Somewhere in humanity’s history, something went wrong. An incredibly minor chemical imbalance allowed for one of our ancient ancestors to evolve with just a slightly larger capacity for cruelty than the average human being. Perhaps it was pure chance, or perhaps the Devil himself willed it to happen. Whatever the reason, that capacity for cruelty carried itself across hundreds of thousands years into all the descendants of that creature until it could be properly expressed. It took a very long time, but that small, long-incubated nugget of human cruelty finally came screeching into the world in physical, tangible form on July 20th, 2009. It was my fourteenth birthday, but it is better remembered as the day Bad Rats came to reap the sinners.
Perhaps I too have that capacity for cruelty within me, because I once gave away ten copies of Bad Rats to some “lucky” followers of my Tumblr. How could I resist? The game is only a dollar and it frequently goes on sale for around fifteen cents. Bad Rats has been a resident of my Steam library for at least a couple years, signaling to everyone that yes, I am down with the memes. But I have a confession. Until now, I have never actually played Bad Rats. Maybe it’s because I’m lazy, or maybe my subconscious has worked to prevent me from inflicting such pain upon myself. Whatever the reason, the pre-Bad Rats era of my life has ended. This time, I go against my instincts, deny my natural programming, and willingly throw myself open-eyed into the swirling void.
Ia! Ia! Rats fhtagn!
I’ve never heard any legitimate, seriously-written criticisms of Bad Rats, and this wasn’t the time to start. Like Sakura Clicker before, I was going in as blind as possible. I wondered: could I play Bad Rats and write a serious, completely objective review about the flaws that make the game so reviled? The answer of course was no. If it had been yes, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. I knew as soon as I loaded Bad Rats for the first time, being facetious was the only way I could survive this experience with my sanity intact. I wasn’t going to play the first level, or even the first ten levels. I was going to play the whole damn enchilada, no matter how long it took. Let the suffering begin.
Starting a new game in Bad Rats give you the option of Tutorial, Easy, or Expert, which is like being asked if you want your legs broken a little, a normal amount, or a lot. Although I had an inkling about the complex, innovative mechanics behind Bad Rats, I figured a tutorial probably wouldn’t be a bad idea. I was right, because Bad Rats pulls no punches when it comes to being user-friendly. There are no drop-down item menus, and instead the game requires you to drag your mouse and move the screen around to haphazardly select objects from a literal spread of items, which includes the genuinely disgusting titular rats.
This is fine, right?
The tutorial is a tutorial in the sense that there is someone telling you what to do. That doesn’t mean it tells you what you need to know. It sets up the basic premise – you use rats and other objects to move a ball around in order to trigger a trap which brutally murders a cat. It took me several levels and a good amount of genuine frustration to realize that right-clicking on the rats allows you to flip, rotate, and generally set options for how they act in the game. Gee, that would have been nice to know.
However, the game doesn’t let you rotate items unless they’re placed, and some items can’t be placed unless they’ve been rotated, which forms a perfect ouroboros of total stupidity. The game also automatically switched to expert mode once I finished the tutorial. That meant instead of having a selection of items during each level, I would be presented with every item in the game and left to my own devices. Good thing I was buckled up and wearing my adult diaper, because this was going to be a wild ride.
You see in the paragraph up there, the phrase “genuine frustration”? Those two words do a great job of describing my Bad Rats experience. I was gradually sucked further and further into the black hole of Bad Rats, and I was shocked to realize I had become legitimately invested in completing the game. That doesn’t mean I was enjoying it though. My creed to finish Bad Rats was a lot like the Saw films, or the torture scenes in Heavy Rain. I didn’t want to finish the game, but I had to. Bad Rats had become my tunnel of broken glass, and the prospect of delivering quality Chooch content my Shaun.
Now, I can handle the clay graphics. I can take the terribly compressed sounds, the repetitive music, the gross rats, and the uncomfortable violence out of the mind of a sociopathic middle school student. But where Bad Rats nearly broke me was how it brazenly laughs in the face of game physics and common laws of motion. Bad Rats is a veritable middle finger to the discoveries of Isaac Newton. Despite apparently working on a left-to-right plane, it isn’t uncommon for the ball to just roll out the front or back of the stage because of…something. I never really figured out why. The same goes for the rats, which can be thrown out of the stage by explosions or other forces. Even if you have the right configuration of items, it isn’t guaranteed they’ll always function the same way. And with that, I’d like to briefly talk about a man.
This man, to be precise.
In Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum plays Dr. Ian Malcolm, a mathematician with a specialization in chaos theory. Chaos theory is the idea that even though we can measure a whole heck of a lot about science and nature, there will always be patterns, like weather, which act in a varied way we can’t predict. When this idea is taken into account, Bad Rats is still one of the worst games ever made, but it becomes one of the greatest simulators of chaos theory ever created.
Take, for example, level 28 of Bad Rats. The stage features multiple paths to reach the end, but also a swinging wrecking ball near the beginning. The wrecking ball starts in the same position every reset, and always swings at the same speed. In addition, the rats also consistently move in the same manner and speed every time a level is run. It took me a while to figure out a setup I knew would work, but Bad Rats still managed to spit in my face. Even with all the right items in all the right positions, it took running the level around fifty times before it finally worked. Despite everything always functioning the same way, sometimes the ball would hit the wrecking ball and sometimes it wouldn’t. Sometimes after being hit it would go down one path and sometimes it would go down the other. Sometimes it would hit the rat I had placed and other times it would miss entirely. There are a lot of levels in Bad Rats which were an affront to my sanity, but my unbelievably extended time spent with level 28 was by far the most heinous.
Look! Look into the face of chaos!
I really did want to finish Bad Rats in one sitting, but the cumulative effect of 29 levels played for just over two hours took a serious toll. It was almost a week before I was ready to return to the game and this article. Diving back into the latter portion of Bad Rats felt like when Matthew McConaughey jumped into the wormhole at the end of Interstellar. I didn’t know what to expect, or even if I would come out alive. But it had to be done, damn it. I had to finish this trial of willpower in order to become a better person, or at least to have minor bragging rights among my internet friends.
Unsurprisingly, the last 15 levels were just as bad, if not worse than the previous 29. The stages got more and more complex and the physics got more and more arbitrary while my patience wore more and more thin. There were points where I genuinely, with no comedic exaggeration, desperately wanted to stop playing. Each level has a password, and the password for level 43 is “headache”. Ha ha, how appropriate. I used to get chronic migraines in high school, and I think I’d prefer another one of those to playing Bad Rats ever again.
Making myself finish the game reminded me of an incident from my youth. When I was about six, this oatmeal company had a promotion to send in a certain number of their box tops for a small Lego set. Back then, I hated oatmeal (I still do), but I loved Legos more than I hated those gross soggy oats. I actually can’t actually remember if I ate enough oatmeal to get the Lego. I definitely finished Bad Rats though, but I didn’t get a Lego set for it.
This isn’t a Lego set. This is a warning.
Like a lot of notoriously bad things, there isn’t one certain element of Bad Rats that makes it so terrible. It’s more like every single aspect of the game is bad in some way, and all those tiny terrible parts come together to wear down on the player until they’re reduced to an angry, regret-filled mess. I don’t know who this game is supposed to appeal to, but I never want to meet them. Bad Rats didn’t drive me insane like a Lovecraft character, but I kind of wish it did because at least then I’d be put in a padded cell with no chance of ever being exposed to Bad Rats again.
So what’s the moral of this story? Well, there isn’t one. I took nothing away from my descent into the swirling chaos of Bad Rats aside from pain and misery. The four hours it took me to beat the game are four hours I can never hope to recover. I don’t have anything to show for my time, aside from a couple of Steam achievements and a few trading cards. In the end, my experience playing Bad Rats has concluded in nothing but a bleak look towards the setting sun. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we can only hope it won’t be more Bad Rats.
I did input my score name as “Scrotes Dillden” though. That’s kind of humorous, right?