A brief history of (unintentionally) unbeatable games

Een beloofde patch zou het binnenkort voor spelers van <em>KOTOR II</em> to beat the game on Switch.”/><figcaption class=

enlarge A promised patch should allow it soon KOTOR II players to beat the game on Switch.

Last week publisher Aspyr . published officially recognized the existence of a game-breaking glitch in the recent Switch port of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II† That glitch, which crashes the game after the “Basilisk Crash” cutscene on the planet Onderon, has the clunky side effect of making the Switch version completely unbeatable

While Aspyr promised that this groundbreaking glitch would be fixed in the game’s next downloadable patch, many game developers in the past didn’t have that option. KOTOR II on the Switch is the latest in a long line of games that were literally impossible to complete (or reach a full 100 percent completion rate) at launch.

We’re not talking about games like The Sims or Tetris that are designed to have no win condition and/or always end in failure for the player (although some games that seem to fall into that category are surprising to beat† We’re also not talking about games where the player is forced to reset after accidentally getting into an in-game predicament where they can no longer progress (TV Tropes has a huge list of games that fit this description).

No, instead we’re talking about games that are supposed to be beatable, but for some reason can’t be completely completed no matter what the player does (aside from using external cheats). While the short history of gaming has seen many of these games, here are a few notable examples that should make Aspyr feel a little better about his recent KOTOR issues.

sqij! (ZX spectrum, 1987)

More than unbeatable, the Spectrum port of this cute Commodore 64 game was totally unplayable due to a programming error that made the game unresponsive to keyboard input. But that may not have been just a mistake.

Eurogamer has the story from coder Jason Creighton, who was tasked with creating the Spectrum version of the game, despite not being provided with a copy of the Commodore original. When publisher The Power House insisted that Creighton do his best based on a map from the original game, he flipped a last-minute project written in Laser BASIC, rather than machine code.

While Creighton says he didn’t intentionally break the controls of the game, the unplayable mess still passed the publisher’s quality control and made it to UK store shelves for the bargain price of £2. Still sounds like a lot of money for a game where you can’t move, but what do we know about it?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (MS DOS, 1989)

For the most part, this PC version is a pretty faithful port of the famously tough first TMNT game for the NES, which was also released in 1989. However, for some inexplicable reason, a single block is missing in a level 3 sewer section, making an otherwise trivial chasm impossible to clear† The supervision was Fixed in time for the game’s European release in 1990but American players were stuck unless they knew how to cheat.

chips challenge (Windows, 1992)

a version of chips challenge level Spirals edited to beat.

The fourth version of the Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows is well remembered for this tile-based puzzle game, itself a port of the 1989 original Atari Lynx. But that gate changed a single tile in level 88, removed a wall and turned a former dead end into an open corner. That in turn causes the level’s walker enemies to fly in a straight line out of that corner, block player progress for good

The surveillance was fixed for subsequent Windows releases of the game, and while early players could skip technical level 88, they would do so knowing there was at least one level they would never beat.

X-Men (Genesis, 1993)

Those who have played this early 90s action game may remember an ingenious/frustrating puzzle in the later levels where the game told the player to “Reset the computer”. Hopefully, after scouring the bare room for a reset button, savvy players would find they had to press the reset button on the Genesis console itself (spoilers for a 29 year old game, we recommend). That little trick worked because the Genesis reset button left a few parts of the RAM untouchedcausing the game to “remember” the player’s progress on reboot.

However, this inventive design trick became problematic when players attempted to play the game on the Sega Nomad. That’s because the portable version of the Genesis doesn’t have a dedicated reset button, meaning players are stuck when they reach the late-game puzzle. And although some fans have went to great lengths to fix that hardware problemit’s probably easier to dig up a classic Genesis and reach for that reset button.

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