It’s easy to see why publishers of PC game would want to port their most popular games to the console world. After all, a lot of gamers do not have the means or the patience to buy and maintain a gaming-level PC up-to-date. Even keeping a system good enough to run the latest blockbuster game at decent settings can be prohibitive for many reasons. PC gaming can be rewarding, but nothing beats consoles for simplicity. This crowd of console-only gamers is a sizable market which, money-wise, certainly deserves to be explored further.
The hiccup is that porting a game to a new system is a delicate process. In order for a game to run the same on every architecture, parts of the code need to be rewritten and assets need to be reworked. It is a lot of work which can be rewarding if done right. Unfortunately, a lot of ports were approached as quick ways to cash-in on an existing title’s name value instead of a dedicated project to be built from the ground up.
While some ports only end up with minor differences, others end up being slightly less than adequate, while a few are simply awful and have no reason to exist. Because we are fun like that, we will take a look at the last category. We are not claiming that these are the worst ports of all-time. However, the following games are all notable because they failed, in one way or another, to live up to the original product.
15 Sam & Max: Season One (Wii)
Sam and Max Save The World is a joyful adventure game full of charm and humour which features a detective dog teaming with a rabbit to solve a variety of crimes. The Nintendo Wii version is more or less the same thing, except that it adds several unnecessary obstacles to the experience. The lesser of the game’s problem is the awkwardness of using the Wii remote as a cursor. Some of the puzzles require a lot of accuracy and while the remote is neat when it comes to sports games or general shaking motions, it feels too floaty here. There’s also the cursor’s tendency to get jammed at the bottom of your screen if you accidentally point outside your television and the constant slowdowns every time you interact with an object.
The biggest issue with Sam and Max for Wii is its unfortunate habit of freezing in the middle of a puzzle, with the only solution being a complete reset of the console. The game’s autosave feature stops this port from being totally unplayable, although it is not for a lack of trying. Have I mentioned that the developers had to compress the textures to fit on WiiWare, giving the game an unpleasant fuzziness? Good writing can only take you so far.
14 The Orange Box (PS3)
The Orange Box just might be one of the best gaming bargains in recent history. For the price of a single game, Valve introduced the world to Team Fortress 2 and Portal, and just to sweeten the deal, they included Half-Life 2 as well as a brand-new episode of the game. That’s enough content to keep you playing for months. A lot of people are still playing Team Fortress 2 and that game was released nearly a decade ago! Gamers rejoiced, happy that Valve’s quality products could be enjoyed not only on PC, but also on Xbox 360. The Orange Box was also released on PS3, but it was a bit less enjoyable on that platform.
While Valve developed most versions, the PS3 port was handled by Electronic Arts. In an interview with the magazine Edge, Gabe Newell tried to simultaneously call the PS3 a “waste of everybody’s time” while assuring the console's owners that they would like his game. While most gamers would argue that the PS3 was at the very least a solid system, its version of The Orange Box did end up wasting the time of a lot of people. The biggest offender was the constantly dipping frame rate, the unusually long loading times, and the version’s continuous lack of patches for well-known bugs which had already been eradicated on PC and Xbox 360.
13 Myst IV (Xbox)
The Myst series has never been known for its blazingly fast gameplay. Rather, a good word to describe the games would be “contemplative.” This isn’t to say that Myst is bad. While not everyone agrees about just how well it aged, the original game and its sequels all enjoyed very favourable reviews on PC. The slow pace gave players plenty of time to enjoy the lush pre-rendered graphics and think over some of the games more difficult puzzles.
The Xbox version of Myst IV: Revelation took the meditative speed of the series to the extreme. The game stops to load every single time a player moves from one screen to another. That wouldn’t be a problem if a lot of actions could be accomplished at a time in a single place, but this is Myst we are talking about. The entire point is to explore, try your luck, backtrack to pick up something else, then go back to your original spot to attempt something different. The constant interruptions, coupled with the awkward cursor control, quickly turned annoyance to frustration.
12 DOOM (3DO)
While the 3DO failed to make its mark in the crowded console market of the mid-90s, it did produce some quality games over its three-years lifespan: the system gave birth to Gex, one of the many animals with attitudes that were so popular back then, but also featured arguably the campiest version of Jurassic Park. One of the most infamous game on the system also happens to be one of its worst.
In 1995, the influential shooter DOOM was ported to the fledgling system, but something went seriously wrong during development. The entire port was realized in ten weeks by a single coder, Rebecca Heineman. She explained later that she was lead to believe that the project only needed polishing, when in reality the entire thing had to be redone from scratch. The result is a game that suffers from frequent memory leaks, and which is inexplicably played only on a small part of the screen, surrounding the action with a wall of static brown texture. The tiny window showcasing the gameplay is somehow not enough to stop the frame rate from dropping when the screen gets too busy. The only thing that made this port worth it is the inclusion of a re-recorded soundtrack, but you thankfully do not need to play the game to experience it these days, as you can easy find it on YouTube.
11 Crysis 3 (PS3)
Crysis 3 for PS3 is a beautiful game which pushes the system to its limit. It is an amazing display of rich textures and stunning visuals. The realistic depictions of the different environments, the nature, the water, the torn-down cities, is simply striking. It is like a gorgeous painting which deserves to be admired and mulled over. Such is its shocking depiction of an imperfect future.
And then, as soon as you move your character, the perfection makes way for an unstable game with a choppy frame rate. The more happens on the screen, the more chaotic the performance becomes. Crysis 3 on PS3 suffers because most of its firefights are too much for the system to handle. The issue can be avoided if one somehow carefully stays away from anything which could cause the game to be exciting. The PC version is fun, but the PS3 port is shiny and not much else.
10 Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust (Xbox 360)
This is less about a single game getting a bad port than it is about an entire series being destroyed by a disgraceful game. While Leisure Suit Larry was never mistaken for a high-concept adventure, it certainly had its share of fans which praised the surprisingly strong gameplay and over-the-top sexual humour. It was popular enough that the PC-exclusive series managed to release six games in nine years, most of which were well-received critically, before going dormant.
In 2004, Magna Cum Laude was released simultaneously for PC, PS2 and Xbox. It received very mild reviews, but its follow-up went one step further and completely destroyed any good will the original PC series had left. The shockingly deep voice acting cast (Jeffrey Tambor, Patrick Warburton, and, uh, Carmen Electra, I guess) waddles through an ocean of bad jokes and stilted dialogue, while the gameplay has nothing in common with the brand of adventure that made the original series so well-regarded. The PS3 version still sits at an abysmal 17% on Metacritic and it’s no surprise that the series has not survived its foray into the console gaming world. A remastered version of the original, funded through Kickstarter in 2013, is the only reminder of what once was.
9 Duke Nukem 3D (Sega Genesis)
The Genesis version of Duke Nukem 3D has had a bizarre life. While the game is not bad if taken on its own, it carried the Duke name while missing most of what made the game unique. Sega’s 16-bits console was underpowered compared to most high-end computers of its time, but by the time the port came out in 1998, it was seriously trailing.
Released exclusively in Brazil, the game does its best to fit within the confines of a tiny Sega Genesis cartridge. The porting process has stripped the game to a simple Wolfenstein 3D look, with the vast environments turned into a series of corridors and right-angles. Most of the episodes have been cut, leaving only Episode 2, Lunar Apocalypse, as a playable option. Finally, the macho quips of the Duke are unrecognizable, since the voice clips have been compressed to hell.
Amazingly, the game was re-released worldwide by Piko Interactive in 2015. The retro developer acquired all the necessary rights to make the release possible, finally making this oddity available to any curious soul with a Sega Genesis.
8 Grand Theft Auto (Game Boy Color)
While the original Grand Theft Auto has lost a bit of its luster when compared to the most recent games in the series, there’s no doubt that it’s an influential game which offered an experience never heard of at the time, with clever missions and tight driving. When a Game Boy Color port was announced, skeptics doubted that the expansive city could be kept intact on the tiny handheld’s cartridge. Something had to give: either the graphics were going to suck or some materials had to be cut.
The results were… not too shabby. The graphics featured some nice pixel arts, and most of the missions made it through the conversion process. GTA on Game Boy Color looks good, but it falls apart as soon as you start driving. The cars were just too fast for the controls of console. Steering a car during a high-speed chase using the directional pad is a bust, as it is impossible to make a tight turn. A good turn will require you to back up in the middle of the intersection at least once and it’s entirely possible to get stuck in a back alley while taking a shortcut. The constant crashing into walls and other cars make the driving missions almost unplayable. Considering that most of Grand Theft Auto is nothing but driving missions, it’s a bit of a bummer to say the least.
7 Jagged Alliance (Nintendo DS)
My brother had a serious Jagged Alliance addiction for a while. The unique mix of tactical team managing and turn-based action kept him glued to the family computer for a long time. I didn’t mind sitting next to him to watch, as the game had a strong resources management element and I had a lot of fun suggesting different combinations of mercenaries for him to pick from the detailed cast. When the game was ported to Nintendo DS, he bought it without asking any question.
Unfortunately, the handheld version lacks the personality of the original. The main gameplay is still there, but a lot of the game’s quirks are gone, depriving the product of its uniqueness. The item management has been dumbed down, and the touch screen controls are unresponsive. The maps are so zoomed in that you simply cannot see everything you need to at the same time, giving the AI countless occasions to sneak up on your team if you forget to manually scan the map at every turn. Navigating these wide regions using only the D-pad is tedious at best and downright frustrating at worst. The ugly, highly compressed graphics will make you wish that the memories had been left alone.
6 Ultima VII (SNES)
The Super NES version of Ultima VII had so many constraints put on the project that it’s a wonder they bothered to port the game at all. Let’s start with the technical aspect: The PC version of the game had the luxury of using twenty times more memory than its SNES counterpart, meaning that most maps and items had to be remade. The game engine had to be redone entirely. Even the gameplay was changed. While the PC version gives you an entire party to journey with, the SNES port turns the game into a Legend of Zelda lookalike, making your character venture alone, exploring the world map and swinging his sword along the way.
Nintendo’s notorious censorship policies of the time also affected the main story: the game originally asks your character to investigate the murder of two characters, but Nintendo thought that the word “death” was too unpalatable. Therefore, the port version turns the murder victims into mere kidnapping victims, because if there’s one thing Nintendo likes, it’s kidnapped people needing to be saved. With most of the features that made the game unique removed, the final product is Ultima in name only.
5 Max Payne (PS2)
The Playstation 2 version of Max Payne wasn’t terrible when compared to some of the stinkers on this list. The problem is that when compared to the PC original, there are a few omissions which make the port deficient. It is not unplayable, it is simply the lesser version in every way. Let’s start with the lack of saving: the PC version allows you to save at any time, which is a necessity in a game with intense shooting sequences such as Max Payne. The PS2 version forced you to save in specific spots, creating frustration when death occurred after a particularly harrowing section.
The memory limit of the PS2 also forced the developers to separate the levels into smaller sections, so that they could be loaded independently and save on memory. It wouldn’t be so bad if the places in which they were cut made any sense, but the broken-up sections significantly altered the flow of the game because of the significantly longer loading time. If you had a computer available at all, even at the lowest settings possible, choosing the PC version was a no-brainer.
4 Quake 64 (Nintendo 64)
Quake 64 was inferior to the original in every way. Only 25 levels out of 32 were included, and those included have to be played through a significant slowdown which affected not only the general speed of your character, but also the enemies’ AI. The graphics were muddied up because of the Nintendo 64’s limitations, changing the detailed (at the time) textures for gross approximations. The multiplayer mode was similarly limited, only allowing two players at a time to compete in deathmatches, when most of its contemporaries allowed up to four players on the same console.
The biggest sin committed by Quake 64 is the removal of Trent Reznor’s awesome soundtrack. Instead of the industrial, atmospheric masterpiece included on the PC version, the 64 port instead offers a generic and completely forgettable synthesizer riff on the original. It is unclear if that was done due to the console’s inability to emulate proper music (as exemplified by many different titles over the years) or simply because the developers had to cut space, but the soundtrack’s absence definitely makes the experience a lot less memorable.
3 Starcraft 64 (Nintendo 64)
When designing the port of Starcraft for Nintendo 64, Blizzard decided to go all-out instead of cutting half of the content as was tradition until then. Starcraft 64 includes the full game, the expansion Brood War AND a new set of missions called Resurrection IV which was unavailable in the PC version. What a bargain! Of course, including so much content on a cartridge meant that the Expansion Pak was required, and that despite the extra memory to work with, the game’s graphics would be severely downgraded. The same goes with the audio, limiting the soundtrack to two shortened versions of each races’ themes. Blizzard’s effort was admirable, but the game simply couldn’t overcome the clunky control and unintuitive user interface. Trying to control your units and creations in a timely fashion is nearly impossible with the N64 controller, making an already tough game extra difficult.
Hindered by its shortcomings and the shadow of its better playing big brother, Starcraft 64 sold poorly, making the game one of the rarest on Nintendo 64. A complete version, even in poor condition, will often fetch upwards of $150 to this day.
2 Dragon’s Lair (NES)
While technically an arcade game first and foremost, I am including the once revolutionary Dragon’s Lair as the success of its home computer version is what inspired publisher MotiveTime to attempt an NES port seven years after the original was released. Dragon’s Lair, in its original form, was an animated movie made interactive only in a few places. These quick-time events made the bulk of the game, but the story was funny and the animations were just so damn pretty that it became a success. Of course, a game which relies on Disney-level animation would need to downgrade its visuals to be compatible with mid-80s era computers. As for the venerable NES, even in 1990, it was completely unable to produce anything resembling even an approximation of the original.
The NES version of Dragon’s Lair keeps the same story as its predecessor, but the similarities end there. The adventure game was transformed into a platformer and the reflex-based gameplay was replaced by awkward jumping and slow movements. The game’s difficulty was also legendarily bad, with most enemies being able to kill Dirk the Daring in a single hit. Since your character was only given five lives to start with, and the game lacked checkpoints, it was nearly impossible to see the end of the game.
1 Prince of Persia 2 (SNES)
The first Prince of Persia, released in 1989, was ported successfully to SNES in 1992. The game featured better graphics and extra levels, to the delight of fans everywhere. When Prince of Persia 2 was released in 1993 for PC, another SNES port had to be expected following the first one’s favourable reviews. Two years later, in 1995, the sequel was finally ported to Nintendo’s 16-bits console, and the results were… disappointing, to say the least.
Not only are several movie sequences missing from the game, entire levels have been taken out. The original featured fifteen levels, culminating with a battle against your nemesis Jaffar. The SNES version decides to call it quit at level 13, throwing Jaffar at you as an afterthought, just because “Oh yeah, guess we need a final boss.” The battle is the definition of anti-climactic, but chances are you might not even make it there anyway. Prince of Persia 2 is a very glitchy game, but the biggest bug of them all completely crashes the game. The bug is hard to dodge too, because it is triggered by the death of a specific regular enemy, which you would assume needs to be dispatched like all of the other faceless guards.
While the first game’s port was handled by Arsys Software, the sequel was developed by Titus, which is a name famous to Nintendo fans, and not necessarily for the quality of their work.