I guess Action 52 is a PC game, in the same way that a furious drunk forcing a hand through your letterbox at 3am is a house guest. I mean, it was a game, of sorts, and I certainly played it on a PC, so that’ll do, right? Usually with these pieces, I’ll open up a couple of tabs in my browser and do some cursory research to make sure my memories of a game haven’t strayed too far from the truth, but in this case I’m not going to. I have so little respect for Action 52, I will simply scrape the contents of my mind onto the screen, like an inedible takeaway curry being slid into a bin.
It was 2006, probably, and my mate Matt had a student house in Southwest London where we smoked loads of weed and played old games, like cool guys. He put a megadrive emulator on his PC, and we resolved to start playing through its massive A-Z archive of games, in search of the worst one on there. It was a bit like a sort of inverted, stoner version of Unknown Pleasures, if you like.
We never got past Action 52. It was, it turned out, perfectly shit. Hailing from the early 90s, it had been an attempt at a legal version of one of those dire pirate compilation cartridges from Taiwan, but managed to be even shoddier than the illegal thing it was copying. All the games in the collection were creatively bankrupt rush jobs; most were mortally wounded by bad code, some were altogether unplayable, and even the best could most charitably be described as “minigames which functioned”.
Even better, Action 52’s ripping from its cartridge to be included in this super-duper PC emulator archive – itself a move of dubious legality – had mangled its code still further, leaving the games as tortured spectres of their already dire original selves. Sampled speech was distorted into crunching groans, clipping seemed optional in every title, and most of the games got more and more bleakly unplayable the longer you attempted to run them.
The crown jewel of the collection was Cheetahmen (pictured), a game that Action 52’s publishers had actually sunk some budget into, and which was a desperate attempt to cash in on the Battletoads formula. With Battletoads, of course, being a desperate attempt to cash in on the Ninja Turtles formula, Cheetahmen was a bootleg of a bootleg, and was as miserable a specimen as you can imagine.
And since this bootleg of a bootleg was to be found inside a mangled compilation version of a mangled compilation game, you can only imagine how broken it was – and how euphorically funny it managed to be after a few hours on the bongs. And now, it’s given me an article. So, like John Lennon (probably) said – any time you enjoyed wasting, wasn’t time wasted. Mind you, I don’t think he’d played Cheetahmen.