Video games are largely surreal, so is it possible to qualify a mere 15 for this a list on gaming absurdity? Probably, as the following are particularly odd.
Due to a selection of bizarre glitches, otherworldly imagination, and potential lunacy, these games crossed the realm from mildly surreal to unfathomably mad. The games in question aren’t necessarily bad (although some are truly awful), in fact there are several classics, but they do break into a new world of the absurd. Being weird is sometimes reason to celebrate, and here are 15 examples why.
1. Earthworm Jim
Shiny Entertainment’s lovably bizarre series is weird from the outset – Jim is an earthworm with super powers.
The first two games (from 1994 and 1995, respectively) in the series are classics, but they also have an amusing fixation with flying cows, giant hamsters, snot bungee jumping, puppies bouncing off marshmallows, a sidekick who morphs into a gargantuan beast when injured, and a level where Jim is a blind salamander. All of it set, in the second installment, to a Beethoven soundtrack. Great fun.
2. Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
Many Japanese games can seem impenetrable to the West, which is perhaps why some titles don’t make it out of Nippon. Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon did make it, and the N64 title was snapped up by intrigued Westerners in 1997.
The entire thing is utterly bizarre. It opens with a nude romp through a peaceful Japanese village, then heads off to showcase endlessly confounding moments. There are several warped musical numbers, a mildly creepy laughter track, UFOs, huge fighting robots, unusual locations, and a camera system with a mind of its own. Despite this, the game is considered a cult classic.
3. Limbo of the Lost
This PC title’s history was odd by the time of its release in 2007. It began as a project in 1995, but was only released 13 years later. Developers Majestic Studios quite happily stole artwork from various other games as backgrounds, and wrote fake 5 star reviews on Amazon in a feeble attempt to boost sales.
Limbo of the Lost is populated by a cast of strange characters, with protagonist Benjamin Briggs (the Captain who disappeared with the Mary Celeste in 1872) interacting with numerous disturbing creatures. Some players found them positively “disgusting”. When not terrifying its players, dull gameplay is a major problem, although the particularly odd ending sequence is a highlight. However, the game was removed from sales due to its plagiarism.
Notorious in the gaming community for its relentless awfulness, Superman was released in 1999 to a critical mauling.
The game is unspeakably bad, with players immediately greeted with an unrealistically difficult challenge. An awful control system, and missions which involve relentlessly flying through “mazes” of rings, make this one of the most perplexingly dreadful video games in history.
5. Home Improvement
Based on the popular American sitcom, the game completely ignores its comedic roots and official rights in favour of Tim Allen battling dinosaurs, robots, and mummies. Usually with a chainsaw which blasts off energy waves.
6. Mischief Makers
Mischief Makers is so unique as a side-scroller it simply can’t help but be weird. It centres around Marina, who can grab hold of enemies and shake them about. It would work very well now as a touchscreen physics based game, but it’s fallen into obscurity.
It was released the same year as Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke and many enemy characters resemble the kodama tree spirits.
7. Action 52
Action 52 boasts some of the most unhinged games ever witnessed. It was released in 1991 as 52 games “in one”, although it was priced at almost $200. It was clearly a rushed money making exercise, and many of the games included were simplistic shooters, heavily flawed side-scrollers, or bug ridden, unhinged messes. A disastrous, bizarre game which served only to infuriate NES gamers.
8. Attack of the Mutant Penguins
An obscure puzzle game from the heavily flawed Atari Jaguar. This complex title saw players loosely deciding the fate of penguins in an attempt to complete stages. It’s ridiculously complicated (a full description would require over 100 words), and is best described as being an adaptation of Lemmings. It’s weird, but a decent game.
9. Sega Worldwide Soccer Euro 2000 Edition
A Dreamcast football game with an absurd title, and even more ridiculous physics engine. Its relentless flaws actually turn it into a fun, quirky gaming experience.
Everything works as if it’s from some alternate reality. The loading screens are incomprehensibly vast, the players look strange, and they behave erratically. There are mind bending shots, a lack of announcements (if someone is red carded no one is told), and other bugs force the end of the game. It’s impossible to complete a 90 minute match as the strangest bug of the lot is triggered off arbitrarily. It sees the football shoot into orbit, leaving the computer sprites to stand around looking up into the air, perpetually lost in a whimsical moment. Game Over.
10. The Curse of Monkey Island
An absolutely wonderful game, LucasArt’s 1997 effort possessed a keen sense of the absurd.
It’s difficult to highlight the best ridiculous moment (with Murray the talking skull, a giant chicken, the insane cook Captain Blondebeard, and singing pirates), but the incident with a sunbather arguably takes it. *Spoiler Alert* Protagonist Guybrush Threepwood forces sunburn onto the hapless Palido Domingo in order to acquire a tattoo from the man’s back, which he peels off in sickeningly amusing fashion. Completely unexpected, but great fun.
11. Big Rigs: Over The Road Racing
This title has become legendary thanks to the internet, where many videos (such as the Angry Video Game Nerd‘s) have displayed it in action.
Clearly rushed beyond belief, the finished product is bug ridden, ignorant to basic game design (such as a correct physics engines), plagued with fundamental flaws, and is pretty hilarious as a result.
12. Goat Simulator
Recently released to much fanfare on Steam, this title plays on its inherent ridiculousness. The player is a goat with the goal being to cause mayhem in the open world environment. There’s nothing else to add.
13. Total War: Rome 2
A series renowned for its excellence, up until Rome 2. Released with horrendous glitches, strange animations, and a general sense of disorder, it all appeared to be very incomplete. The faces of soldiers were amusingly deformed, and attack ships would often merrily “swim” ashore and disappear into the ground.
14. Yoshi’s Island
The 1995 SNES classic is a wonderful game packed full of imagination, but one level certainly sticks out. Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy was an introduction to Psychedelia for many young gamers in the mid-90s.
If the eponymous Yoshi touches “Fuzzy” (which is guaranteed to happen), they’re sent off into a world of dizzy, woozy strangeness. Meantime, Yoshi’s expression can be described as positively delighted and/or startled, as the screen sways to colours and distortion.
15. The Zelda Series
As brilliant as this franchise is (even laying claim to the Best Game Ever in 1998’s The Ocarina of Time), there are some very odd characters. Whether it’s “I AM ERROR.” from Zelda II, weirdo Tingle in numerous editions, or child characters who blow enormous snot bubbles, the world of Zelda is populated by oddballs.