Monday, August 20, 2012

NES Replay: Action 52

Action 52 Title Screen
Developer: Active Enterprises
Publisher: Active Enterprises
Released: 1991
How Bad Is This Game: So Bad I Almost Cried
In NES Replay, we go through each NES game from A-Z to see if they're any good. Today: Action 52.

Action 52 is tremendously awful. It is, without a doubt, the single worst game I have ever played in my life.

I’m not going to go one-by-one through all 52 games of this collection. The Angry Video Game Nerd did this just fine. Suffice to say, every game in this collection is the absolute bottom-of-the-barrel with not a redeeming game in the bunch.

What I am going to discuss is something I’m discovering fairly quickly while doing NES Replay. My theory when beginning this series was that the worst games would come out in the beginning, as developers struggle to learn the concepts and make them any fun to play. That hasn't been the case. While some early games were stinkers, like 10-Yard Fight, it’s not because they were lazily-made games. 10-Yard Fight, for example, really tried to be a football game and just couldn’t do it.

Action 52 Screenshot 1
Look at it.
However, from the small sample size that we’ve seen so far by doing NES Replay, the worst games are actually appearing to be the ones that came later in the system’s life span. This would make sense, when you think about it. After all, once a system appears successful, more and more developers will try to make games for it in hopes that they’ll strike it rich.

In Action 52, there are three games in this collection that have legitimate title screens, and one of the them, the awful Cheetahmen, even has a backstory. Before I knew the real story behind Action 52, I was willing to accept that maybe someone had some half-formed ideas for a couple of games, and instead of making a few crappy individual games, they decided to lump them all together into one cart.
Action 52 Screenshot 2
Seriously, just look at this.
However, that’s not really what happened. As the story goes, the creator of the game saw his kids going crazy over a pirated “40-games-in-one” cart and thought it would be a grand idea to make his own game. He would charge $199 for his 52-game collection (It's only $4 a game! That's a deal!), and Cheetahmen would be the game that would turn into a TV-show, breakfast cereal, and dental hygiene appliance and make him a multi-millionaire.

What gets me about this entire plan is the rampaging cynicism involved in it. First of all, the fact that they thought that someone would pay $199 for a collection of warmed-over, half-baked games is astounding to me. It reminds me of the kid who sets up a lemonade stand and sells his lemonade for $100 a glass, under the presumption that he only has to sell one glass that day to make money. That's an acceptable idea when you're six years old, but when you're an adult, you're not supposed to do something that stupid.

Second, the fact that the crown jewel of this collection is Cheetahmen is insulting. It’s basically assuming that “kids are stupid and they’ll buy anything so why try to make anything good.” It’s a horrifying cynicism that just got under my skin and made me really angry.

However, we can learn from this. Action 52 wasn’t made on the cheap. The company got a $20 million loan to make these games. That a huge budget for not a lot of return. That makes me think of modern games, where a $100 million dollar budget will be spent to make a game that’s exactly like the previous one but with more misogyny and explosions.

Without using this space to editorialize too much, while the company that made Action 52 is long dead, the spirit that made Action 52 is still very much alive in the hearts of some game companies. If that doesn’t bother you, then I don’t know what to say.

Final Rating:

Next week: The Addams Family.
Looking for more NES games? Click here for more!

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