Tuesday’s Top Ten: Vaporware


Introducing a new feature here on Retro-ish Gaming Critic—the Tuesday’s Top Ten.  Each week we’ll go through a list of the top ten something-or-others relating to video games.  This week, we’ll look at the top ten games that became vaporware.  Some you’ll have heard of, some you might not, but I dare say the following games will be missed by at least some of us.

10. V.B. Mario Land
The Virtual Boy is an odd duck in Nintendo’s console history.  It was slated to be a compact “virtual reality” machine and displayed images in a red-and-black monochrome scheme.  Though that color selection was for the best clarity, many people found it ugly.  Then there were the headaches that it caused in some people.  Adding to those issues was it’s comparable lack of portability, that it was released before having anywhere near a decent library of games, and because it flopped so hard in Japan and North America, it was never exported to Europe or Australia.

Yet it had potential, which was almost realized in Mario Land.  Though not much is known about it, you can get a hint in these screen shots.  What is know is that it was supposed to push the Virtual Boy’s limits to produce an environment closer to being truly “three-dimensional” than any title on the system previous.  It was also supposed to have featured Wario and and include a three-dimensional version of Mario Bros. It’s not confirmed, but it’s possible that elements of the title were implemented in Mario Clash.

By all accounts, the Virtual Boy came this close to being a “real” system, something as respected as Nintendo’s other systems.  V.B. Mario Land might well have helped catapult it into that status.

09. Legacy of Kain: The Dark Prophecy
The Legacy of Kain franchise was always a little bit different.  You had what is more or less a few expected elements—a gothic-punk setting, vampires, bad English accents, and so on.  Yet it was always a bit different.  The first game, Blood Omen, followed Kain as he became a vampire and soon found himself embroiled in the politics of the undead.  The second game, Soul Reaver, followed a new protagonist, Raziel, betrayed by Kain and seeking revenge.  There were three more sequels, the whole attempting to weave together an interesting plot.  Over all, the series was received rather well.  It was almost a no-brainer, then, that there would be another title.

Only a few months into development of the sixth entry, The Dark Prophecy, it was canceled for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.  Thankfully, one intrepid forum poster uncovered a treasure trove of information.  The series hasn’t died, of course, but one just has to wonder what happened with this title.  With what we have so far the game looks like it was going strong.  At the end of the day, we’re left wondering what might have been.

08. Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of Gaia
Werewolves have always been popular in movies.  There are dozens and dozens just with “werewolf” in the title.  They’ve also been popular in table-top role-playing games, with them appearing, usually playable in some fashion, in nearly every table-top role-playing game known.  I think it’s inarguable to say that their most famous table-top appearance was in their own line of White Wolf games, Werewolf: The Apocalypse.

That franchise became so popular that, following the success of sister-franchise Vampire: The Masquerade‘s video game adaption Bloodlines, White Wolf decided to try turning another of their properties into a video game.

Then, well—developer DreamForge Intertainment ran into problems with the publisher, and eventually had to close its doors as a whole while Heart of Gaia was still being developed.  It was a particularly disappointing loss, since it could have shown whether having a werewolf protagonist would have been financially successful.  As it stands, there’s been a dearth of such things, with one of the sole exceptions being a game still in development, Lone Wolf.  Fans of werewolves can only hope the property gets picked up and used sometime by another developer.

07. Robotech: Crystal Dreams
The Robotech franchise is an old one, to be sure.  Premiering in the United States in ‘Eighty-Five, the series was an anime import, dealing with an ongoing battle between humans and various alien species.  It was one of the first glimpses North Americans had of a cartoon show with a mature theme, even set as it was in a world of transforming jet-robot-things.  Something of a “cult hit”, it gained momentum and spawned novels, comic books, and more—and the franchise is still going strong to this day.

The first attempt to bring the franchise to video game consoles was Crystal Dreams, slated for the Nintendo 64.  It was plowed under with problem after problem, and eventually its developer and publisher, GameTek, closed down.  Thankfully you can still find images, videos, and more.  Also thankfully, other Robotech games have since managed to make it onto the market where they were at least moderately successful, so if nothing else, it’s been proven that adapting the franchise to the video game world is financially viable.

06. StarCraft Ghost
When StarCraft Ghost was first announced, fans rejoiced.  StarCraft, though adequately described as “Warcraft in space”, gained incredible popularity, incredibly quickly.  It became one of the games for L.A.N. parties, alongside the tried-and-true Counter-Strike, and is still to this day a successful professional sport.  While its successor, Ghost, would have been a platformer/shooter, hopes were still high.  We would have thrown money at Blizzard no matter what, really.

Then—Blizzard pulled the plug. Despite saying that it’s not technically “canceled” so much as “not focused on”, this is Blizzard we’re talking about, so we all know that Ghost will likely never see the light of day.

05. Ace Attorney 5
In the world of visual novels, the franchise that is arguably one of the most popular ones is the Ace Attorney series.  Nearly everyone recognizes the protagonist, one Phoenix Wright, even if they don’t know where he comes from.  Most people with a Nintendo D.S. and even the slightest interest in the genre have played at least one of the games, which are pretty popular around the world.

The fifth entry was mentioned in passing at a presentation to financial analysts in Tokyo in ‘Oh-Seven, and there’s been nothing since.  Naturally, game-news sites around the Internet picked up on that little slip and hunted down what little information there was, but it was not to be.  There hasn’t been a peep about that game since, and the developer has moved on to what’s been tentatively titled Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth 2, where it is presumed, like its predecessor, you will control Edgeworth in a sprite-based point-and-click adventure.  Another case of wondering just what the game could have been like.

04. Metroid: Dread
Some younger gamers out there might not believe it, but the Metroid series started way back in the N.E.S. days.  The franchise—or at the very least, Samus, the protagonist—has been on nearly every console possible.  Samus’ perhaps most well-known appearance outside of her own titles was in Super Smash Bros.

Interestingly, while the early games let you believe Samus was male (the manual for the first game going so far as to refer to her as male) until the very end, in her more recent outings it’s been obvious from the start in one way or another, whether seeing her without her suit in an opening cut-scene or giving her rather feminine-looking armor.  Apparently, they were about halfway through the first game when one of the developers noted it would be interesting to discover that the protagonist was female all along (remember that butt-kicking female action heroes were few in those days).  The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Then came Metroid: Dread.  First mentioned in the Metroid Prime series, fans have been clamoring for information, and with every new title fans wonder if it’s Dread by another name.  When Other M was announced, Nintendo went out of their way to mention that it was not, in fact, in any way, shape, or form related to anything that might have been created for Dread.  Eventually they admitted that Dread was “shelved indefinitely”, leaving fans to wait and wonder.

03. Star Fox 2
As a franchise, Star Fox has been closely involved with a few important aspects of gaming history.  When it debuted on the Super Nintendo system, it was the first to be three-dimensional.  Further, while the graphics look dated today, for the time they were so complex that the cartridge came with the Super FX chip that was incredibly powerful, and Star Fox was the first one to use it.

There have been plenty of entries in the series, but one was conspicuously absent.  Unlike the others on this list, Star Fox 2 was actually completed when it was shelved.  Some of the ideas in that one ended up in Star Fox 64 but not many.  According to programmer and designer Dylan Cuthbert in the linked interview, the reason for canceling the project was to focus on the Nintendo 64, but it still makes one wonder why the game hasn’t been released, even for the Wii.

02 Freedom Fighters 2
Freedom Fighters was, if not quite a revolution, certainly the measuring stick by which other tactical shooters—if not action-oriented games in general—should have been held up to.  It received terrible marketing, but still managed to be a “sleeper hit”.  Gamers ate it up, and all but begged for a sequel.

That sequel was announced by Eidos in ‘Oh-Four, and since then—nothing.  At all.  Even when the developers were asked directly about it, all they could say was “no comment”.  That I.O. Interactive swiftly moved on to Kane and Lynch and other titles afterward hasn’t helped.  At first, prospects for Freedom Fighters 2 were unclear.  Now?  I think the lack of attention given by the developers is answer enough.  It’s sad because of how just plain good the original was.  It deserved a sequel.

01 Duke Nukem Forever
You knew perfectly well this was going to be the number one title.  On every list of any site relating to anything even approaching vaporware, Duke Nukem Forever is always number one—with justification.  There’s a good reason why things like a list of accomplishments that have occurred since the original announcement was created and passed around the Internet more often than pictures of cute kittens doing silly things.

I’m quite sure that there’s someone who would love to point out that it finally has a release date.  To that, I would like to point out that it’s been delayed.  Again.  After almost fourteen years, at this point, the only sensible stance a gamer can take is that we’ll believe in it when it’s sitting on the store shelves.

That isn’t the only reason it’s in the top spot.  The primary reason is fourteen years.  With all the hype at the time combined with fan expectations and hopes, there is no way in heck the game can possibly live up to what we want it to be.  It’s just been too long, we’ve been strung along far too much, and our hopes have been raised too high.  Either we’ve already set the thing on a pedestal simply because it seems to finally exist, or we’re so jaded we might not be able to give the title a fair shot.

Even if—and of course, we must stress if—it finally comes out, it will still, for all intents and purposes, be vaporware.  There’s just no way it can be what we want it to be, what we expect it to be.  We may finally, at long last, hold it in our hands—but it won’t be what we want it to be.  The Duke Nukem Forever we want and expect will still be vaporware.

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