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1. Bad Dudes (NES)
To its credit, Bad Dudes doesn’t overdo it on the voice sampling. In fact, the most prominent sampling comes from your character suddenly exclaiming “I’m bad!”
This sound effect was halfway decent in the arcade version of the game. But for the NES port, “I’m bad,” it sounds like your character just smoked an entire carton of cigarettes and then screamed into the old fax machine at your office.
Debuting in 1980, Stratovox was part of the early days of arcade gaming. It was also an early pioneer in voice sampled video games. Unfortunately, those early days sounded pretty rough!
The game would blurt out phrases such as “lucky” and “we’ll be back.” However, the voice sampling was so bad that this game could have used subtitles. Every phrase sounds like it was uttered by your Game Boy while it is dying on the toilet.
It feels a little mean to dunk on the NES game Pinbot. After all, the developers did their best to make the most boring kind of game (video pinball) feel exciting with a neat sci-fi theme.
But part of that sci-fi motif includes the game yelling unintelligible phrases at you while you play. It’s meant to simulate you fighting against a robot, but every single syllable sounds like HAL 9000 dying while singing.
4. Trouble Shooter
As games go, Trouble Shooter on the Genesis looks and plays fairly well. Unfortunately, many players won’t make it past the awful voice sampling on the title screen.
The voice is pitchy and mostly indecipherable. And if you have no trouble making out what it says, congratulations: you just secured a job for yourself as a codebreaker for the military.
5. Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road
Compared to most gamers, I have a soft spot (perhaps just in my head) for the Ikari Warriors series of games. But the voice sample in Ikari Warriors II for the NES is like a war crime unto itself.
For example, the game frequently shouts “come on, let’s fight!” But it sounds like the screeching of a 14.4 modem as your adolescent self frantically tries to download pictures of the pink Power Ranger.
While sound design is important for all games, it’s especially important for Moonwalker. After all, any game about Michael Jackson needs to capture his signature sounds...right?
Wrong! Moonwalker’s title screen starts with a convincing little kid rendition of the word “Michael.” But it quickly shifts into Michael himself hissing “who’s bad” in a way clearly intended to scare that same little kid.
Finally, we get the trademark Michael Jackson squeal. But digitized through the Sega Genesis, this scream sounds like the last thing Skynet will broadcast before wiping humanity off the planet.
7. Lethal Enforcers
The Genesis port of Lethal Enforces is another game with a seriously mixed bag of audio quality. When the announcer says “Lethal Enforcers,” everything sounds nice and clear.
But the chatter from the police radio sounds like a robot child speaking into a ratty old cup. And the sounds of pleading victims and laughing villains are awful enough to make you put that big blue gun to your head and just end the misery.
8. Streets of Rage 2
The Streets of Rage series is rightly regarded as a classic beat-'em-up franchise. But when you hear the voice sampling in Streets of Rage 2, the only thing you will want to beat up is your Sega Genesis.
Just listen to the horrific digital screams and laughter on the title screen. The gameplay may be awesome, but the sound makes it sound like a fax machine is having a nervous breakdown one room over.
9. Contra Hard Corps
Contra Hard Corps is one of those divisive games. Among Contra fans, it is either really beloved or really reviled, with no room in between.
But when it comes to voice sampling, “reviled” is definitely the best word. A tinny voice screeches things like “locked and loaded...it’s payback time...let’s party!” The whole thing sounds like an edgelord Xbox Live kiddo trying to sound tough after drinking all of his mother’s coffee.
10. Vapor Trail
For better or for worse, the Genesis game Vapor Trail shows its real colors on the title screen. Specifically, the title oscillates between some of the best and worst voice sampling the Sega Genesis would ever see.
The title “Vapor Trail” sounds fine, as does the “Mission Accomplished.” The rest of the phrases, though, are garbled digital weirdness guaranteed to make you feel like you are having a stroke.
11. World Champ
In comparison to some of these other games, World Champ uses voice sampling in logical ways. The best example of this is when the referee is counting to ten when an opponent is on the ground.
What he says should be instantly recognizable since he is just counting to 10. Instead, the ref sounds like he is blurting out the remnants of a dead language in order to summon some kind of Eldritch horror into your old CRT TV.
12. Ghostbusters (NES)
This next voice sample is so bad that it was trashed by the Angry Video Game Nerd. And he is right: the sampling in the NES Ghostbusters game is complete garbage.
It is meant to be an enthusiastic reading of the game’s title: “Ghostbusters!” But it sounds like a dying elderly relative trying to tell you their last wish.
And that wish is to never play this trash video game ever again!
13. Gauntlet II (NES)
The original Gauntlet arcade game has some iconic voice lines. Who can forget such classic phrases as “warrior needs food badly?”
Gauntlet II on the NES tried to recreate this voice sampling, but the whole thing is a mess. By the time you hear the digitized fart sounds of “Red Warrior is about to die,” you’ll already feel like a corpse from listening to this horrible screeching.
The arcade game Gorf is a sobering reminder that the cutting-edge technology of yesteryear often seems like a joke in the here and now. Back in 1981, the special Votrax speech chip in the game felt revolutionary, and it enabled the enemy robot to taunt players.
At least, I think that’s what is happening. Players are supposed to hear intimidating phrases like “survival is impossible” and “prepare yourself for annihilation.” But it all comes across like the insane and unintelligible ramblings of grandpa’s computer after you slip some Adderal into the floppy disc port.
15. Star Wars Arcade Game
Nowadays, it seems like we have more Star Wars games than you can shake a lightsaber at. But back in 1983, we got to see the first franchise video game in the form of the Star Wars Arcade Game.
The vector graphics looked cool at the time, and the arcade (especially the cockpit versions) made you feel like you were flying your own X-Wing. But the game’s attempts to pass on digitized phrases from the movie come across as really, really sad.
If you really want to hear Alec Guinness sounding flat and bored the entire time, you don’t need to play this arcade game. You can really just go watch Return of the Jedi and call it a day.