When it comes to reviewing old games on retrogaming blogs, things tend to fall into two camps, focussing on the really good games or the really bad ones. RetroReactiv8 is no exception to this. Although I mostly try and focus on the positive side of retrogaming, I do occasionally venture into stinker territory and highlight really bad or particularly disappointing games.
And therein lies a bit of a problem. If you knew nothing about retrogaming and read many of these blogs, you’d assume that every game in the 80s was either utterly brilliant or completely crap. The truth, of course, is that the vast majority were just mediocre – the only reason that we don’t remember them or talk about them is because so many were instantly forgettable.
This was brought home to me recently when I was looking at some of the compilations available for the C64 Mini from the excellent Freeze 64 website. Some of these are collections from particular publishers (Ocean, Interceptor Software, Super Soft etc.). As I was looking through these collections, there were so many titles that either I couldn’t remember at all or which only vaguely rang a bell – even those by big name publishers like US Gold. Some were games that I’d never actually owned or played, so that could be forgiven; others were titles that I did know about back in the day, but which were so “meh” I’d dismissed all memory of them.
So being the keen, investigative blog that RetroReactiv8 is, I decided to do a bit of research. I took three well-known 80s publishers (US Gold, Melbourne House and Ocean), looked at the games that were on the Freeze64 compilations and cross-referenced these with their original Zzap!64 scores (look, I was bored and don’t particularly like football, OK?)
Here’s what I found.
Of the 34 US Gold games available from Freeze 64 that Zzap! reviewed, the average score was 54%. Only 2 games got above 90% and only 6 were ranked at 80%+. Equally, though, only 6 titles featured in what I would call the truly awful range (0-30%). So, only 12/34 were either really good or really bad. However, 17 (50%) secured a spot in the mediocrity range (41-70%). (The remaining titles scored either 30-40% or 70-80% in case you think my maths is a bit out!)
Melbourne House proved even better at being mediocre. Of the 21 titles on their compilation that Zzap! reviewed, only 4 were real stinkers (although Inspector Gadget gets the distinction of being the worst game – just 9%, lower even than US Gold’s infamous World Cup Carnival). Just two titles were ranked at 80% or above, whilst 12 (57%) fell into that “mediocre” bracket.
See what I’m saying?
Only Ocean – arguably the biggest publisher by the end of the 8 bit era – bucked this trend. It had a marginally higher rating of excellent games (39%) to mediocre ones (32%) and managed to secure 6 games in the top 91-100% bracket. Even so, to have over a third of your output rated as “mediocre” still supports the idea that, like modern systems, the C64 suffered from a ton of shovel ware.
Of course, this is a hugely unscientific post: it’s based on only a small percentage of the overall output of each of these publishers, so a more thorough study of all of their games (which I really can’t be bothered doing!) might reveal this blog post to be a lie. Even so, it shows what selective memory we have when it comes to retrogaming. The really great stuff and the really bad stuff sticks in our mind; but these games were actually in the minority when stacked against most releases, which were just instantly forgettable. Not good enough to be remembered; not bad enough to be infamous.
So there we go: Mediocre games never die. They were just lying, waiting to be reborn on the C64 Mini!