You'll never beat me: games with show-stopping bugs

There are games that seem impossible to beat, and games that really are impossible to beat. That’s the story with the recent Bubble Bobble Revolution, which

includes a game-halting bug. Apparently the big boss battle in Level 30 isn’t much of a battle at all because the boss never appears, meaning that the game just sits there on an empty level waiting for a boss who will never come. The remaining seventy or so levels are unreachable.

Ouch–this doesn’t sound too good for the publisher’s Quality Assurance department. If this were a computer game, a downloadable patch could fix the game, but since this is a handheld console game, fixing it will probably involve recalling the game from store shelves and shipping out corrected copies to stores and customers.

It is not uncommon for games to ship with serious bugs–in fact, it’s a common computer gamer gripe that the availability of online patching has made it easier for developers to release buggy titles and patch them later. But it’s fairly uncommon for a game to ship with a bug so severe that the game is unfinishable.

The only such game that I’ve personally encountered was Mechwarrior 2: Mercenaries, a very fun game that also happened to be riddled with bugs. The bugs might have been tolerable, except that one of them made it impossible to progress beyond a certain point in the game. After completing a particularly difficult mission partway through the game, you are told to wait for your dropship to pick you up and end the mission. The dropship showed up, all right–but it never landed. I spent a good hour chasing it around the map; I tried shooting it down; I tried reloading old saved games; I tried replaying the mission from scratch, but the dropship never landed and the mission never ended. So I stopped playing the game. (I later learned that a patch was made available, but this was in the mid-90s before internet connectivity was ubiquitous; by the time I came across the patch, the game had long been gathering dust.)

The only other game I’ve played that comes close to the “unfinishable” level was Ultima 9–a famously buggy game that, like MW2:M above, was quite enjoyable… during the small windows of time between crashes and lock-ups when you were actually able to play. I had to completely reinstall the game and start from scratch twice. The third time I made it halfway through the game only to have it corrupt all of my saved games was the last… while there was no one single bug that rendered the game unwinnable, the odds of making it through the entire game without running into a game-killing glitch were so low that it probably counts as “unwinnable” in my book. (The game’s bugs were so severe that the publisher actually shipped out fresh copies of the game to registered customers; but I didn’t have the willpower to start over from scratch again in the hopes that it wouldn’t just die again after sucking up fifteen more hours of my life.)

Extremely difficult games I can handle. Even games so difficult that they might as well be impossible for me to complete. I can shrug off a few bugs here and there. But completely unwinnable games? That just makes me wonder if anybody over at the game company actually played the thing before slapping a $49.99 price sticker on it and bundling it off to Gamestop.

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