characters, and the way protagonist York brushes through these oddities with the calm, authoritative smarts of Twin Peaks’ Agent Cooper (a very obvious inspiration) is hilarious but also, offputting.
Everything is offputting about Deadly Premonition: the weird repetition of its enemies’ groans, the way they’re too high in the audio mix, make this game feel like outsider art more than a piece of designed mass market entertainment. It’s the closest a game has come to capturing the mood of, yes, Twin Peaks, but also a Franz Kafka novel. It’s a masterpiece the way it is, should never ever be fixed, and if you advocate for the latter then please stay away from this very bad but also perfect video game. —Shaun Prescott
Try hopping into an open D&D server in Tabletop Simulator. It's hilarious, and you will definitely never play D&D. First, the DM will struggle to help everyone manage the custom, editable character sheets. How do you edit your class field? Click on it, which pops a Go piece into existence, then right click on the piece and edit its description in a tiny field that you can't see if you clicked it too near the bottom of the screen. Do that for all the fields. Now find your feature and spell cards in a stack that takes ages to load, but as you're doing that, accidentally drop your character sheet into one of 10 nearby bags and boxes. As the host looks for your sheet, watch their ping skyrocket as they get DDOSed and everyone disconnects. It's D&D, baby!
But Tabletop Simulator is great. For all its many flaws, get a group of friends into a room and you really can play D&D (I doubt it'd be fun to play with strangers anyway). Or you can play any other tabletop game you can think of, so long as you take the effort to make the custom boards, cards, or pieces you need. It's one of the best multiplayer 'sandbox' games on Steam, and it's infinitely customizable. Just be prepared for when someone picks up an unlocked bowl full of dice and it decides to eject all of them like popcorn for some reason. —Tyler Wilde
Amazing Frog knows what kind of game it’s trying to be—some wacky, unpredictable physics playground for ragdoll frog puppets—but the menus and interactions are so difficult to decrypt that it even fails to be a goofy toy in the way of Goat Simulator. But Amazing Frog somehow works despite itself. Play long enough and you'll eventually get lost in the menus or layers deep into the exploration of its many massive landscapes. Soon, it starts to feel like you’re playing one of the games you see depicted on shitty criminal investigation series.
Amazing Frog is a videogame that looks and plays like the perfect psychic replica of what my dad things videogames might look and play like. It’s a squeaky toy that weighs 1000 pounds and actively hates you. It’s a jungle gym designed only to be observed. It's an lucid dream at the supermarket. It’s pretty bad, and I like it. —James Davenport
Goat Simulator's viral popularity ruined it for a lot of people—it got a reputation as just another dumb game for loud men to be loud at on YouTube. And it is a dumb game, but it's a profoundly, wonderfully dumb game. It takes the part of open-world games people actually like—mindless destruction—and makes that the whole thing. No characters, no cutscenes, no driving to the place where the mission intro happens so you can drive from there to the place where the mission actually starts. Goat Simulator is Grand Theft Auto minus the time-wasting guff. Let's go one better: Goat Simulator is Grand Theft Auto, only with a likeable protagonist.
The thing that made Goat Simulator go viral, the performative aspect of it, is significant too. You don't have to be a streamer to realize it's fun to watch. Get a friend who hasn't played it, sit them down with Goat Simulator, and you'll be laughing together in no time. It's a bit sad that simple pleasure is alien to good games and instead has to come to us via this deliberately bad one made as a joke. —Jody Macgregor
Resident Evil 6
I should arguably save this one for a 'games that are so bad they're actually bad' list, but I do have genuine affection for Resident Evil 6. Of its four bloated campaigns, about one-and-a-half are good, and the rest is punctuated by noisy action that doesn't always see the series at its best—the Chris campaign is a particular low point. With some careful editing, Capcom could've had a more refined, balanced action/horror game that cut between the different characters and only kept the best set pieces.
Indeed, the controls in Resident Evil 6 allow for a lot more self-expression and mastery for the player than any previous games. You can slide around, crawl on your back, use deadly melee moves (while keeping a stamina meter in check), perform quick counter shots. It's bad, but it's also good, then. If you've got it in your Steam library, consider giving it a second chance and checking out the Mercenaries mode. —Samuel Roberts
Most people don’t even know Ricochet, Valve’s failed multiplayer experiment, exists. A first person disc-thrower set on a series of platforms suspended in an infinite void, Ricochet looks like baby’s first Quake, but with colored jumpsuits and much less variation. At the edge of each platform are a few arrows that shunt you to the next one, or pinball you up to the second level. There’s little room to maneuver on each, which means to take your opponents out you either need to knock them out of the air or ping them off their platform with a disc or two.
But because Ricochet is so simple, nearly anyone can jump in and start affecting the match. The small play space almost ensures chaos, which is always amusing to watch. Layered over with some lo-fi sound work (and the best death cry in any game ever, maybe), Ricochet may not be much fun to play as a purely competitive FPS, but it sure is entertaining to be a part of, like a loose bolt among a dozen others in a cheap pinball machine. —James Davenport