So I was talking to one of my old university lecturers on Twitter about bad videogames and I remembered a real stinker I played back in the day on the Sega Saturn called Virtual Hydlide. I dug out an old review I did of it and thought I’d share it. Interestingly, this game was so bad it prompted a series of pieces called ‘Best of the Worst’ where I reviewed the worst games I could get my hands on. There’s more where this came from…
There are a hell of a lot of awful games that decide to ‘grace’ the videogames world with their presence, but now I believe we have a new benchmark to compare others against: Virtual Hydlide. This isn’t your average RPG. Hell, it’s not even sub-standard. This BotW is here purely to compel you to not ever consider buying this game. If it appears on eBay for next to nothing don’t even click on the link. Seriously, don’t bother. Now, onto the actual game…
Is it any coincidence that the two games I have elected into the BotW vault so far are both made by T&E Soft? Maybe, but it is not without good reason. Virtual Hydlide is an action-RPG which was released on the SEGA Saturn in 1995. The Hydlide series has been around for a while but has never achieved any large success due to it being seen as a poor man’s Zelda. The first game appeared on the NES, but fans(!?) of the series claim this Saturn version to be the worst. If that is what the fans are saying then you know it must be a true turd of a game.
Hydlide is the ‘magical’ world which you, the plucky, pixelated hero, must explore. Perhaps the magical part is that it manages miraculously to make every environment look exactly the same as every other, along with all the enemies popping up out of thin air. The story is quite typical of the genre, and indeed the other Hydlide games. A dark demon called Varalys attempts to take over the land and he kidnaps a princess who then splits into three fairies. The gamer has to track down these three fairies, find three magic stones, defeat one or two bosses and finally face Varalys in a climactic showdown. That is if you can slug your way through the terrible graphics and painstaking gameplay…
Gameplay that is far too simple, and this is where the game really stumbles. You have three different strengths of attack (though you won‘t notice the difference) and as you progress through the game you can pick up a small selection of analogous swords and daggers to aid you in this button mashing quest. For most of the game you are placed in a wide-open environment and are forced to follow a marker to your next destination where you may find an enemy to fight or you may just be flung to another dull and remorselessly samey environment (including a graveyard, a dungeon, a large field, another graveyard and some more dungeons). This ruins the sense of progression and makes the game seem forcibly dragged-out.
This quote is taken from the blurb that can be found on the reverse of the box: “Killer trees, deadly dragons and bloody-thirsty zombies are rife in this magical slash and hack adventure”. Now, call me cynical, but any game that lists trees as enemies must be approached with caution. The most damaging enemy, though, is the graphics engine. Unlike the previous Hydlide games, Virtual Hydlide escapes from the user friendly top-down view and takes the first steps into motion captured video. The result is an awkward mix of ‘photo-realistic graphics’ and a choppy frame rate. Although at first glance the graphics may seem alright, it isn’t till you actually play the game for any length of time that you realise just how slothful and distorted they are. When you get up close to a foe you can never be sure if your attack will actually hit them or if you’ll be made to just watch helplessly as the game slows down (and when it returns to normal you find that you are dead). Enemies flicker through walls, objects get grainier the closer you get and the scenery tends to move of its own accord. If you can remember the ’80s TV RPG sensation ‘Knightmare’ then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect… only worse.
Music is vitally important to videogames and a good soundtrack can heighten the senses and add emotion and emphasis to particular scenes. Virtual Hydlide prefers to torture its player with noise similar to that of a cat passing a 10 inch kidney stone whilst being stroked vigorously by an overly enthusiastic child with a terrible case of halitosis… with a megaphone strapped to its mouth. I suppose that is a tad undue, there are a few samples of music that rise to ranks of ‘run of the mill’, though it’s the sound effects that provide the true anguish. Constant grunts of “Ungh”, “Aiee”, and “Squish!” quickly vex.
Knightmare was awesome. I’m gonna go YouTube me some Knightmare.
There are a couple of neat touches. The game uses a pretty good ‘weight-limit’ idea where the hero can only carry items up to a certain weight. This does theoretically add some strategic value but is badly executed and so in practice becomes a chore. The final dungeon is something that has to be seen to be believed. Without giving too much away, expect Tron-esque rooms coupled with the terrible, nausea inducing motion-capture; who needs an acid trip when you have got this?
The game tried something new. Motion-capture was uncharted territory and to try and use it in the RPG genre was a courageous move… but one that here proved disastrous. The idea of a photo-realistic virtual world was great, but the hardware limitations seriously destroyed any fun the game may have contained. Perhaps the worst parts are that VH contains no text and no non-playable characters to interact with, thus making the story a novel inclusion rather than a major driving point: there are no towns to visit, no side-quests to enjoy and nowhere to rest meaning that the duration of the playing time is a constant fight against ennui. That, and the lead character looks like a stocky transvestite… oh, and by the time you finished reading this you probably could have completed the game.
Have you had the unfortunately misery of playing this game? Let me know in the comments below!