It could be said that, at the heart of any good videogame, there’s a great hero – but that would be a lie. Plenty of games have been awesome without any help whatsoever from their lunkheaded, personality free space-marine protagonists. It’s a lot rarer to find crappy games that are elevated – or at least made a little more interesting – by their heroes, but they’re out there.
Above: Here are some of them
Sometimes it’s that the characters in question are brilliantly written, or that they won us over with earlier, better games. Other times, it’s just that a license we like was done a grave injustice by a cheap tie-in game. Whatever the reasons, the following heroes are way too good for the games that confine them, and could do a lot better if given the chance.
Matt Hazard, a washed-up former videogame star who’s pulled out of retirement for what may be the most fourth-wall-breaking game ever, was the character that inspired this feature. It’s not that he’s particularly fascinating; in fact, seemingly everything about him is designed to be as generic as possible, from his bald head and gruff (Will Arnett-voiced) rasp, to his armored vest and love of guns.
Above: Oh look, a zombie. What an original enemy
But it’s what Matt does, and what he represents, that make him awesome. He’s a slightly exasperated old pro who’s starred in every conceivable game genre, habitually gets tossed into different ones and ends up fighting his own deathmatch-happy programmers. His games can be pretty funny, and their concept is brilliant, but unfortunately they’ve both been mediocre at best. Parodying stupid action-game tropes doesn’t mean you have to imitate them and make your games boring, and the sooner his creators at Vicios Cycle realize that, the happier we’ll be.
It’s difficult to think of anything to say about Sonic that we haven’t already. The blue Hedgehog started out stronger than arguably any other character besides Mario, and he’s had a couple of critical successes in recent years. In the main, though, his games gradually went from the most awesome things ever to a tired, recurring joke on the industry.
Above: Also, they gave us, uh… this. And… and we’re kind of out of words to complain about it
Sonic has gone from an awesome blue rodent that ran very, very fast to a weirdly personality-free mascot with an embarrassing stable of dumb animal sidekicks, an increasing lack of gameplay focus and a black, gun-wielding evil twin who got his own game because Sonic just wasn’t that cool anymore.
Unlike most of the other characters on this list, however, there’s still some hope for Sonic. After years of whining from the hedgehog’s fans, Sega has finally caved and promised Sonic the Hedgehog 4, which will apparently bring back the laser-focused, high-speed, side-scrolling gameplay that made Sonic great.
Above: HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
Even so, we’ve made the mistake of getting our hopes up about “old Sonic” coming back before, so we can’t simply have faith that Sonic 4 is going to be good. Call us cautiously optimistic, at least until later this year, when the first episode of Sonic 4 releases.
Before GoldenEye 007 redefined console shooters on the N64, the Son of Stone single-handedly commanded FPS fans’ attention with one of the bloodiest, best-looking, most flat-out awesome shooters we’d seen up to that point.
Above: Ignore the thick fog layer – at that point, we didn’t know it wasn’t cool
The secret to Turok’s success was pretty obvious: he was a badass Native American warrior from the distant past, who used extremely high-tech weaponry to bring down mercenaries, giant robots and – most importantly – dinosaurs, some of which were outfitted with ridiculous cybernetic implants. It was like everything the internet could possibly want, delivered years before the internet even knew it wanted it.
The sequel did away with most of the game’s infamous fog, looked incredible for its time and delivered a lot more (wholly unnecessary) story than its predecessor, but from there the series took a sharp dive downhill that culminated with Turok: Evolution, a game so notoriously shitty that the great game-mag EGM adopted its cavalry-cyborg villain, Tobias Bruckner, as the mascot for its worst-of-the-year awards.
Above: No, seriously, guys, this looks great. Go ahead and ship it just like that
A few years later, Turok made a comeback… in another mediocre shooter that fell into bargain bins after everyone made a point of ignoring it. Adding insult to injury, this Turok didn’t even have a connection to the Turoks in the original games; he was just Joseph Turok, a space marine of Native American descent who found himself stranded on a planet filled with dinosaurs. Because, you know, if there’s one thing that gamers need to see more of, it’s space marines.
It never ceases to amaze us that a cold-blooded, womanizing assassin like Duke “Golgo 13” Togo ever made it onto the NES, sniper scopes and heavily implied sex scenes intact. And that he did it twice is nothing short of incredible.
As awesome as that stuff made his games seem at the time, though, in retrospect they kind of sucked. Substandard side-scrolling action was mixed with unbearable 3D mazes and impenetrably difficult sniper sequences, and in the first game, Top Secret Episode, Golgo himself (along with all his enemies) looked like he was going barefoot.
Above: Shoe-rendering technology was still a good two years away
A Golgo 13 game released today, however, could have everything its 8-bit predecessors never could: Competent sniper sequences. Smooth transitions from on-foot shooting to vehicles. Speech that consists of more than “…” Hell, anything would be better than those goddamn mazes.
Despite the protestations of GR Executive Editor Brett Elston, P.N. 03 is one of the lamest, most uninteresting shooters to ever be a high-profile GameCube release. It did, however, have one saving grace: its heroine, Vanessa Schneider, whose dancing and gyrations powered the attacks she leveled at the game’s corridor-dwelling somethings.
P.N. 03 was nothing less than a sad waste of a fantastic (and sexy) idea, one that had forced countless men at the previous E3 to stop and stare whenever they saw Vanessa’s hip-twitching special moves. It was a fun game to watch – for a little while, at least – but why publisher Capcom would put a visually arresting, constantly active heroine into one of the most thuddingly dull space-shooters of the last generation is beyond us. Unless, of course, the company just had a thuddingly dull space-shooter it thought needed some visual flair.
Either way, Vanessa left us wanting to see more of her – just not in this awful, boring game.
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