A short history of (unintentionally) unbeatable games

Ein versprochener Patch sollte es Spielern von <em>KOTOR II</em> soon make it possible to master the game on Switch.”/><figcaption class=

Enlarge / A promised patch should make this possible soon KOTORII Players to beat the game on Switch.

Last week, publisher Aspyr officially confirmed the existence of a groundbreaking bug in the recent Switch port of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II. This bug, which crashes the game after the “Basilisk Crash” cutscene on the planet Onderon, has the nasty side effect of creating the Switch version totally unbeatable.

While Aspyr promised that this game-changing bug 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) upon release.

Here we are not talking about games like The Sims or tetris which are designed to have no win condition and/or always end in failure for the player (although some games that look like they fall into this category are surprisingly beatable). Also, we’re not talking about games where the player is forced to reset after accidentally getting into a predicament in the game where they can’t progress anymore (TV Tropes has a huge list of games that fit this description fit).

No, instead we are talking about games that are supposed to be beatable, but for one reason or another cannot be fully completed regardless of what the player does (besides using external cheats). While gaming’s short history has seen many of these games, here are a few notable examples that should make Aspyr feel a little better KOTOR problems.

Sqij! (ZX Spectrum, 1987)

The Spectrum port of this cute Commodore 64 game was unbeatable totally unplayable due to a programming bug that caused the game to not respond to keyboard input. But that might not have been a simple oversight.

Eurogamer has the story of programmer Jason Creighton who was hired to create the Spectrum version of the game despite not being provided with a copy of the Commodore original. When editor 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 game’s controls, the unplayable mess nonetheless managed to pass the publisher’s quality control and landed on UK shelves at 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?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (MS DOS, 1989)

For the most part, this PC version is a fairly faithful port of the notoriously difficult first TMNT Game for the NES, also released in 1989. However, for some inexplicable reason, a single block is missing from a channel section in level 3, making an otherwise trivial gap impossible to fill. The oversight was fixed in time for the game’s European release in 1990, but US players were stuck unless they knew how to cheat.

Chip’s challenge (Windows, 1992)

A version of Chip’s challenge Level Spirals edited to be defeatable.

The fourth version of Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows is known for this tile-based puzzle game, itself a port of the 1989 Atari Lynx original. But this port changed a single tile in level 88, removing a wall and turning what was once a cul-de-sac into an open corner. That, in turn, causes the level’s walker enemies to fly out of that corner in a straight line, blocking the player’s progress forever.

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

X-Men (Genesis, 1993)

Those who played this action game from the early 90’s might remember an awesome/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, clever gamers would figure out that they had to hit the reset button on the Genesis console itself (spoilers for a 29-year-old game, we suspect). This little trick worked because the Genesis reset button left some areas of RAM untouched, allowing the game to “remember” the player’s progress upon restart.

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 Genesis doesn’t have a dedicated reset button, meaning players will get stuck when they reach the late-game 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 reach for that reset button.