There are bad games and then there is Plumbers Don't Wear Ties, quite possibly the worst game ever made. Centered around John, a sexy plumber in his mid-20s, Plumbers Don't Wear Ties is a unimaginably terrible adult visual novel from the '90s. Pressured to find a wife by his mom, John meets Jane, a "daddy's girl," and it's your job to make sure the two bump uglies before the credits roll.
Released in 1994 to spectacularly negative critical reception, this game was a big part (opens in new tab) of the avalanche of shitty games that helped sink the Panasonic 3DO.
YouTuber psychoticgiraffe unearthed (opens in new tab) the lost and forgotten PC version of the game like the Indiana Jones no one asked for, and leaked it for anyone to play—and play it you should.
They just don't make games this bad anymore.
"Plumbers Don't Wear Ties is an irksome and yobbishly executed pseudo-pornographic photo-story with the wit and charm of an elephant's arse," said Jon Smith in our review of the game way back in PC Gamer's July 1994 issue (one of the first ever printed). We gave Plumbers a 3… out of 100. It's the lowest score we've ever given. "I've never seen anything like it. Hopefully, I never will again."
All clogged up
It's hard to fully convey how awful this game is. Part of the controversy surrounding it is that it was advertised as full-motion video when in fact it's essentially a PowerPoint presentation with audio cues. Just watch the intro sequence (opens in new tab) and you get the idea.
The writing isn't just terrible, it's tasteless even by the standards of '90s videogame writing. There's a bit of nudity here and there, but even as pornography it fails miserably because of how irritating and lifeless the characters and acting are—and that's saying something considering we're talking about porn.
The climax of the story is when Jane is asked by a potential employer to strip down and get busy in order to get the position she's applying for. If she refuses, the employer tries to rape her and John comes to the rescue. What does this have to do with plumbers or ties? I don't even know.
Our own Joe Donnelly used to be a plumber, so I decided to ask him how accurate this portrayal is. "There's a weird misconception in popular culture that suggests plumbers go from door to door bedding lonely housewives, when in actual fact they spend most of their days up to their elbows in other people's shit," he says. "A drunk woman once hid in a cupboard from me as she was trying to avoid paying a bill. That was as weird as things ever got in my experience."
Raiders of the lost ROM
But don't get me wrong, I'm ecstatic that Plumbers Don't Wear Ties is available again—and it's all thanks to psychoticgiraffe. Several years ago, the game received widespread recognition (opens in new tab) when the 3DO version was featured in an episode of Angry Video Game Nerd. It had since faded into the annals of videogame trash. Psychoticgiraffe tells me that he happened upon the visual novel while hunting for obscure Windows 95 games to try out on an old Compaq Armada laptop he had acquired. Not realizing that Plumbers Don't Wear Ties even had a PC release, he set out to see if he could track down a copy.
"I noticed in the Lost Media wiki that there was an article showing PC Gamer UK had a review of the PC version," psychoticgiraffe tells me. "But that review was removed from the site so I couldn't find evidence of it anywhere except in that screenshot."
Searching for it on Google wasn't yielding any results outside of the more popular 3DO version, so psychoticgiraffe tried something rather brilliant: He searched by the game's system requirements instead. That eventually led him to WorldCat database listing of library inventories that showed one copy existed in all of its 72,000 libraries across the world. Somehow, amazingly, Ball State University's library had never thrown away Plumbers Don't Wear Ties' PC version.
Since he doesn't live in Indiana, psychoticgiraffe went to Reddit to see if he could find a local to check out the disc and get it to him. Reddit user lmmyers12 agreed to help and a few days later psychoticgiraffe had what could be the last PC copy of Plumbers Don't Wear Ties. After confirming it was the original game by running it on that old Compaq Armada, he ripped the files and set up a DOSBox emulator configuration that could run the game on any modern machine. You can download it here (opens in new tab).
But why on God's green earth would someone go to all this effort for such trash?
"I thought it was a great game in its own really bad way," psychoticgiraffe says. "No one else would take a slideshow and make it some sort of game. That it actually sold any copies is impressive."
He tells me that he hopes one day the game gets a sequel, so I did the only honorable thing and immediately ended the Skype call and deleted his contact info. I hope you understand, psychoticgiraffe.
But really, Plumbers Don't Wear Ties is a rare and fascinating look at PC gaming's less than glorious past. It's easy to gripe about all the little things games get wrong today, but then you come face to face with something truly terrible and remember that even bad games are usually pretty OK.