From ill-advised console launch day purchases to promising game engines spoiled by terrible gameplay, good intentions and ideas paving the way to ruin is a theme that has routinely popped up in video games over the years. Technology and marketing bombast can offer all the promise in the world, but it never takes long for buyer’s remorse to sink in. WDGP looks at some of the significant masterpieces that never were.

 

 

Lili

 

Used to sell iPhone 5. developed by Bitmonster, a group of devs eager to make something very different from their prior work on the Gears of War series, the most recent title on our list is a gorgeous looking adventure game with visuals that would easily be confused for something on a triple A console game from a few years ago. For arguably the first time ever, it also does touch controls in a 3D adventure almost perfectly, using taps to move and swipes to steer the eponymous botanist. These positives made for a great game for Apple to show off the gaming potential of its new iPhone hardware, and Lili shared the limelight with Real Racing 3 at Apple’s iPnone 5 press conference.

Where it went wrong: As pretty as it is, Lili is near heart stoppingly boring.  Nothing to do with its botanical theme of collecting flowers in an alien environment (Waking Mars did it with aplomb), where things take a turn for the dull here is in a structure ripped from the most uninventive of RPGs. Once returning from being sent out to pick three flowers lying around the place, you’re told to go and defeat three monsters, then five more in a different setting, and on and on until a coma ensues, or the app is deleted.

Red Steel


Used to sell: The Wii. While Nintendo put their stock in Wii Sports for their 2006 hardware launch, a gamble that paid off with the ultimate casual crowd pleaser, Ubisoft were lining up to deliver a launch title to appeal to a more dedicated gaming audience. Red Steel wasn’t just going to be a first person shooter that would rival anything seen on the more powerful consoles, but would also have sword fighting included to take advantage of the Wii’s motion controls. In fact, if promotional videos were to be believed, the motion on display here would be so immersive, you’d be leaping behind couches to take cover from enemy fire.

Where it went wrong: Thanks to a range of factors, some of which out of Ubi’s control (the standard Wii remote had nowhere near the range of motion required for accurate sword fights, and the hardware wasn’t powerful enough to put out something as technically demanding as the shooters on 360 at the time) and some of which  Ubi could’ve done something about (the repetitive mundane structure and insipid writing), Red Steel was largely terrible. It did spawn a sequel though, which had nothing to do with the original, and used Wii Motion Plus to improve its swashbuckling for a much improved effort.

Ninety Nine Nights, Blue Dragon

Used to sell: XBox 360s in Japan. After Microsoft’s first console failed to make a significant dent in the Japanese market despite the efforts of Japanese publishers like From Software and Sega, MS were keen to rectify things for the 360, shelling out for publishing rights to Blue Dragon, an RPG penned by Hironobu Sakaguchi of early Final Fantasy fame, and art by Akira Toriyama (‘Dragon Ball’). Alongside pledging support for JRPG fans, Microsoft also heavily hyped Phantagram and Q Entertainment’s Ninety Nine Nights, appealing to fans of the always mystifyingly popular Musou series.

Where it went wrong: Neither game was dreadful, but Japanese fans neither went out of their way to stop playing a dull game about beating hordes of enemies with sticks to swap it for another dull game about beating hordes of enemies with sticks. Just enough did to warrant development of a sequel to N3, but this was received terribly. Blue Dragon, too was fine, but an unadventurous RPG that failed to sell systems, and actually would go on to perform better in two incarnations on the DS. There would be a handful of other 360 exclusive RPGs in the years after Blue Dragon’s 2006 release, most successfully Square Enix’s The Last Remnant, but with the Japanese market not easily won over by what appeared to be token efforts on MS’ part, and business going smoothly in the US, Microsoft all but gave up on Japan. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle the JP market in the next couple of years with the release of their next hardware, or even if they intend to sell their new XBox in Japan at all.

 

Microcosm

Used to sell: CD-ROM/CD32. While any number of terrible FMV based games could be used to populate this list, boasting the wonders of using CDs as a vehicle for letting amateur dramatic society members stand in front of green screens with props made by the developers’ mums, the truth is a lot of games people jump to when belittling the FMV era were kind of old hat even before the hype machine got behind CD-ROM. Mad Dog McCree, for instance, was a Laserdisc arcade title. Night Trap meanwhile, was filmed as early as 1988, and sat on the cutting room floor for years after  Hasbro’s VHS based console the Nemo, for which Night Trap would’ve been the lead game for, was cancelled. Liverpudlian developer Psygnosis, though, fresh from doing tech demos for Commodore’s ill-fated CDTV system, were poised to develop one of the first built from the ground up CD based FMV games. Again close ties were kept with Commodore, who were hoping Microcosm would help sell their entry to the console market, the CD 32.

Where it went wrong: Apart from having all the low rent poorly acted cheese people were already growing sick of from prior laser disc and CD games, Microcosm was a terrible shoot em up. In layering 2D sprites over an FMV back drop, Psygnosis attempted to create a more action packed and interactive affair than trial by memorization fests like Night Trap, but poor scaling meant it was impossible to see objects until microseconds before they hit you. As for selling the CD32, Amiga Power gave a damning review of the machine’s flagship title (“Precious little gameplay, and what there is isn’t done very well”), but this didn’t stop Commodore bundling copies of the game with the machine, alongside disastrous fighter Dangerous Streets, as part of an Amiga marketing campaign that, and I’m not making this up, included packing in terrible games with hardware because it gave gamers ‘incentive to go out and buy another game’.

 

Cruis’n USA, Killer Instinct

Used to sell: Nintendo 64. The N64 had a long and protracted development, that saw Nintendo of America in particular to adopt an on again off again marketing strategy for the new hardware. The marketing was very much on in 1994,when with arcades still flourishing, Nintendo teamed up with Rare and Midway to release two arcade titles that would be branded as being N64 (Ultra 64 at the time) powered but were actually based off Midway’s own proprietary tech. Still, the hope was that by marketing the arcades as technical powerhouses, and ensuring a big Ultra 64 splash screen would be seen by players as they put their coins in, the N64 brand would be imprinted in punters’ minds before the console itself was released.

Where it went wrong: Firstly, neither game was anywhere near the best in their class. K.I. was unbalanced and unsophisticated, relying on dial-a-combos that would win players fights simply by memorizing the button commands necessary to launch into a round long battering. Cruis’n meanwhile, was a traditional arcade racer played safe and dull, the only intrigue being in where the missing ‘i’ and ‘g’ in its title disappeared to. Where things really went wrong though, was in delays to the N64 itself, which slipped from 1995 into the summer of 1996 in Japan and the US, and, insanely to March of 1997 in Europe. Killer Instinct, despite its humdrum nature, would earn some popularity in a fighting game bubble, being ported to the Super Nintendo, where it earned a good-sized following, but by the time the N64 finally did come out, Tekken and Virtua Fighter on competing consoles were always going to trump the 64’s K.I. Gold. Cruis’n, meanwhile, did make it directly onto the N64, but was more than two years old by the time it did, making a hum drum racer rather old hat to boot (it didn’t help that the home port had some of the very worst handling to ever be in a racing game).

These are only some examples of games that were selling an idea or a piece of hardware and failed to deliver the goods. With WiiU around the corner, we may find more items to add to the list, but it doesn’t simply end with new hardware, as games like Trespasser offered revolutionary physics engines but handled like a haunted shopping trolley, or Rise of the Robots promised revolutionary AI that somehow they forgot to include in the game itself. Let us know if there are any games you felt made a poor sales pitch for the tech they were hawking.

 

About The Author

Gamer, Educator, Writer of Stuff, wrestler of professionals (sometimes)