Kung Food, Atari Lynx

This terrible scrolling beat ’em up was released for the Atari Lynx in 1992.

Kung Food features poorly-drawn, downright silly, food-related characters and enemies and takes place mostly inside a refridgerator.

The action is dull and repetitive and you (a green muscle man) only have two moves available (punch and kick), and jump. In fact: most enemies can only seem to be hurt by doing a low kick.

Some tiny beat ’em ups work because the programmers managed to get real weight into the feeling of the movement. Not here. In Kung Food it feels like you’re punching thin air. Enemies barely respond to your blows, other than to disappear when they die. It all just feels very lightweight and pointless.

The “mutant vegetables” idea is dull and unimaginative at best. At worst it’s an insult to a gamer’s intelligence. And the “it’s just a game for kids” argument doesn’t wash either. Kids are good gamers. They deserve better.

The most unbelievable thing about Kung Food is that it was co-coded by Christian Urquhart – a well-known and successful programmer from the 1980s. Compared to some of Urquhart‘s earlier games, Kung Food seems desperate. Maybe it was?

Certainly NOT one of the Lynx‘s better titles!

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kung_Food

Scuba Dive, Commodore 64

Scuba Dive on the Commodore 64 must rate as one of the worst conversions of all time.

The ZX Spectrum original is an enjoyable and playable classic.

This version is a joke… The first area is just a single screen (unlike the original, where the surface was explorable over a number of screens). The sea creatures are blocky and look ridiculous. The graphics overall are pathetic (especially the scrolling, which makes the side panel judder when exploring the undersea caves), and the gameplay is a pale imitation of the imperious Spectrum version.

Whoever made this version of Scuba Dive for Durrell Software did a terrible job, quite frankly. It should have been much, much better.

Black Crystal, Commodore 64

Black Crystal is infamous for being an overpriced and under-produced RPG from the early days of home computing.

This Commodore 64 version plays pretty much the same as the ZX81 and ZX Spectrum versions, in that: it’s absolutely awful and will have you both tearing your hair out in minutes, and also wondering who on earth would make such a game.

Sadists. Sadists would make such a game.

On the face of it Black Crystal is like any other early, proto-RPG type game. Tiny graphics on a map and ridiculous keyboard controls. But what makes Black Crystal so difficult and infuriating is its real-time combat system, which has no place in a game like this. At least, it didn’t in an essentially text-only adventure in 1985.

When you’re under attack in the game you have to read text descriptions at the bottom of the screen and respond in real time using key-presses for counter-actions. You can do moves with your sword, cast a Lightning spell, and a few other things. Invariably these all lead to your death, as you flounder around the keyboard trying to survive for more than 30 seconds.

As it turns out, the key to survival in Black Crystal is not the sword. No… It is the Lightning spell.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a warrior, an Elf or a Sorcerer, apparently the sword is pretty much useless against anything but Harpies. Which must be true because I heard it on YouTube.

Black Crystal has six different maps in total, with the goal being: to find seven rings hidden among them. Good luck finding the two on the first map, and making it to the second map. Only an elite number of gamers have ever bothered to manage that, and I’m not one of them.

Black Crystal, ZX Spectrum

Black Crystal is infamous for being an overpriced and under-produced RPG from the early days of home computing.

The first version of Black Crystal was the ZX81 version, which was designed and programmed by Roy Carnell and Stuart Galloway and released in 1982. A ZX Spectrum version followed in 1983, then a Commodore 64 version later in 1985.

All of them have one thing in common: they are all probably the worst example of a computer RPG ever made. The core concept, of having real-time combat in an essentially text-based adventure, is flawed and frustrating beyond belief.

The ZX Spectrum version is mostly written in BASIC, which plays havoc with the key input. Considering that you’re running across a map full of deadly monsters and everything is happening in realtime, hitting keys repeatedly is what you do. Which fills up the keyboard buffer and leaves you guessing as to whether what you’re doing is actually having any effect. Then you die and try hitting the keys repeatedly again. This kind of game just doesn’t work in BASIC… It’s not fast enough to give the input response required, so it was never really going to work properly.

The blurb on the packaging of the ZX81 version says: “Both Mr. Carnell and Mr. Galloway come from a strong film background, having worked in feature optical special effects for many years. This gives them a good visual sense and an awareness of the importance of continuity and plot.” Which beggars belief when you consider that – when playing Black Crystal – you’re constantly restarting and not getting involved in much of a plot, and also that there are no real visuals in the game to speak of, never mind cinematic ones.

Even back in 1983 Black Crystal was a difficult game to like, which is why it never did very well either critically or in terms of sales. It was all hype over content, in truth, and Carnell Software‘s “big box and manual” expensive approach quickly led to its demise.

Carnell and Galloway went on to make two follow-ups to this (Volcanic Dungeon in 1983 and The Wrath of Magra in 1985), and Sinbad and the Golden Ship in 1986 (all published by Mastertronic), before leaving the games industry for good.

Rise of the Robots, PC

Mirage‘s infamous 1994 beat ’em up, Rise of the Robots, was hyped massively before, during and after its initial release, but never managed to break free from criticism that it was nothing more than a steaming pile of donkey muck.

Before release, developer Mirage boasted that the game would feature unprecidented opponent AI, which would adapt during play and give players of different ability levels a good, fair fight. In essence, what they got was a repetitive, stale shocker of a fighting game, with robots that didn’t look very interesting, weren’t very intimidating, and didn’t have much in common with what was good in a beat ’em up.

Playing Rise of the Robots now (and then), you have to wonder whether Street Fighter II by Capcom ever happened, because if it did then Mirage certainly didn’t seem to notice it. The moves you can pull in Rise of the Robots are quite standard – you can punch, you can kick, you can jump – but the characters themselves are so rigid that they look ridiculous jumping around and flailing.

The sad fact is: Rise of the Robots IS a bit ridiculous. It was a bad idea from the outset. Robots fighting each other, Street Fight II style? As anyone with a good appreciation of beat ’em ups might know – it is the human element that makes the pain so much fun in the first place.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rise_of_the_Robots

Ultra Vortek, Atari Jaguar

My goodness, Ultra Vortek must rate as one of the worst beat ’em ups of all time!

Originally released for the Atari Jaguar in 1995, Ultra Vortek is something of a Mortal Kombat ‘tribute’, meaning: it’s an over-the-top, ultra-violent fighting game with digitised characters. Except in this the characters look terrible. In Mortal Kombat they were mostly good.

I don’t know what developer Beyond Games were thinking when they made this. The backdrops in some of the levels look like they were painted by a 16 year old art student and then scanned into the game. The pink cave level looks particularly hideous.

Gameplay too is tremendously sucky. It doesn’t matter how many moves each character has, if it doesn’t feel like the fighters are connecting when they hit each other, then the game is a failure. Combine sucky gameplay with cruddy graphics and appalling typography and you get Ultra Vortek.

With games this bad, it’s no wonder the Jaguar went belly-up as quickly as it did.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultra_Vortek

Grange Hill, Amstrad CPC

The terribleness of Grange Hill – the video game – is sealed in history with the dire Amstrad CPC version.

Argus Press could maybe have rescued it on the Amstrad, but no… Puce-colored backgrounds and the same, tired old ideas and gameplay.

The people who made Grange Hill (the video game) basically took a rotten idea at its core and lazily produced a series of three appalling versions for the UK home computer market. The games were rightly derided at the time, and are only worth a load now out of mere curiosity value.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grange_Hill_(video_game)

Grange Hill, Commodore 64

The Commodore 64 version of Grange Hill is only marginally more crap than the ZX Spectrum version. The chunkier sprites in this make it look even more amateurish.

The same level of tediousness still exists in the gameplay though.

Grange Hill is a very poor example of menu-driven adventuring – made popular by games such as Spellbound and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, although Grange Hill fails miserable on virtually every level.

You’ve got to ask yourself: who was in charge of the quality control at Argus Press? Because wasting a license like this – so badly – is about as big a mistake as you can make in the games business. The programmers and designers did a terrible job too. Everyone involved should hang their heads in shame for all time.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grange_Hill_(video_game)

Grange Hill, ZX Spectrum

Argus Press Software released this licensed adventure game, based on the successful BBC TV series of the same name, in 1987. It is infamous for being one of the worst games ever made, and it truly is, for a number of different reasons.

Number one: Grange Hill plays like it was written by someone who didn’t have a clue about what a good video game should be.

Number two: the graphics are badly-drawn and unrecognisable, except for the digitsed pictures.

Number three: The puzzles are obscure and solving them is boring.

Number four: text in the game has spelling mistakes. Schoolboy error.

Number five: whichever of the three available versions (Spectrum, Commodore 64 or Amstrad) you decide to play, it quickly becomes apparent that Grange Hill – the video game – is pure, unremitigated sh*t.

Eternal shame on Argus Press Software – and everyone involved – for letting this turd float down the river of retro-gaming history. And a gigantic waste of a license too.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grange_Hill_(video_game)

Bad Games Week

This week – something a little different… I’m only going to be featuring truly terrible video games for publication on the blog.

Yes, this is “Bad Games Week” at The King of Grabs!

If it’s rubbish, but has something interesting about it, then I’ll consider including it. Every system has its collection of howlers – I’m just picking a few of my favourites.

Seven days of the worst video games in history!

Starting today… ending Sunday. Enjoy!

Here’s a summary of links to what was published:
Grange Hill ZX Spectrum
Grange Hill, Commodore 64
Grange Hill, Amstrad CPC
Ultra Vortek, Atari Jaguar
Rise of the Robots, PC
Black Crystal, ZX Spectrum
Black Crystal, Commodore 64
Scuba Dive, Commodore 64
Kung Food, Atari Lynx
Toilet Kids, PC Engine
Quarantine, PC

Enjoy!
The King of Grabs

Grange Hill ZX Spectrum 05