The notion of ironically enjoying bad media became mainstream with Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay on Notes on Camp. Movies have historically been especially popular for this sort of past time. The viewer can bask in the feeling that they are smarter than the media they’re consuming, since they didn’t put all the resources into the movie that the filmmakers did. There’ve been numerous careers made from chatter between cohosts while watching some bad movies since Mystery Science Theater 3000 premiered in 1988.
Video games tend to be less than ideal for this, at least for a player as opposed to a streamer or other entertainer. First and foremost, if a game is badly designed, it can be extremely difficult if not impossible to play, which means the amusement will quickly become buried under mounting frustration. It’s hard to feel superior to a work of art if you need to really focus and exert effort to consume it. Video games bad enough for ironic enjoyment tend to still take more than an hour and a half to play, so even if they’re easy to play that means the player risks a lot of tedium between the laughs.
For years the reigning champion of entertainingly awful video game design was Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing. It’s a 2003 single player racing game which is so intuitively broken that the computer player’s vehicle wasn’t even programmed to be able to move at all. There is no collision detection for any obstacle on the track, allowing the player to drive straight through everything. There is no maximum reverse speed, so players can exceed the speed of light in a vacuum according to TVTropes if they hold down the button long enough (considering that doing so takes allegedly takes more than an hour of continuous pressing, it’s presumably better to put a weight on the button and then go do something else.) Most famously the victory screen says “YOU’RE WINNER!” The creators showed how unintentional all this was when they released a patch that “fixed” the grammatical error, taking away one of the most beloved aspects of the game.
Still as a number of people have pointed out, Big Rigs’s incompetence is due to relatively low investment. A semi-competent studio could knock out a similar game in an afternoon. Errors aside it looks like a cheap and generic game, so there’s not really enough content from which a player could mine more than a few minutes of entertainment, going backwards at light speed aside. Thus it might be time for a new champion.
Enter Crying is Not Enough (CINE), a 2018 release from Greek studio Storyline Games. It is a much more polished game than Big Rigs, reportedly requiring five years development. While I have plenty to say about some of the character and level designs, it at least looks like a professional product. Sometimes.
The story of CINE is somehow both straightforward and convoluted. Jacob Helten is a veteran of some sort of military action whose wife Claire disappears from a hospital while Jacob is en route. A mysterious old woman claims to know who took Claire and how to recover her, and offers Jacob a helicopter ride to recover her from an island mansion. The helicopter is shot down over an island, yet Jacob survives and continues his dogged quest to reach the mansion. It happens that the island is crawling with victims of bioengineering and mind control experiments to give Jacob something to run from/shoot at along the way. And so we enter the world of Crying is Not Enough.
Despite its decent professional veneer, CINE is piled high with silly problems nearly every step of the way. For one thing the generic enemies are programmed to always stop and give a prolonged yell before they run surprisingly slowly at Jacob, and they take two seconds or so two draw back and throw a punch. The combination means that Jacob can defeat crowds of them by literally walking past them even if they’re puppy guarding the spot he needs to pass through.
The jank can get so bad that every once in awhile the entire world of the game will disappear, leaving poor Jacob Helten standing in a foggy void.
One recurring but deliberate design mistake which is sufficiently infrequent that it can catch a player offguard is save function. CINE’s creators programmed a minigame called Cubica and inserted it into the universe by having arcade cabinets of it serve as the checkpoints. As Jacob comes within range of the machine the music for Cubica immediately plays over whatever atmospheric tracks were playing before, which results in many laughable bits of tonal whiplash.
Also, it turns out that despite being a simple shape-matching rhythm game, Cubica is actually much more effective as a source of legitimate entertainment than CINE, and it’s potentially worth playing CINE’s demo just to get the minigame.
There are also goofy little easter eggs such as the fact the helicopter pilot at the beginning is wearing bib overalls.
Perhaps the single most amusing aspect of CINE is the simplest. Every time the game needs to go a loading screen for a new level’s graphics, a quote from a historical figure fades in over a black screen.
The quotes are seemingly selected at random. They certainly don’t have any thematic relation to the events of the game. Storyline Games could not have made their ambitions to give the game a higher brow veneer if they tried.
I’m only including three examples because lofty, inspirational quotes with limited context seem to go over pretty well online.
Moving on, the game also has a number of puzzles for the player to solve. My favorite is where late in the story, Jacob has to unlock a door. He finds an axe with the item description “It could be used to chop the head.” Later, Jacob comes across a dead body, and apparently having read the item description, cuts off the head, and then dunks it in a fountain full of piranhas. All that to get a key that was hidden inside the guy’s head. No explanation how Jacob knows to do this, why the man had a key hidden in his brain, how he survived having a key hidden in his brain. It sounds like a bit from an episode where Homer Simpson has to write a puzzle for a point and click adventure game.
I really shouldn’t go without commenting on the characters. Jacob Helten is just a slightly off video game protagonist, but look how he aims his gun.
If you think that looks awkward in close up, here it is in wide:
And then there’s damsel in distress Claire. Is there ever Claire.
This is only scratching the surface, not mentioning at all Jacob’s crazy eyes, the, uh, creative English scattered throughout the game, the storytelling choices, and the single most hilarious moment of the game. I don’t want to spoil any of that. I can only recommend you try the game for yourself, or better yet, check out Supergreatfriend’s hilariously deadpan, exhaustive, and exhausted Let’s Play videos, from which I took all the screencaps in this review. Seriously, be forewarned that Supergreatfriend, a guy who has played hundreds of janky games for Youtube consumption, considers this the worst game he has ever played. So you have to be the type who enjoys his frustration as well as the game’s brokenness.