There are shitty games, and then there are legends. And then there’s Bad Rats.
Bad Rats: The Rats’ Revenge, a not very good physics puzzle game, is all of those things. It’s definitely bad, but it’s somehow evolved into an integral part of Steam culture — a curiosity, a joke, a sly nod shared between conspirators in the middle of The Prank Of The Century. Basically, if someone wants to gift you a godawful game on Steam, odds are, it’s gonna be Bad Rats.
Now, here’s the crazy thing: Bad Rats isn’t actually that bad. In it you solve puzzles using a variety of objects and rats to take revenge on a bunch of Worse Cats. The puzzles are shoddy and the physics are… well, inconsistent is putting it lightly, but I have played shittier games in my time.
Bad Rats was considered astounding as a result of time and place. It first came out in 2009, back before Greenlight and Early Access transformed Steam into a bubbling morass of uncertainty, an undifferentiated melting pot of games both good and bad. It was, as a result, an oddity. How did a game so putridly awkward make it through Valve’s then-mostly strict selection process? What happened? What went wrong? Nobody really knows, not even now.
Eventually, people decided to run with it, deeming it Steam’s go-to gag gift. But that’s only the first thread-like tail sticking out of this tangled ball of rats. It practically originated the Steam trend of jokingly reviewing a bad game as though it’s the Second Coming. Observe:
In fact, despite being nearly universally reviled, you’ll note that Bad Rats actually has more positive Steam reviews than negative ones. Of its nearly 8,000 reviews (and remember, Bad Rats came out before Steam reviews were even a thing), 5,454 are positive. But then, it’s beloved by trolls the world over, so what else do you expect? And I mean, read some of these:
Check out Bad Rats‘ community and discussion pages, too. The first thing you’ll note is that — even though the game’s been out for six years — they’re still active!
The community page is mostly trolling (some of which involves posting full-blown porn, which is definitely against Steam’s terms of service), but the discussion page is a fun mix of in-jokes and newbies wandering in, incredulously asking if Bad Rats is really that bad.
Earning all the game’s achievements, meanwhile, is considered a masochistic badge of honour:
I tried finding out how many people now own/play Bad Rats using SteamSpy, but sadly the publisher has declared that information off-limits. Rats! [Editor’s note: Nathan was savagely beaten for this joke. We then had his lips gnawed off by this fish because we don’t have a rat].
It’s a little bit astounding: by being bad — or at least, very not good compared to other Steam offerings at the time — Bad Rats managed to create a lasting community, a goddamn legacy. Despite playing like a shitty tech demo for a puzzle game that aspired to that holiest of grails known as unremarkable mediocrity, it is still relevant in the year 2015 — long after even its badness ceased to separate it from the rest of the pack/squirming rat ball. It has retained relevance longer than most good video games, not to mention some great ones. Recent YouTube playthroughs of it have millions of views, and new videos still show up almost daily!
For some reason, someone also made a WikiHow page to serve as a testament to Bad Rats‘ badness.
So naturally, in the year 2015, the future we never asked for, Bad Rats is getting a sequel of some sort. So far all we’ve got to on is a teaser trailer, which you can see here:
So that’s happening. Will it be a disaster, or will it be a masterpiece, Half-Life 3 in all but name? Who fucking knows. But there’s one thing it will never be: the original Bad Rats. Because time has passed and Steam has changed a lot. Bad Rats was a product of a very specific time, a tiny, filthy turd of a miracle. You don’t have to like it (I know I don’t), but you can’t say it’s not special.