It’s not terribly uncommon for a game to be recalled – typically due to a game-breaking bug, reference to the Quran, or something inappropriate hidden within the game’s code that people of course discovered – but they are usually reissued with the offending material fixed or removed. Here are a few examples of games that were recalled after being released that are still officially considered as such (even though some of them are pretty easy to come by, even at retail).
Tengen’s Tetris (1989, NES)
Tengen – a subsidiary of Atari Games – had a very interesting and complicated relationship with Nintendo. After releasing what would become their only three games licensed through Nintendo in 1988 (Gauntlet, Pac-Man, and RBI Baseball) Tengen went to work on trying to bypass the NES lockout chip in order to make more games than Nintendo’s strict licensing deal would allow. Long story short, Tengen released a few unlicensed games and fought with Nintendo in court for the next five years. However, it was only their unlicensed version of Tetris that was ever officially recalled, as Nintendo proved that it was the only company at the time that had the legal rights to publish home console versions of Tetris (so Tengen at least didn’t have to pull the plug on the arcade version). Tengen’s Tetris was only on sale for about a month before the company was ordered to recall the game and destroy all remaining copies. One of the especially unfortunate upshots of this was the fact that most people consider Tengen’s version of Tetris far superior to Nintendo’s own NES version, especially with the inclusion of a 2-player mode which Nintendo’s version lacked. Only about 100,000 copies of Tengen’s Tetris are said to exist, making it an extremely sought-after collector’s item.
The Guy Game (2004, PS2/Xbox/PC)
There were a couple of years in the early 00’s that developers thought we wanted more games with low-res live action footage of boobs. They were apparently unaware of the availability of high speed internet and the ability to easily see naked girls for free in a matter of seconds. Some of the resulting games of this misguided trend were PS1 racing game Hooters Road Trip, “adult” extreme sports game BMX XXX, and the Girls Gone Wild-inspired trivia game The Guy Game. In The Guy Game, players are shown a question and have to predict whether a bikini-clad coed guesses the correct answer. If you make the right choice, the classy young women flashes her breasts. At first, her boobs are obscured by the game’s logo, but as you progress, that changes to her rack being just pixelated out, and eventually you get to see the girl’s chest completely exposed. That sounds like a lot of work just to see some boobs, but whatever. Apparently, even the supposedly super-horny and depraved gamer population didn’t think that nonsense was worth $50, and The Guy Game quickly faded into obscurity. That is, until a few months later when a lawsuit was brought about by one of the girls in the game stating that she was only 17 at the time that she was filmed for the game, meaning that the game contains footage of an underage girl’s naked breasts. Oops. A Texas judge declared that no further copies of the game with the girl’s name or image be sold. Perhaps because the game had already been largely forgotten anyway, the recall was never taken very seriously, and the game remained on sale at a number of retails and is still easily attainable online and at used game stores. How something that contains video footage of a topless underage girl is able to be legally sold through outlets like Gamestop and Amazon is beyond me, especially in an age where teenagers are being convicted as sex offenders for having naked pictures of themselves on their own cellphones.
Limbo of the Lost (2008, PC)
Limbo of the Lost is a classic example of a game being stuck in development hell. Majestic Studios was founded in 1993 and set out to bring back the “graphical text adventure” genre. They began development of their first game on the Atari ST, then moved it over to the Amiga 500, and then moved it over to the Amiga 1200 and Amiga CD32. Realizing that they had a knack for trying to bring their game to platforms that were on their last legs, they finally settled on moving development of Limbo of the Lost to the PC in 2003. Even with all all of that preliminary work, it still took the team five years to finish the game. In June of 2008 – three months after LotL‘s release – website GamePlasma (now defunct) called the game out, showing that areas of LotL were identical to areas from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Not just inspired by – literally copied and pasted from. After this came out, others began to dig into the game, and it was also found that they had taken assets and content from World of WarCraft. And Sea Dogs. And Thief: Deadly Shadows. And the movie Beetlejuice. And two different Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Not exactly obscure source material they were stealing from. The game’s publisher ceased production of the game amidst some impossible-to-deny allegations of plagiarism and subsequently issued a full recall. Two of the developer’s three co-founders, Tim Croucher and Laurence Francis, maintained their innocence and threw the rest of the team under the bus by naming specific areas of the game they personally worked on – research, puzzle design, specific portions of the soundtrack, and specific parts of the dialogue – and pointing out the originality and lack of plagiarism in those very specific areas of the game, as if to suggest that they worked on their parts of the game in a vacuum with no knowledge of anything that was going on with the entire rest of the game. Sure guys, whatever you say. As of this writing, neither of the men have done any more work in the games industry and have been completely out of the public eye.
Too Human (2008, X360)
X-Men Destiny (2011, PS3/X360/Wii/DS)
Even though Too Human was becoming infamous for its protracted development cycle and jump from one system to another (sound familiar?), developer Silicon Knights had spent the years of that game’s development hell making a name for itself with the stellar horror title Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem and also having the honor to co-develop a full remake of one of the most beloved games of all time, resulting in Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. Those successes, especially considering Eternal Darkness had a long, troubled development cycle of its own and still came out just fine, had hopes running high that Too Human had a decent shot at being a great game. The first cracks in the game’s hype were thanks to controversial Silicon Knights boss Denis Dyack, who had a knack for putting his foot in his mouth and getting into spats with the press and people on gaming forums. Things got even worse when Dyack began to publicly complain about Epic Games and their Unreal Engine, which SK was using to develop Too Human. Dyack said that Epic was deliberately providing shoddy support for the engine and withholding some of its features in order to give their own games an advantage. SK even sued Epic over it, which then prompted Epic to counter-sue, claiming that SK was using Unreal Engine without paying royalties, while SK denied that they were still using the engine. This was proven to be false, and SK was ordered to pay millions in damages to Epic and to recall and destroy all copies of their games that they had built with Unreal Engine, which was not only the already-released Too Human but SK’s Activision-published 2011 action/RPG X-Men: Destiny. Silicon Knights never recovered from the fallout surrounding the lawsuit and was shut down two years later. In 2013, Dyack tried twice to crowdfund a spiritual successor to Eternal Darkness through a new developer, but the game didn’t reach its funding goal either time. Last year, he started yet another new developer with the hopes of reviving the ED sequel, but as of yet nothing has publicly materialized from that endeavor.
Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Vol. 1 (2015, PS4/XB1/PC)
Have you ever played a game that was so bad you felt like the developers owed you a refund? For the people who felt that way about this year’s Afro Samurai 2, they got their wish. Following abysmal reviews, developer Versus Evil announced that they were not only voluntarily halting sales of the game (and canceling all future episodes of the series), but were actually offering refunds for people who already purchased the game. The website for the game states: “Despite our best efforts, Afro Samurai: Revenge of Kuma Volume One did not meet the quality standards that we require. As a result, we have decided to voluntarily refund the purchase price of the game and its associated Trilogy pack with our sincerest apologies.” While it does make one wonder why they would’ve even released a game in the first place that they knew was that bad, you have to give them props for doing right by the people who bought the game rather than doing the current standard protocol of telling gamers to wait months and months for patches that may or may not even fix the issues. I’d be interested to know how many people still decided to keep the game and if we’ll be seeing it turn out to be a collector’s item down the road.