Video game programmer Giuseppe Navarria, much like a genius scientist whose groundbreaking theories upend our understanding of the natural world, has just identified a previously unidentified game genre. Over the course of a series of tweets, Navarria outlines the classification of a kind of video game we’ve all seen before, but perhaps never thought to sort into a category all its own: Real Games So Bad That They Look Fake.
In an introductory tweet that functions as a kind of journal abstract, Navarria asks if readers “remember when in TV shows in the 2000s they had to film someone playing a game and sometimes they invented fake games, with wonky looking game footage that didn’t really look like real playable games.” He then presents a series of examples, drawing from a deep well of material that’s been all but lost to time.
First up is 1996's Skull Cracker, an absolutely beautifully-titled game that Navarria calls a good entry to his newly identified genre thanks to its “mix of very poorly drawn animated graphics and the high resolution/color.” Here, as in the rest of the tweets, he links a YouTube video of someone playing the game. The Skull Cracker clip shows a buff cartoon dude awkwardly punching and kicking his way across a crowded screen that looks tailor-made to be used in the background of a network drama. It’s a perfect demonstration of what Navarria means about these kind of games.
He highlights plenty more where Skull Cracker came from. There’s SoulTrap, which resembles a fake ‘90s VR game, and there’s Montezuma’s Return, which features all the stereotypical sound effects and disorienting first-person visuals you’d expect to see a teen playing during a throwaway movie scene. There’s also Demonik, which was used in 2006's Grandma’s Boy and was based on a real (but ultimately canceled) in-development Clive Barker game.
Our favorite, though, is Virtual Hydlide. Navarria describes it as looking more like an RPG made “for a TV show than a real game,” which is backed up by footage of its blocky hero waddling around a generic fantasy landscape and slashing at monsters with a sword.
We applaud Navarria for the important work he’s done. These games could have been forgotten forever, living on only in the memories of kids who once spent long hours trying to make the best out of a terrible birthday present. Now, however, they live on as exemplars of a new genre that acknowledges just how goofy and self-parodying video games can be.
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