While every gamer who grew up with a SNES will waste no time telling you about those nights spent with Zelda, Mario, and all of the console’s other all-time great games, every gamer knows that the true SNES experience involved suffering through some of the absolute worst games ever made.
The SNES wasn’t the last home of truly bad games (not by a long shot), but it was the centerpiece of a particularly…special era for terrible games. Developers were not only still trying to push barely playable (if that) games on unsuspecting consumers but some were bold enough to try to make technically ambitious games that even the best studios in the world couldn’t have pulled off. The result is some of the biggest swings and misses you’ll ever see.
These aren’t the SNES games you’ll remember most fondly, but I hope that there you find peace in realizing that you may have survived one of the absolute worst SNES games of all time.
15. Nickelodeon GUTS
Nickelodeon fans had to endure a pretty rough run of bad SNES games, but there is a special place in SNES hell for the abomination of bad concepts known simply as Nickelodeon GUTS.
While we all probably wanted a Legends of the Hidden Temple game just a little more, a game based on this competitive and creative series could have been a hit. Sadly, any potential this title had is ruined by the game’s unbelievably bad controls, terrible animations, and minigames that would be boring if they weren’t so broken and frustrating.
14. Mario is Missing
While I know that some people in recent years have tried to argue that Mario is Missing isn’t actually that bad, I will not entertain that piece of revisionist history. Yes, it’s only an education game, and yes, the PC version of this title has some redeeming qualities, but the SNES version of Mario is Missing was little more than a bait and switch piece of bad game design that wasted what could have been a golden opportunity.
At a time when Mario was seen as the gold standard for good video game design, Nintendo decided to farm out the property to a studio that clearly wasn’t ready for primetime so that they could turn in a half-baked geography lesson made to look (on the surface) like a proper Mario title. An education Mario game didn’t need to be this bad.
13. The Rocketeer
The Rocketeer is one of my favorite action/adventure movies of the ‘90s and the kind of film that would absolutely lend itself to a very good video game if it was only made in an era when more developers bothered to at least try to properly adapt the biggest properties. Instead, we got…this.
The SNES version of The Rocketeer consists entirely of terrible racing sequences that rely on an early “3D” perspective that would baffle M.C. Escher, light gun-esque levels that feel like a joke, and side-scrolling action sequences you wouldn’t force your worst enemy to play. There is no possible explanation for why this wasn’t at least a pretty good action platformer.
12. Revolution X
I feel like we could spend the rest of this article talking about the time that someone made a lightgun shooter game where you need to rescue the members of Aerosmith, but we definitely need to talk about the decision to bring that weird arcade game to the SNES where most people would play it without using the lightgun peripheral that made that entire genre enjoyable in the first place.
Even if you push aside the questionable format, you’re still left with a game built around bad controls, a surprising number of racist character designs, and no sense of creative cohesion. Rescuing Steven Tyler from certain death is already a questionable proposition, but this game really makes you regret the effort.
11. Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball
I’m still shocked that there is a basketball video game based on Bill Laimbeer. Even at his popularity peak, Laimbeer was known as a fairly average player who elevated his game by playing really dirty and letting some all-time great teammates do most of the work.
So while it makes some sense that Laimbeer would star in a basketball game with few rules, I can’t explain why that game would ultimately be a sci-fi basketball title with broken controls made that much worse by a bizarre overhead perspective that makes basic play nearly impossible. Was this another case of Bill Laimbeer trying to make our blood boil?
10. Bebe’s Kids
Even in the early days of video game magazines when publications were less willing to linger on truly bad games, Bebe’s Kids quickly developed a reputation for being one of the worst games ever made. Even Nintendo Power called this game out. Do you know how bad a game had to be for Nintendo Power to say it was bad?
Mind you, this game is worthy of its legacy. Bebe’s Kids elevates the era of bad licensed side-scrolling SNES games to an art form. The only thing worse than having to look at this game’s bland visuals and hear its awful soundtrack is actually playing it and being forced to navigate its awful combat, confusing level layouts, and punishing time limit. It’s so bad that it’s honestly kind of impressive.
9. Ballz 3D
In the ‘90s, there was a wave of “3D” console titles made by developers who wanted to push the SNES to its absolute limits but lacked the ability to make a playable game in the process. Despite those low standards, few games of that era and of that mold are as bad as Ballz 3D.
Even if Ballz 3D didn’t run so poorly and didn’t suffer from nightmarishly bad controls, it would still probably earn a spot on this list by virtue of its eye-bleeding level and character designs. Nobody wants to play a game that looks like a ‘90s tech demo or the CGI from an early 2000s used car dealership commercial.
8. Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon
I really don’t want to put too many educational games on this list, but there’s no way that I can walk away from this article without talking about Rex Ronan: a game where you play as a surgeon who has shrunken himself down to microscopic size in order to save the CEO of a tobacco company from the effects of smoking and the corporate microbots that are trying to kill him.
Sadly, the greatest premise ever is wasted on a game that is deeply unsatisfying at best and unplayable most of the time. It’s the kind of game that makes you want to take up smoking just on the off chance that you’ll upset anyone who was involved in the making of this game where the highlight is cleaning a tobacco CEO’s teeth.
7. Batman Forever
Even at a time when the vast majority of licensed games were unplayable (see most of this list for more information), Batman games tended to be surprisingly good. That’s what makes it so baffling that Batman Forever developer Probe Entertainment decided to abandon those proven formulas and try to make a Batman game that is best described as bad Donkey Kong Country mixed with bad Mortal Kombat with just a hint of the worst beat-em-up you’ve ever played thrown in for flavor.
It should have been obvious that this game’s motion-captured technology was never going to work, but the Batman Forever team did themselves no favors by using that technology to power a game where you rarely have any idea what you’re supposed to be doing and no desire to actually do it.
6. Space Ace
Space Ace is a landmark in bad decision-making. Developer Absolute Entertainment clearly knew that they couldn’t replicate Space Ace’s Dragons’ Lair-like LaserDisc technology and gameplay on the SNES, but they still tried to make a game that looked as close to the arcade original as possible rather than just do something entirely different.
The result is a game that can barely be called a game. Space Ace was clearly designed to look pretty good on the back of a box or in the magazine but falls apart the moment you pick up the controller. It’s a testament to how bad this game is that it manages to be as difficult as it is despite featuring controls and level design that offer very little actual input or the chance to actually do anything.
5. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
How? How do you secure the rights to arguably the best action movie ever made and not spend a little time and money to at least make the effort to turn in something that won’t completely insult anyone who had the misfortune of putting even a little of their trust into this title?
I don’t even know where to start with this one. Its all-time bad driving levels are probably the “highlight,” but it also features endless escort quests, baffling objectives that are almost impossible to solve without help, difficulty spikes that feel like glitches, laughably terrible animations and character designs, and, maybe worst of all, really bad action. Somehow, this is even worse than the also bad NES adaptation of the same movie.
4. College Football USA 97
I know this isn’t the game you expected to see on this list and, as such, are probably wondering if College Football USA 97 really deserves to be here ahead of so many other notoriously terrible SNES games.
Well, let me assure you that it absolutely does. There’s no shortage of SNES games that suffer from notable technical issues, but this might just be the most unplayable game from a technical perspective in SNES history. I’ve seen games of electric football with better animation and smoother framerates. How did a Super Nintendo game released in 1997 run this poorly?
3. Race Drivin’
We’ve had a lot of fun talking about bad “3D” games for the SNES here tonight, but it’s important to remember that there were hundreds of kids who had to suffer through these titles simply because some well-meaning person bought it for them under the belief that it was a “real game.” Well, there are few young SNES gamers I sympathize with more than those who had to play Race Drivin’ for that very reason.
Race Drivin’ is almost like an unironic version of the joke game Desert Bus. I don’t probably need to spend too much time telling you why a game that often runs at four frames per second is bad, but even if it weren’t for that little problem, Race Drivin’ may find itself in the bad game hall of fame by virtue of it massive HUD, painful music/sound effects, and controls that make it nearly impossible to actually stay on I suppose we are supposed to assume is the track.
2. Lester the Unlikely
Given that Lester the Unlikely stars a “nerd” who is essentially helpless in terms of the things we usually judge video game characters by, it’s easy to assume that this whole game is just an elaborate troll job. However, all evidence suggests that the developers of Lester the Unlikely really were trying to make a genuinely good SNES action/adventure platformer.
The idea of making a platformer starring a character who can barely walk (much less jump or fight) is questionable enough, but the first time that Lester decides to run away or cower without you asking him to do so is probably the last time you’ll bother to try to play this game. Mind you, this abomination’s terrible animations, delayed controls, constant fall damage, and overwhelmingly difficult enemies do a pretty good job of making you feel like the unlikely star of a video game.
1. Pit Fighter
Pit Fighter is maybe the best example of a SNES game that looked like it was going to be great right up until the moment you played it. The cover was awesome, the graphics looked good in photos, and the arcade version of the title was the kind of smash hit that many people thought they’d never get to properly play at home unless they bought one of the Pit Fighter cabinets.
Unfortunately, those fans were pretty much right. This game is a technical disaster on every conceivable level, but it’s really the gameplay and unnecessary difficulty that made it a particularly painful part of many retro gaming childhoods. Even if you were determined to eventually beat this title’s nearly impossible foes, the game’s lack of continues and sporadic health refills ensure that even those who somehow manage to get good at this broken game will likely never see the end of it.
Pit Fighter isn’t just arguably the worst arcade port ever; it’s a game capable of reopening any personal wounds you might have acquired as a result of growing up at a time when certain games were straight-up rip-offs. It is truly as bad as this generation of gaming gets.