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What's It Like to Play E.T., the Worst Video Game Ever? [Review]

According to Rotten TomatoesE.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) is the greatest science-fiction movie ever made. According to PC World, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1983) is the worst video game ever made. How could a great movie make a horrible game? Is it really as bad as people say? Let's find out.

Above Image: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial Atari 2600 Game Screen

The Best Laid Plans
In 1982, E.T.  took the world by storm becoming the most popular movie of its time. The story of a boy would befriends a stranded alien was more popular than Star Wars. Atari, keen to cash in on the popularity, paid over $20 million dollars for the rights to produce a video game.

A game was made at a blisteringly fast pace, of twelve weeks, to sell by the holiday season. This is insanely short for a commercial video game, and it suffered from the lack of planning. Atari was so sure they were going to have a hit, they didn't even bother to have players test the game. Anticipation was high though, and it was the hottest selling game of 1983.

The game bombed.

While it sold well, it was nowhere near what they were expecting. Parents returned the game by the thousands and retailers discounted the game from $49 to less than a dollar just to get rid of them. A confusing storyline of guiding E.T. to find the pieces of his intergalactic cell phone to call his spaceship left players confused and angry. Kevin Bowen of GameSpy's Classic Gaming called the gameplay "convoluted and inane."

By some accounts this led to the video game crash of the 80's that almost destroyed the industry.

But the game can't be that bad right? Read on to find out...

Playing the Game
Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, you can play the original Atari 2600 video game online. I'll give you a run-through of my first game experience.

He's not a goblin. He's a spaceman.
First, the theme music for E.T. begins and a pixilated image of the alien fills the screen. A ship drops a blob in the middle of the screen. It kind of looks like E.T. if you squint hard. You're left with no guidance except a small arrow at the top of the screen. Tension built as I wandered to the edge and crossed the threshold.

Next, I was presented by four blocky squares in another green field. I walk into one and find myself in a deep pit. Alone. Confused, I push the space key and his neck extends. After trial and error, I realize I need to hold down the space bar and use the arrow key to raise him out of the hole.

I can't explain how maddeningly confusing this control system is. Its kind of like trying to drive a stick shift with your feet. After the character drops several times, I manage to make him float out. I'm glassy eyed with boredom.

911 is a Joke
Just then, a man in a white coat (I call him "Lab Boy") comes on-screen and races towards me! He's faster than I am, and quickly overtakes me. Dragging my body away, I find myself on a new screen. Lab Boy drops me off in a Roman Colonnade and leaves.

There don't seem to be any guards or anything, so I shrug. Head off-screen and back to the hole room. So much for dramatic tension.

A guy in a trench coat is there, but he just wanders around aimlessly. I assume he's some kind of inept policeman and avoid him just to be on the safe side.

The Hole Truth
I head for another hole and drop in. Nothing there. I'm now five minutes into the game and have accomplished nada. So, I "neck-float" out and discover a design flaw. I have escaped on the edge of the hole and promptly fall back in. This happens three more times before he inexplicably stops falling in.

Mr. Trenchcoat is there and now I want him to catch me just to break up the monotony. He races towards me and then runs away like I'm made out of Kryptonite.

Now I find myself in the awkward position of chasing after my opponent hoping he catches me. I'm screaming at the screen, "Take me out of here!"

E.T. Phones Home
As I chase Mr. Trenchcoat around I accidentally fall in a hole. "Great." I mutter. Suddenly, I notice a squiggly line. it's a piece of E.T.'s phone! I touch it and an object appears at the top of the screen. It doesn't look like a phone, or anything else frankly, but its all mine. I levitate out of the hole and promptly fall back in.

There's another object in the hole and a smiley face appears on the screen when I touch it. "What does that mean?" I mutter and hit the space bar. It turns into a flower. That's it. Amazing. My good deed for the day I guess.

As I pop out of the hole Mr. Trenchcoat nabs me. The cops are never around when you need them. Instead of taking me back to Rome, he touches me and walks away. "Whatever," I laugh and then realize he's stolen my phone piece. The one I just wasted a half-hour trying to find.

That did it. I shut the game off.

The Aftermath
Let's review. The gameplay is clunky and awkward. The graphics are chunky and ugly. The challenge is lunky and unsatisfying.

I've played some bad games before, but this takes the cake. Truly, the worst game I've ever played.

I felt ripped off and I paid nothing for the game. Imagine if I'd been a small child and actually paid the steep game prices of 1983. I would have cried for days.

This post is part of the Level Up! Blogfest Hosted by Mithril Wisdom and Geek Banter.It encourages you to share your favorite game or what game your playing. If you have a blog, join up now!

Can you believe that the best movie had the worst game? Have you ever been the victim of a horrible game?
[Image source: Wikipedia]

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  1. A friend had the misfortune of buying that one. He hated it.

  2. Well to be honest most games on the 2600 were pretty awful, especially by today's standards. Of the ones I can remember Pitfall was probably my favorite, mostly for the imitation Tarzan noise when you swung on a vine. I did a whole breakdown of video games on the Grumpy Bulldog blog in 2011 or so. My favorite game is still "Conflict" for the NES. It can be annoying, but my brother and I used to spend hours trying to beat each other on each map. Anyway, there's a program called Console Classix I used where you can play most of the old Atari, NES, Genesis, and SNES games--though the latter two cost like $6/month. You soon realize most of the games are pretty lame, especially movie tie-in ones.

    1. I bought an Atari 2600 console and 30 games a few years back at a yard sale. I had dreams of reliving those old classic games. Sad to say it didn't live up to my fantasies. On the other hand, I got an SNES emulator for my phone and those games hold up well.

  3. Ah ha I found my history of video games post from November 2011. http://grumpybulldog.blogspot.com/2011/11/grumpy-bulldog-vs-video-games.html

  4. This one reminds me of the old "Raiders of the Lost Ark" game and sounds just as inane. Glad I was never an E.T. fan :)

  5. Never heard of this game! Thankfully enough :)

  6. You can play it online? I'm there!

    *5 seconds later* MY EYES! MY EYES!

    It really is that bad.

    Is it true that they had to dump all the unsold copies of the game in a landfill somehwere in Mexico?

    Thanks for being a part of the blogfest!


  7. You can't look directly at the game Jamie. I hear that landfill rumor too, but can't confirm or deny. Fun blogfest!

  8. A lot of movie based gamesare lame Mark, but this one is just awful.

  9. Thank you for making me cry for the video game world. haha, it sounds terrible. But at least you had a bit of fun commenting on its terrible-ness, right? Thanks for joining in the blogfest!

  10. Allyson, someone, somewhere lists E.T. as their favorite game. Not me though


Thanks for commenting!.