Welcome to what will hopefully become a semi-regular column at JGL. Every so often, I will try to give you a genuine, commonly used Japanese gaming expression with which to impress and astonish your friends! Granted most of them will be pretty useless, but hopefully interesting nonetheless.
Etymology: Kuso (shit), ge- (abbreviation of Japanese ge-mu, i.e. game).
Definition: Literally “crap game”. A game that fails commercially/critically for one or more reasons, including bugs, excessive difficulty, poor quality etc.
Origin: Apparently coined in the mid 1980s by Jun Miura, an illustrator and writer for Famitsu Tsuushin (the magazine which later became Weekly Famitsu).
Today’s word is kusoge. It is written クソゲー or 糞ゲーand pronounced “koo-so-gay”). This word is actually a portmanteau of the words kuso (excrement) and gemu (game). As you have probably guessed, it literally means a crap game. The kind of game you find in the bargain bin, covered in successively lower price stickers. The word’s Japanese Wikipedia entry, very loosely translated, defines kusoge as “a word that gamers or game critics use when criticizing a game. Also applied to individual games that have been given such criticism. Although generally negative in meaning, it is also applied to good or questionably good games.”
Wikipedia goes on to list four qualitative characteristics which can earn a game the kusoge label:
1. The game is boring or too easy and has little actual play value.
2. The game is ridiculously hard.
3. The game’s scenario or setting is badly conceived and inconsistent.
4. The game is not true to its genre, or makes excessive, forced use of other genres.
There are also a number of technical issues, such as bugs, bad design, wonky collision detection, ugly graphics, poor control, etc. which may doom a game to kuso-dom. Usually it is a combination of several factors.
While many kusoge are reviled, some of them have achieved a sort of cult status. A perfect example is the Cho Aniki series, a highly homoerotic side-scrolling shooter that is both loved and hated by Japanese gamers for its over-the-top gameplay and humor.
Still other kusoge were deemed flops when they first came out, but are now being unearthed and have gained a following thanks to emulator software. Some are even resurrected on next-gen consoles. This is the case with Spelunker, a game widely classified as the quintessential kusoge in Japan due to its gratuitous difficulty, but also loved by hardcore gamers for this very reason. Spelunker has already been released on the Wii Virtual Console and is scheduled for a high definition remake on the PS3. Yesterday’s kusoge, today’s cult classic.