Amazing video games seem perfectly designed for the gaming world, yet a surprising number of games have barely made it to the market. Development is sometimes straightforward and sometimes complete chaos: disagreements, changing employment, and financial deficiencies can all plague companies and any games under their development. For several entries on this list, publishers and developers gave up on their games, but determined employees persevered and produced the games they dreamed of making.
The public can also affect a video game’s status. Some games are loved upon completion, yet criticized during development. Such criticism can lead to improvements through changed mechanics and fixed bugs, but in some cases, the public’s opinion simply changes; a few games on this list were condemned at demos and adored at release despite similar mechanics.
For many of the games on this list, the final products were born almost out of luck. Small changes—or refusals to change—during early development produced these amazing games when they could have been entirely different games. Developers’ ideas, and sometimes fans’ feedback, shaped these games into their current form. Some of the most popular franchises in the world almost didn’t happen because of their rocky foundations. We could have ended up with a completely different set of games; thanks to great decisions and developers, these 15 amazing games happened against all odds.
15 The Witcher Sequels
The first Witcher game is only available on computer, but the game was originally supposed to be expanded in a console edition known as The Witcher: Rise of the White Wolf. The game, announced in 2008, was to have the same storyline, yet would be an almost entirely new game featuring new music, changed character design, updated AI, and an entirely different system for combat. Unfortunately, a disagreement between CD Projekt RED and the developers of the console edition, Widescreen Games, caused Widescreen Games to abandon the project. CD Projekt RED nearly went bankrupt from spending so much money on the unfulfilled game. Thankfully, the company was bold enough to make The Witcher 2 despite their low funds and recovered because of it.
14 The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
After Spirit Tracks released on the Nintendo DS, a small team in Nintendo began work for a Nintendo 3DS game. Their original concepts differed greatly from A Link Between Worlds, but their ideas were not approved. The team continued brainstorming and thought of the brilliant mechanic used in A Link Between Worlds where Link walks inside walls. The concept was wonderfully executed, creating dynamic gameplay in which you explore dungeons’ floors in a top-down perspective and their walls in a side-scrolling perspective.
Soon after work had begun on this mechanic, Nintendo shifted their focus from the 3DS to the upcoming Wii U. The 3DS wall-traveling mechanic was abandoned, but fortunately revisited a year later, allowing A Link Between Worlds to fully develop.
13 Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong developed because of the failure of Nintendo’s 1979 arcade game, Radar Scope, in North America. In order to make use of the unsold arcade cabinets shipped to North America, Nintendo create a game with the same engine—Donkey Kong—and converted the Radar Scope arcade machines into Donkey Kong cabinets.
It’s hard to know whether or not Donkey Kong would have happened without Radar Scope. The game might have emerged through later brainstorming; however, the Donkey Kong we know and love was suggested specifically as a replacement for Radar Scope. If Radar Scope had been as successful in North America as it was in Japan, Donkey Kong may have never released, and the game’s iconic characters—Donkey Kong, Mario, and Princess Peach—may have never been created.
12 Doom (2016)
Production of Doom began in 2008, but the game wasn’t released until eight years later. The shooter went through massive changes and heavy criticism whenever it was revealed to the public. John Carmack, one of the original creators of the Doom franchise, left the company in 2013. Without the creative genius behind Doom, the public doubted the future of the game’s quality and release. Fortunately, the game progressed despite Carmack’s absence and came out three years later. The wait was definitely worth it—Doom is a fast-paced, brutal shooter that takes online competition to a whole new level. It’s unclear how much Carmack influenced the game; whether he was involved in the final game’s development or not, Doom wonderfully recalls its origins while advancing the franchise through new mechanics and graphics.
11 Final Fantasy Sequels
Hironobu Sakaguchi is famous for designing the original Final Fantasy, directing its four sequels, and contributing to numerous other games in the series. However, he almost left the video game industry before creating the amazing series. Because his previous games were not particularly successful, Sakaguchi doubted his role and promised to leave the industry if Final Fantasy did not sell well. This, among other reasons, caused Square to change the game’s title from Fighting Fantasy to Final Fantasy. Fortunately, the game sold so well that it was not, as the title suggests, Sakaguchi’s final game. If the game had lacked initial praise and sales like Sakaguchi’s earlier games, the series would have lacked Sakaguchi and may have never progressed beyond its first game.
10 Bayonetta 2
While the original Bayonetta was sold on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Bayonetta 2 only came out on the Wii U. Many fans were displeased with the change in platform, but the sequel only released because of the change in platform.
Sega published the first Bayonetta, but was too restrictive for PlatinumGames to release a sequel. Without Sega’s support, PlatinumGames lacked the resources to develop Bayonetta 2. Fortunately, the company turned to Nintendo and established a strong relationship that led to the game’s release. Many fans of the first game were unable to play the sequel, but the Wii U also opened the franchise to a new audience. The Bayonetta games have been extremely fun—regardless of the platform, we’re lucky to have the second game.
9 Grand Theft Auto
The original Grand Theft Auto lacks the size and three-dimensional openness of its sequels, but the game is nonetheless amazing. You drive or run through a 2-D city from a top-down perspective, testing your reaction time and precision as you drive through narrow alleys and busy highways.
While the 1997 game was extremely popular and spawned one of the most popular franchises in the gaming world, Grand Theft Auto barely reached the market. Development took twice as long as originally planned and the game’s publisher was not optimistic about how the game would be received. DMA Design resisted weekly attempts to shut the game down; thanks to DMA Design’s commitment, Grand Theft Auto and its sequels are available and loved by players across the world.
8 Gears of War
Gears of War is infamous for its Chainsaw Bayonet, an attachment that greatly intensified the game’s gore and has appeared throughout the franchise’s marketing. However, the chainsaw-gun was almost removed from the game during development. Microsoft Game Studios, the game’s publisher, tried to get rid of the chainsaw due to its extreme violence. Epic Games insisted on including the weapon and fortunately prevailed, providing Gears of War with personality that distinguished it from other shooters released at the time.
During its early development, Gears of War was designed to be a multiplayer sequel to Unreal Tournament titled Unreal Warfare. Epic chose to deviate from the Unreal series, instead designing a game focused on single-player. Because of this, Gears of War almost excluded multiplayer—the multiplayer features were only added at the very end of development. Gears of War probably would have been amazing no matter what, but it almost lacked some excellent gameplay and weapons.
7 Metal Gear Solid Sequels
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was almost a completely different game. Hideo Kojima originally planned to place Snake and players in the Middle East, but Kojima changed the game because of rising tensions with the Middle East. He also planned to make Raiden’s journey a more thorough, explicit simulation—a plot twist which would have been great but likely inferior to the subtle, mysterious questioning of reality we got in MGS 2.
While Kojima had different plans for MGS 2, he never planned to make sequels. Konami tried to continue the series but suffered. To help his company, Kojima returned as director for MGS 3 and its sequels, finally ending the series 14 years later than he originally intended.
6 Super Smash Bros.
Super Smash Bros. is a great fighting game not only because of excellent mechanics but also a roster of iconic Nintendo characters. However, the game was not originally designed with these characters. Titled Dragon King: The Fighting Game, the project lacked Nintendo characters in its early development. HAL Laboratory could have taken the game in multiple directions; fortunately, the company made the excellent decision to use characters from other Nintendo games.
The game was also intended to be sold only in Japan. After wide popularity and sales, Nintendo decided to localize the game and ship it overseas. Thanks to a series of great decisions, Super Smash Bros. transformed from a generic, Japanese-exclusive game to an international franchise with an amazing cast.
5 The Last Guardian
The Last Guardian was originally planned for release on the PlayStation 3 in 2011. Fumito Ueda, the game’s director, developed the game with such intricate mechanics that the PS3 almost couldn’t handle the game. Instead of sacrificing frame rate or graphics, Sony redesigned the game for PS4—causing Ueda and other members of his team to leave Sony and form their own company, genDESIGN. Ueda still helped make the game, but his departure threatened the game’s development and could have resulted in a completely different game if he hadn’t continued directing The Last Guardian. Because of its changing team and console, The Last Guardian was delayed by many years. After eight years of development, the game was finally released in 2016 and was absolutely phenomenal.
4 The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
While Twilight Princess would have come out no matter what, the game almost released without some of its most amazing mechanics. Originally planned for a 2005 release on GameCube, Twilight Princess was delayed by a year when Nintendo chose to develop it for both GameCube and Wii. The game wonderfully utilizes the Wii Remote by letting you smoothly aim the bow, slingshot, and Clawshots.
Aiming with a bow is clunky on N64 and GameCube, particularly when you ride a horse in Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. With only one analog stick for the N64 and GameCube, players may aim their bow, but cannot simultaneously control their horse. The Wii version of Twilight Princess allows you to aim and maneuver Epona at the same time, producing some of the most thrilling action in the Legend of Zelda series.
FEZ began and ended with a small development team, but the team changed and the game faced threats during its five-year creation. Phil Fish and Shawn McGrath thought of the game and began development together, but McGrath left early on. Fish had little time to develop FEZ because of his job with Artificial Mind and Movement. After FEZ was nominated for awards in 2008 and Artificial Mind denied Fish the opportunity to attend the awards ceremony, Fish quit, created his own company (Polytron Corporation), and dedicated himself to completing FEZ. He and Renaud Bédard—a programmer Fish found through DeviantArt—developed the excellent game. The indie company nearly went bankrupt but fortunately gained assistance from Trapdoor. After years of development, FEZ finally released in 2012.
2 Saints Row IV
The core mechanic of Saints Row IV—superpowers (which include scaling buildings with a single jump, sprinting at inhuman speeds, and telekinetic attacks)—was originally designed to be part of an expansion to Saints Row: The Third. The DLC pack, titled Enter the Dominatrix, was delayed and instead released as DLC for Saints Row IV a year later.
If the DLC had been developed and released as originally planned, Saints Row IV might have never come out. Fortunately, Volition recognized the brilliance of superpowers and decided to build a whole game around them. Saints Row is wonderful because of its open-ended gameplay; superpowers benefitted the franchise by improving exploration and combat in the open-world, action-adventure gameplay of Saints Row IV.
1 Operation Rainfall (Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower)
Despite amazing reception in Japan and Europe, Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower were not adapted for localization in North America. Fans of Japanese games raised a campaign, titled Operation Rainfall, to inform Nintendo of the high demand for these three masterpieces. Using letters, petitions, and “preorders” of the nonexistent North American copies, the campaign showed Nintendo how successful the games would be overseas. The campaign influenced Nintendo to release Xenoblade Chronicles while Xseed Games—a third-party publisher contacted through the campaign—developed Pandora’s Tower and The Last Story. All three games are more easily available to international fans thanks to Operation Rainfall. The fans behind the campaign now run oprainfall, a site dedicated to raising awareness for Japanese games that deserve international attention.