A Brief History of (Unintentionally) Unbeatable Games

KOTOR II to beat the game on Switch.”/>

Enlarge / A promised patch should soon allow KOTORII players to beat the game on Switch.

Last week, publisher Aspyr officially acknowledged a game-breaking glitch in the recent Switch port of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II. This glitch, which crashes the game after the “Basilisk Crash” cutscene on the planet Onderon, has the annoying side effect of rendering the Switch version completely unbeatable.

While Aspyr promised that this game-breaking glitch would be fixed in the game’s next downloadable patch, many game developers in the past didn’t have that option. KOTORII on the Switch is the latest in a long line of games that were literally impossible to complete (or achieve a full 100% completion rate) when they first launched.

Here, we are not talking about games like The Sims Where Tetris which are designed to have no win condition and/or always end in failure for the player (although some games that seem to fall into this category are surprisingly beatable). We’re also not talking about games where the player is forced to reset after accidentally falling into an in-game predicament where they can’t progress any further (TV Tropes has a massive list of games that fit that description).

No, we’re more talking about games that are supposed to be beatable but for some reason can’t be fully completed no matter what the player does (unless using external cheats). While the game’s short history has seen many such games, here are some notable examples that should make Aspyr feel a little better about its recent KOTOR problems.

Sqij! (ZX Spectre, 1987)

Beyond unbeatable, the Spectrum port of this cute Commodore 64 game was totally unplayable due to a programming glitch that caused the game to stop responding to keyboard input. But maybe it wasn’t a simple oversight.

Eurogamer tells the story of coder Jason Creighton, who was commissioned to create the Spectrum version of the game despite not having received a copy of the Commodore original. When publisher The Power House insisted that Creighton do their best based on a map from the original game, they turned in a last-minute draft written in Laser BASIC, rather than machine code.

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

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (MS-DOS, 1989)

For the most part, this PC version is a fairly faithful port of the famously difficult first TMNT game for the NES, which was also released in 1989. For some inexplicable reason, however, a single block is missing in a sewer section on level 3, rendering an otherwise insignificant gap impossible to fill. The oversight was corrected in time for the game’s European release in 1990, but American players were stuck unless they knew how to cheat.

Chip’s Challenge (Windows, 1992)

A version of Chip’s Challenge Spirals level which has been edited to be beatable.

The fourth version of Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows is well known for this tile-based puzzle game, itself a port of the original Atari Lynx from 1989. But this port changed a single tile at level 88, removing a wall and turning an old dead end into a corner open. This, in turn, causes the level’s walking enemies to come out of that corner in a straight line, permanently blocking player progress.

The oversight was fixed for later Windows versions of the game, and while early players could technically skip level 88, they would do so knowing there was at least one level they would never beat.

x-men (Genesis, 1993)

Those who played this action game from the early 90s might remember an ingenious/frustrating puzzle in the later levels, where the game asked the player to “reset the computer”. After searching the bare room for a reset button, smart gamers would hopefully figure out that they had to press the reset button on the Genesis console itself (spoilers for a 29 year old game, we guess) . This little trick worked because Genesis’ reset button left a few areas of RAM untouched, letting the game “remember” player progress when restarting.

However, this inventive design trick became problematic when gamers tried to play the game on the Sega Nomad. This is because the portable version of the Genesis doesn’t have a dedicated reset button, which means players are stuck when they reach the endgame puzzle. And while some fans have gone to great lengths to fix this hardware issue, it’s probably easier to dig up a classic Genesis and hit that reset button.

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