Fake April Fools Reviews
By The Video Game Critic4/6/2022
It all began on March 14, 2013. Reader Mike "gleebergloben" sent me an email detailing an April Fool's review printed in an early 1980's issue of Electronics Fun with Computers and Games. The game was called Orient Express and decades passed before Mike discovered it was a joke!
He suggested I try pulling off something similar on this site, and of course I was game. After coming up with a decent premise I fired off my idea to talented artist Mark Jewell who replied with a brilliant screenshot. Mark is the kind of person you can pass a vague idea to and he'll come back with a visual representation about ten times more funny than you had in mind! He produced many of the screenshots you see here.
After seven years of publishing fake reviews every April 1st I've accumulated quite a collection. I'm presenting them all here along with some insightful behind-the-scenes commentary and quotes.
Bioshock 2600 (Spiral Rift Productions 2013)|
System: Atari 2600 (and others)
I was somewhat amazed how the game manages to incorporate the same stages, demented enemies, and bizarre storyline. You explore a submerged art-deco world with diverse areas that include an atrium, theater, market, and medical center. The furniture looks plush by 2600 standards, but those vintage signs can be hard to read.
As far as enemies go, the Big Daddies look imposing - especially up close. The crazed lunatics however are severely pixelated, and when shot they just blink and disappear. Bioshock 2600 pushes the hardware to its breaking point. The uneven frame-rate makes it hard to aim with precision, and severe flicker occurs when you unleash plasmids like fire and acid.
The clunky inventory system forces you to use the black/white switch to access your items. Worst of all, the game fails to convey the surreal, unsettling atmosphere of the original game. The wall textures are repetitive and the blood looks incredibly chunky. The water effects are unconvincing and the physics often goes completely out of whack.
The programmer equated "lighting effects" with "flashing", but they're not the same thing. Even the off-key music lacks the haunting quality of the original game. Blocky cut-scenes do a respectable job of conveying the tale of an undersea metropolis gone mad, but only one of the two endings are included.
Finally, $70 is pretty steep, especially considering it costs more than the original game! I can admire the ambition, but in trying to remain faithful to the original subject matter, Bioshock 2600 is ultimately crushed under its own weight. Just because you can do something doesn't mean it's a good idea.
Notes: In the wake of phony "Doom 2600" screenshots floating around the web and the release of Halo 2600, I felt it might be possible to pass off Bioshock 2600 as an actual game. I chose Bioshock (Xbox 360, PS3) because it was probably the visually elaborate game I had seen up until that point. The idea of porting it to the 2600 was preposterous, but Mark's blocky screenshot combined with my scathing commentary proved somewhat convincing. The degree of nitpicking in the review is outrageous, especially when I complain about it having "only one" ending! It's a 2600 game for Pete's sake!!
Gleebergoblin (email): "That is friggin' awesome! My wife was in the room when I opened up the attachment, and even she laughed. She knows Bioshock, but doesn't play video games at all. I love the little girl behind Big Daddy. Great touch. The review is spot-on. Before I read it, I was afraid of a review that might be too over-the-top, but by the end of the review I was looking for my wallet for the $70. I'd say don't change a word. Hilarious. "
The Hobbit (Atari 1983)|
System: Atari 2600 (and others)
I'm not sure anything could have prepared me for The Hobbit's elaborate title screen. This high-resolution image manages to incorporate Bilbo, 13 dwarves (give or take), a spell-casting Gandalf, and even a fire-breathing dragon! Clever use of color-cycling was used to create the whirling spell and flame effects. I was totally pumped when I saw it, but my high hopes would soon come crashing to the ground.
Calling The Hobbit's visual style "abstract" would be an understatement. The main character (Bilbo I presume) is rendered as a blue square. This is not so objectionable considering that Adventure (Atari 2600, 1980) also featured a square as its main character. Unfortunately, thanks to a poor design decision, the dwarves are also rendered as blue squares. Gandalf is a gray square... I think. The ring is a yellow circle... or don't I wish! Nope, it's a God-damned yellow square!
The dungeons are remarkably blocky. What resolution was this game programmed in, 12x10?! And what's with all the flashing rooms? I swear this game gave me epilepsy. Some may claim The Hobbit is 95% complete, but I find that hard to swallow. I was constantly hounded by orcs in the form of flickering brown squares. After you grab the ring you turn invisible, but the fact that you can't see yourself makes the game pretty much unplayable.
After stumbling around blindly for a several minutes you start to wish the developer had not expended quite so much effort on that fancy title screen, which undoubtedly consumes 95% of the game's memory. I'm also starting to think that gray square isn't even Gandalf, because that bastard just killed me and that did not look like an accident!
It seems like everything in the game makes the same beep sound. I wish the programmer would have at least mixed in a few "boops" to spice things up a little! Apologists will make endless excuses for The Hobbit, but the game is a cautionary tale. This is one lost treasure that should have been cast into the fires of Mount Doom 30 years ago.
Notes: As with my previous Bioshock 2600 review, this was meant as an example of a programmer biting off more than he could chew. The review pokes fun at two very well-known truisms of Atari 2600 games. First, their primitive graphics always belie the elaborate artwork and background story accompanying the game. In this case, an epic journey was reduced to a bunch of colored blocks. Atari 2600 fans can also relate to the idea of the title screen's graphics far exceeded those of the actual game.
Scott Z (email): "Awesome. I don't see how it can be improved upon. I start reading assuming you'd be talking about how great the game was and inadvertently tipping your hand, but by complaining about the game it makes it seem so much more authentic! Great move!! But for those forum goers already looking to see what your April Fools Day gag is going to be, I'm sure it'll fool most of your readers."
50 Shades of Grey (Dubious Software 2015)|
System: Atari 2600 (and others)
The instructions for 50 Shades state the game is intended to be experienced between two consenting adults, which makes no sense considering it's a one-player game. The object is to move the guy across the screen to the girl standing next to the pole on the right. Is that a blindfold she's wearing?! Inappropriate!
The controls are deplorable, but in fairness it's not easy to walk with your pants around your ankles (been there). On his way over "Grey" can collect items like rope (oh dear) and duct-tape (shut the front door). I'll spare further detail to avoid offending the sensibilities of my readers. Suffice to say 50 Shades of Grey is the most sexist, degrading video game ever conceived.
It would have been subject to outright ban except an unlikely demographic has taken up its cause, namely book clubs comprised of middle-aged women. Apparently sex, books, and video games make for strange bedfellows. All I know is, this game is going to set the feminist movement back 30 years. Ms. Pac-Man is rolling in her grave as we speak.
Notes: The idea of taking complex, controversial adult subject matter and boiling it down to a coarse pixelated 2600 romp is hilarious. Gotta love those gray "censorship" boxes Mark strategically positioned on the fake screenshot. The review is pretty clever, turning the tables on the reader to make it sound like I'm the one who's offended!
Mark (email): "Here's a revised screenshot. Added a coil of rope and some duct tape. Lemme know if you like the rope... This is officially the weirdest thing I have created for you. A guy with his pants around his ankles, facing a naked woman with a blindfold, rope and tape on the ground..."
Dead or Alive Backgammon (Koei 2016)|
System: Xbox One (and others)
Persistent rumors that 2K Sports would release an "extreme" Backgammon title never came to fruition, so it's a good thing Koei stepped up with this Xbox One exclusive. The board and pieces look photo-realistic, but it's the smoking-hot babes that really steal the show. That's right, your opponents are scantily clad ladies in various states of undress. Some might find this element to be of questionable taste, but in fact it's vital to maintain continuity with previous Dead or Alive games.
The girls may be hot, but being the objective reviewer I was able to look past their physical attributes and appreciate them for their intelligence (artificial notwithstanding). Kasumi is a well-endowed player who will try to distract you with seductive poses. Christie has some kind of dominatrix thing happening and Tina has an amazing rack. When these hotties celebrate victory, you'll get a physics lesson you'll never forget. I find myself losing this game a lot.
I'm really glad the sexist video game industry is finally doing something about the lack of female characters in video games. It's a problem that needed to be undressed - I mean addressed! And to think - I was never even a checkers fan until now. Checkers... backgammon... whatever! Oh and by the way, the widely-circulated "nude code" for this game turned out to be a complete hoax. I'd love to know what pervert fabricated that lie, because I was up till 3AM trying to get it to work.
Notes: Dead or Alive was an early-2000s fighting franchise showcasing scantily-clad ladies in environments with mesmerizing physics. The series reached the pinnacle of absurdity with Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 (Xbox 360, 2006), featuring hot babes frolicking half-naked on a beach. Where could the series go from there? Mark suggested Dead or Alive Backgammon and I thought it was a brilliant idea, combining two game styles from polar opposite ends of the spectrum. This review also tapped into the myth of the "nude code", which has kept many-a-gamer up late into the night trying to get it to work (or so I have read).
VGC (forum): "I have several versions of video game backgammon, but this is probably my favorite. It may be due to the intuitive controls and intelligent CPU opponent, or perhaps because it has half-naked chicks...? Yep, that's it"
Strip Poker II (Amsterdam Software 1996)|
System: Virtual Boy (and others)
As was the case with the original version, Strip Poker II teaches valuable life lessons. Mainly, it's hard to get a woman to take off her clothes and a great deal of luck is required. Those familiar with the Virtual Boy know the system is famous for its excessive warnings against looking at its screen for more than 15 minutes at the risk of eye damage. Being the diligent critic however I played this thing for seven hours straight!
There were side effects however. First, the image of that half-dressed hottie is now forever burned into my retinas. I see her wherever I look! That's the good news. The bad news is I seemed to have developed an annoying crick in my neck. On the whole I think it was worth it. My Virtual Boy is finally a Virtual Man. Madly addictive and only moderately detrimental to your health, Strip Poker II is indisputable proof that chicks from the 90's were hot - red hot!
Notes: This was the first year I hashed out my April Fool's review in the moderator forums, and all sorts of crazy ideas were being bantered about. Mark initially offered two candidate screenshots: Doom AR (think Doom in a grocery store) and Strip Poker for Virtual Boy. The Doom idea fizzled out but the Strip Poker review really took off (literally). Moderators kept coming up with new ideas and funny lines, building up to what might just be the funniest review I have ever written. The fact that this game was allegedly released on the Virtual Boy (which many consider a joke in of itself) puts this review well over the top.
Scotland (forum): "When you mentioned eye damage, I laughingly thought of that particular activity associated with pictures of unclad ladies and warnings of going blind. Doing that while using the Virtual Boy must be like solar eclipse level damaging to your eyes."
Distracted Driver (Forged Monix 2018)|
System: Playstation 4 (and others)
On top of everything, there's constant anxiety about the possibility of killing people and stuff like that. Who needs it? This is what Distracted Driver is all about. This little slice-of-life title puts your meddle to the test, bombarding you with every distraction you can think of. Quick-time events let you make life-or-death decisions on the fly. Do you stay in your lane or answer that text with a witty retort? Oh sure you could steer clear of that old lady, but what if you're in the middle of taking the perfect selfie? And as always, keep an eye out for cops who want to take away all your fun.
Fortunately you can hold R2 to hold your cell phone low to your lap. No one can tell you're using your phone! Getting to work safely and racking up enough Facebook "likes" is a delicate balancing act, and there are times when a pedestrian might just need to "take one for the team". If there's a problem with Distracted Driver, it's that the game might just be a little too real!
Notes: The previous few April Fool reviews were somewhat raunchy so I decide to take a different route so people wouldn't think I was a total pervert. I loved the idea of a fake driving game, especially in an era when commuters were becoming increasingly fed up fellow drivers messing with their phones instead of paying attention to the road. Mark's chaotic screenshot is packed with humor but it's the old lady in the walker that sends me over the edge.
ESauce (forum): "I would think it’s a race against the clock where you have to also perform quick time events (QTEs) to respond to texts, drink your coffee, eat your hamburger, even shave. You lose if you fail to get from point A to B in time, or if you fail enough QTEs but you’re not penalized for any mayhem you cause. Heck hitting the grandma hardly slows you down at all. Can someone please make this game for real?"
Sid Meier's Civilization: Flat Earth Edition (Planar Games 2019)|
System: Xbox One (and others)
I've never been a flat-earther per se, but at least I'm willing to keep an open mind. I do tend to believe what I see with my own eyes, and what I see here is a logical evolution of the Civilization franchise. At long last exploration-hungry gamers can break free of the confines of the conventional world, passing through the Summer Gate into the vast realm of the outer continents. You'll discover actual places like the Cliffs of Narzod, the Tributary of Pamprin, and the Well of Perpetual Gravity.
This is a thinking man's game, with every strategic decision fraught with peril. A peaceful settlement in Hapis might offer a false sense of security until the moving island of Thoth approaches with its army of outer continent warriors. The authenticity is commendable, employing scientific geological data, astrological charts, and actual navigational manuscripts. Still, there are signs the game was rushed. The menu interface is a little clunky and the style of the map and in-game screens are inconsistent. Still, I can highly recommend this. A game like Civilization: Flat Earth Edition is what the world really needs right now. The media may denounce Civilization: Flat Earth Edition all they want, but it's become clear to me that old Sid Meier isn't so crazy after all.
Notes: After a half-dozen false starts and dead ends I decided to go with an idea my friend Brent came up with early on. I was reluctant because I hadn't been familiar with the whole flat earth phenomenon. Brent assured me it would cause a stir and his instincts were right! The initial draft was a bit dry however, and there was worry people might not even bother reading it. Then Brent came up with the brilliant opening line: "Sid Meier has lost his mind!" That was all we really needed. Notice how I begin the review as a complete skeptic, gradually come around over the course of the review, and appear to be converted by the end. Both Mark and Brent had created screenshots, and not wanting to waste any I included Brent's as a link in the review, which contains some fun Easter Eggs.
RetroStrife (forum): "I’m still a bit hung up on the name too. Civilization 6 just came out in February. If the Civ name is used, I think it would be better as a subtitled game, rather than a mainline number (i.e. “Civilization: Outer Continents”)- especially since a real Civ8 will come out someday. I think Sid is very hands off with the Civ series these day— so maybe you could spin it as this being the side project he’s been working on instead (i.e. implying, between the lines, that Sid has gotten a bit crazy in his old age). Or spin it to imply that you’re the crazy one and believe all this stuff. Something to spice it up a bit."
Bob Ross Going Ape S--t (Sega 1995)|
System: Genesis (and others)
I vaguely recall hearing rumors during the 90's about Bob appearing in his very own video game but dismissed it at the time. Decades later Sega has confirmed he was in fact set to appear in an unreleased Genesis title, although few have had the opportunity to actually play this lost prototype (thanks again to Carl K. for making it happen).
Bob Ross Going Ape S--t (working title) is a surprisingly complete and fairly entertaining romp. It's loosely based on Toki Going Ape Spit (Sega, 1991). Much like Bob's show, the game has universal appeal as he treks through his own paintings, filling in missing details with his magic brush. The gameplay seems fairly tame until you reach an end-of-stage boss. At this point Bob is forced to prevent some rampaging animal from defacing his work.
You'll face a weird hodgepodge of boss creatures including a bear, moose, and... octopus?! These confrontations culminate with surprisingly graphic "paint-based fatalities". While wildly popular with teen boys in the focus groups, these scenes were said to bring younger gamers to tears. The violence is what ultimately prevented Bob from signing off on the project. When asked about the risque title Bob reportedly said "it's probably not what I would have come up with."
The game also suffers from severe audio issues. The Genesis was never known for its clear voice synthesis, but when Bob says "paint some happy trees" it sounds like he's uttering a vulgar phrase instead! Bob passed away in 1995 and the game disappeared shortly afterward. It's a shame it never saw the light of day because Bob Ross Going Ape S--t would have been a fitting send-off for a sweet, beloved man.
Notes: I had this idea in my back pocket for the last year or two, and thought this was the year to use it. I always thought Bob was great, and the idea of this gentle soul being in a chaotic video game seemed hilarious. The craziest real video game title I could think of was "Toki Goes Apespit" (Genesis) so that was the basis for the fake game. Unfortunately my initial draft wasn't getting much traction and for a while I didn't think I was even going to have an April Fools review this year. But then my friend Brent (who really liked the idea) began cranking out sample screenshots, and after a lot of back-and-forth it all came together.
RetroStrife (forum): "I think the idea is a winner, of having a game built around Bob Ross. Would it be a retro game? That would seem to work best. Bob Ross's show ended in 1994 and he died in 1995, so I'd imagine it as an early to mid 90s game released when he was still on TV and alive. I think you're more likely to fool people with the concept that way, whereas they'd see it as more of a joke if it was a newer game."
NCAA Football 21 (Electronic Arts 2021)|
System: Playstation 4 (and others)
NCAA College Football 21 is very similar to NCAA Football 14. In fact, if you squint at the fine print on the title screen, it actually says NCAA Football 2014. Somebody missed a search-and-replace! But don't go thinking the good old days are back just yet. Shortly after this game was greenlit several last-minute court injunctions were handed down, forcing EA to scale it back considerably.
First and foremost, EA could only reach licensing agreements with eight schools, and we aren't exactly talking about powerhouses here. Nope, you'll be hitting the gridiron with the likes of Delta State's Fighting Okra, Williams College Purple Cows, and the Long Reach Dirtbags (yes, these are real - look 'em up). I opted to build my program around the Saint Louis Billikens despite having no idea what the [expletive] a Billiken is. In a less-than-reassuring press release EA stated that several additional teams would later be made available via DLC including - fingers crossed - the Evergreen State Geoducks!
I appreciate realism in a sports game but this time EA went too far. The sparse crowds are understandable in this COVID era, but after painstakingly setting up a season the game informed me that my first four games were cancelled due to an outbreak. Was that really necessary?! And while I'm all for physically distancing in real life, there's no place for it on the football field. The fact that the referees enforce this rule is a complete joke.
Normally the create-a-player feature lets you work around the limitations of a sports game but this one is glitchy. When I would change my players' skin tone it inexplicably set his pants to the same color, so now it looks like my entire team is running around bare-assed! It's unintentionally funny but in all seriousness EA has a disaster on their hands the magnitude of a Star Wars: Battlefront II (Electronic Arts, 2018). Instead of providing a much-needed escape during these trying times, NCAA Football 21 is just making life much, much worse.
Notes: In early February there was news circulating about EA producing new college football games after a seven-year hiatus. I figured I could attract some attention by claiming to have an exclusive sneak-preview of their upcoming college game. I had never done a fake review of a sports game before. The initial draft had a bunch of random ideas, the most clever being the use of actual (albeit obscure) team names. Real names lent an aura of believability - is a desirable trait for any April Fools review. Friends and moderators suggested I play up the whole Covid angle, which I think I handled tastefully enough. For the screenshot I sent my buddy Brent an image of EA's previous college game, NCAA Football 14. The way he managed to "socially distance" the players looks totally convincing, but the funniest part is the lettering in the end zone. I have to laugh whenever I see that.
Realsports Cornhole (AtariAge 2022)|
System: Atari 5200 (and others)
Cornhole is a hugely-popular backyard game typically played at picnics and tailgate parties. It involves tossing heavy beanbags (cornbags?) at a tilted platform with a hole in the center. It's harder than it looks. Heck, there's even an American Cornhole League (ACL).
My problem with this video game adaptation is that it happens to be a shameless hack of Realsports Curling. The developer basically just overlaid the bullseye with a cornhole board, substituting bags for rocks. It wasn't so much an exercise in programming as search-and-replace.
If Realsports Curling took a year to complete, I'm guessing Cornhole took a long weekend, most of which was dedicated to reworking the title screen. How can they get away with such a shameless re-skinning? Easy. As it turns out, there is absolutely zero overlap between the curling and cornhole player demographics.
One notable feature of Realsports Cornhole is its awkward attempt at voice synthesis. The scratchy "in the hole!" sample comes across as being, well... open to interpretation. As a result my friends can't score without shouting "itchy hole!" incessantly. OMG. It's irritating, embarrassing, and frankly unsanitary.
You'd expect a cornhole title to tacitly endorse alcohol consumption, but not Realsports Cornhole. Nope - according to the manual it is a requirement. And if the preponderance of typos is any indication, the author not only talks-the-talk but walks-the-walk, though clearly not in a straight line.
I wanted to like Realsport Cornhole but I haven't seen such a blatant rip-off since the last 15 editions of Madden Football. That said, bump up the grade if you're a raging alcoholic. Not judging.
Notes: My first crack at an April Fools' review this year was a basketball game featuring all the "non available" all-star players of the 1990s. That got a lukewarm reception from the mods who thought it might be kind of obscure. A reader had joked about Realsports Cornhole, and since a lot of readers were still in disbelief about Realsports Curling (a real game) I thought it might be viable. When I told my friend Brent, he ran with it, banging out a screenshot and cartridge label in about an hour! For there I was off and running. I wasn't sure if it would go over, but it seemed to be very well received.