Numbers 4 and 5
4. Daikatana (Eidos Interactive, 2000)
Platforms: Windows, Nintendo 64, GameCube
Sometimes ambitious projects are badly underplanned. I get that. And sometimes you end up with a little release-date slippage. I get that too. And sometimes the end result isn't quite what was expected. I definitely get that.
But in several respects, Daikatana set a new standard for gaming misfires. Legendary developer John Romero planned to top his earlier work on Doom and Quake by creating a first-person shooter with unprecedented game play and design. When work started in 1997, Romero expected the 24-level game, featuring a time-traveling storyline, to be done in about seven months. Those seven months became three years, with the most notable delay being the midproduction switch to a different game engine.
Little of that would have mattered if the game was any fun. Many of the people I spoke to listed this game as one of their personal worsts without hesitation, citing its stunning mediocrity. Some were also dismayed at the stereotypical nature of the characters, including that of an African-American man named Superfly Johnson. (One of the game designers defended Superfly in a 2002 Salon article.)
Considering the string of unimpressive demos released at various stages of production, maybe the end result shouldn't have been surprising. And considering the $25 million spent on development in the first two years ... well, let's just say that no one got what they paid for.
5. Pac-Man (Atari, 1981)
Platform: Atari 2600
Worst. Port. Ever.
When I was growing up in Montreal in the early 1980s, getting Atari games was something of a challenge--they simply weren't as readily available as in the United States, and the ones that did make it up here usually arrived at a later date. But I wanted--no, I needed to have the highly anticipated home version of Pac-Man, the hottest arcade game of its era. So on the Saturday after it came out, my family got into the car and drove 2 hours across the border to Vermont.
When we returned home, my best friend and fellow Atari disciple came over to witness the unveiling--and we were greeted by several degrees of awfulness. Nothing about this game looked, sounded, or felt the same as the arcade version; even Pac-Man himself wasn't his usual pie-with-a-slice-missing shape, and his trademark "wakka wakka wakka" had become a grating "bonk bonk bonk." The ghosts shimmered in and out of existence (like, er, ghosts), owing to the 2600's limited graphics capabilities. What should have been little white power pellets looked like stale Twinkies.
I went on to master the game because I owned it and therefore felt an obligation to do so, but I felt unclean every time I started it up. (The following year Atari released a vastly better home version of Pac-Man for the Atari 400 and 800 computer systems, but it still didn't make up for the company's earlier travesty.)
The 1981 Pac-Man gets a few more points on our badness scale for company arrogance: It seems that Atari figured that the mere thought of having Pac-Man at home would motivate people to buy consoles, as 12 million cartridges were manufactured--even though only around 10 million Atari 2600 consoles existed.