4 Studios That Made Garbage Before Striking Gold
We all like a good comeback story – even when that's the story of a company responsible for terrible games that tricked us into giving them money. Making games is hard, and sometimes making a good game can be impossible even for incredibly hard-working and talented teams. It's time for us to share with our readers some heartwarming tales of studios that managed to avoid not just bankruptcy but to also bounce back from tragic failures and create some genuinely great games.
989 Studios followed up on the worst PS1 game with one of its best
The game that could've killed the company: Bubsy 3D
Bubsy 3D came out in 1996, just a few months after the release of Super Mario 64. Back then, universal video game law granted amnesty to all developers who made platformers that weren't as good as Super Mario 64 because it was just too damn good, so the developers of Bubsy 3D seemingly set out to make good use of that leniency to make a game that was the anti-Mario 64. When a game suffers from framerate issues, that's usually because the graphics are weighing the system down too much. That's interesting because Bubsy was one of the worst-running games on the original PS1 despite barely featuring graphics. Yeah, textures, the thing that the PS1 did much better than the N64 also seemed completely absent here.
If there's one good thing you can say about Bubsy 3D is that it doesn't crash, too bad that also leads to its biggest problem: the gameplay. Bubsy 3D doesn't suck because it failed to meet the standard set by Super Mario 64, it sucks in comparison to any other platformer in existence.
The unbelievable comeback: Syphon Filter
Interestingly, Syphon Filter also came out just a few months after the release of the original Metal Gear Solid, the genre-defining game of Syphon Filter's genre, but this time 989 Studios managed to pull a 180º turn to escape Bubsy's land.
On top of the great looks, Syphon Filter managed to create its own brand of stealth action, one that didn't need the shadow of Metal Gear Solid for anything.
989 managed to go from Bubsy to this in a mere 2 years, and, even though there was no way it would outsell Metal Gear Solid, it sure did outscore the PS1's stealth megahit in fringe reviewers like checks notes goddamn Gamespot.
The revival of Wolfenstein
The game that could've killed the company: Redneck Rampage
When a company makes a game called Redneck Rampage, they're at least being honest when it comes to setting the players' expectations, but the truth of the matter is that, well, Xatrix's Redneck Rampage is actually a pretty decent game. The big problem here is that when you make a game about a bunch of redneck stereotypes successfully fighting off an alien invasion, people tend to not take your studio's narrative capabilities very seriously.
And Xatrix was apparently aware of that. The studio quickly changed its name to Gray Matter Interactive Studios, the smartest sounding name a game developer could get, and went in a completely different direction.
The unbelievable comeback: Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Let's be real. The first game in the Wolfenstein series, Wolfenstein 3D, deserves legendary status because it invented the FPS genre, yeah, but boy it just doesn't look good by today's standards.
Wolfenstein only began looking really good in Return To Castle Wolfenstein.
On top of the awesome graphics and the sweet art style, we had a solid campaign that gave players so many different ways to kill nazis. It's also the only game in the series to feature an actually likable villain.
ROTW wasn't just a great game on its own, it went on to give birth to Enemy Territory, one of the first and most successful open source multiplayer mods of all time.
Final Fantasy Online
The game that could've killed the company: Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIV
Upon its release in ‘09, many saw Final Fantasy XIII as the lowest point in the series. Square Enix solved that by releasing the original Final Fantasy XIV, an even worse game. Don’t get us wrong, XIV replaced the infinite corridor the entirety of the previous game took place in with the vastness of an online open world, too bad that world was so broken its terrain tended to swallow players from time to time. XIII was a bad product, but it was bad by design.
XIV was unintentionally bad, and therefore a kind of bad no one could work with. Square Enix had no choice but to kill the project... for a while.
The unbelievable comeback: Also Final Fantasy XIV
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (the subtitle is a glorious inside joke) was a great comeback from Final Fantasy XIII as well as Final Fantasy XIV itself. Yeah, after pulling the plug on the project, Square did a serious overhaul on the game and then came back with a finished product. The new XIV had a slow start because, well, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice I'm gonna play World Of Warcraft, but once they got the ball running it grew so huge Square Enix ran out of digital copies to sell. The company deserves high praise for not just killing the project right there and then or for not force-feeding a terrible game on us (as they did with XIII).
From Software hit peak badness right before striking gold
The game that could've killed the company: Ninja Blade
Ninja Blade looks as cool as any game that's trying too hard to look cool can look, but it plays like a broken Ninja Gaiden fan mode – so basically Ninja Gaiden 3 by a different company.
At that point in time, Microsoft was hungry for Japanese exclusives, so they were happy to get this one and run with it, too bad its gameplay is the exact opposite of what we expect from a game made by the people responsible for Elden Ring. One of FromSoftware's biggest claims to fame was making boss fights fun again – perhaps even more fun than they'd ever been before. Ninja Blade was before that.
All bosses are poorly designed slogfests, meaning that they were even worse than the regular game. Oh, did we mention that the entirety of the game was plagued by ultra-flashy quick time events? Who doesn't remember and love those?!
The unbelievable comeback: Demons' Souls
Take a look at the boss fight above, the one where the main character glitches out so bad that the boss even seemingly stops his attack to see what the hell is happening, then give this one a watch:
Demon's Souls isn't a great comeback because it did away with all the awful quick time events and embarrassingly broken combat that destroyed Ninja Blade – it did that, yeah, but FromSoftware made both games more or less at the same time. It was an incredible comeback mostly because even FromSoftware wanted nothing to do with it. Yes, we once lived in a world where action games were free from the rule of the “soulslike” genre. That world came to an end when the then low-level worker Hidetaka Miyazaki, seemingly uninterested in making Ninja Blade 2, decided to dive into their discard pile to see if he could find something salvageable. He found Demon's Souls, the carcass of a project that the studio never managed to turn into anything worthwhile. It's hard to imagine how bad it must have been at that point, considering how they thought Ninja Blade was something worthwhile. Miyazaki asked if he could get free reign to tinker with Demon's Souls, and we all know the result.
Just kidding! Demon's Souls had to go through a lot before getting to where it is today. Originally, Demon's Souls only came out in Japan. Why? Well, upon first playing it, Sony's then boss, Shuhei Yoshida, said, “This is crap. This is an unbelievably bad game”. It was only after Sony saw the game getting a lot of traction among players and the import numbers go up all over the world that we assume they began considering that if Microsoft distributed Ninja Blade all over the world, then maybe Sony could take a chance with this one as well.
Top Image: Square Enix