A short story with (unintentional) unbeatable games

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Enlarge / A promised update should soon allow KOTOR II players to beat the game on Switch.

Last week, publisher Aspyr officially acknowledged the existence of a game-breaking bug in the recent Switch port of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II. That bug, which crashes the game after the “Basil Crash” scene on the planet Onderon, has the inconvenient side effect of making the Switch version completely unbeatable.

While Aspyr promised that this game-breaking bug would be fixed in the game’s next downloadable patch, many game developers have not had that option in the past. KOTOR II on the Switch is the latest in a long line of games that were literally impossible to complete (or get a full, 100 percent completion rate) when they were launched.

Here we are not talking about games like The Sims or Tetris which is designed not to have a winning condition and / or always end in error for the player (although some games that seem to fall into that category are surprisingly affordable). We are also not talking about games where the player is forced to reset after ending up in a situation in the game where they can no longer make progress (TV Tropes has a huge list of games that fit this description).

No, instead we are talking about games that can be fought, but which for some reason can not be completed completely regardless of what the player does (need to use external cheat codes). 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 with the latest KOTOR problems.

Sqij! (ZX Spectrum, 1987)

Beyond unbeatable was the Spectrum gateway to this sweet Commodore 64 game completely unplayable due to a programming error that prevented the game from responding to any keyboard input. But it may not have been an easy oversight.

Eurogamer has the story of the coder Jason Creighton, who was commissioned to make the Spectrum version of the game despite not receiving a copy of the Commodore original. When the publisher The Power House insisted that Creighton do his best based on a map of the original game, he turned a last-minute project written in Laser BASIC, instead of machine code.

While Creighton says he did not intentionally break the game’s controls, the unplayable mess still got past the publisher’s quality control and hit British store shelves at a basement price of £ 2. Sounds like a lot of money for a game where you can not move, but what do we know?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (MS-DOS, 1989)

For the most part, this PC version is a pretty faithful port of the known difficult first TMNT games for NES, which was also released in 1989. But for some inexplicable reason, a single block is missing from a level 3 sewer section, making an otherwise trivial gap impossible to remove. The oblivion was resolved in time for the game’s European release from 1990, but American players were stuck unless they knew how to cheat.

Chips challenge (Windows, 1992)

A version of Chips challenge level spirals that have been edited to be beaten.

The fourth version of Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows is well remembered for this tile-based puzzle, in itself a gate of the Atari Lynx original from 1989. But that gate changed a single tile in level 88, removed a wall and changed a former cul-de-sac to an open corner. This in turn causes the level’s wandering enemies to fly out of that corner in a straight line, blocking the player’s progress for good.

The audit was resolved for subsequent Windows releases of the game, and although early players could technically skip level 88, they would make it known that there was at least one level they would never beat.

X men (Genesis, 1993)

Those who played this early 90’s action game may remember an ingenious / frustrating puzzle on the later levels, where the game told the player to “Reset the computer.” After searching the bare room for a reset button, smart gamers would hopefully find that they had to press the reset button on the Genesis console itself (spoilers for a 29-year-old game, we guess). The little trick worked because the Genesis reset button left a few areas of RAM untouched, leaving the game “remembering” the player’s progress on reboot.

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