Ask Kotaku: What Was The First Game That Disappointed You?

Ask Kotaku: What Was The First Game That Disappointed You?
I have receipts. (Photo: Alexandra Hall)

It’s Monday, and that means it’s time for Ask Kotaku, the weekly feature in which Kotaku’s rank and file weigh in on the burning questions of our times. Sometimes serious, sometimes less so. Mostly it’s just another excuse to talk vidya games. You down?

This week on Ask Kotaku: What was the first game that disappointed you?


In the early ‘80s I would jump at the chance to go with my mother to our town’s Acme grocery store, because it meant I got a handful of quarters and a good half-hour to spend playing Pac-Man. There was another machine near the 7-Eleven down the street from our apartment, but it had cigarette burns and was often sticky with Slurpee residue. No, I needed the perfect, pristine grocery-store entrance machine. That experience, moving that yellow puck through mazes chased by colourful ghosts, made all of this [waves arms about indicating 14 years at Kotaku] happen.

Imagine how happy I was when I learned the game was coming out for the Atari 2600 in March of 1982. Imagine the bright red glow on nine-year-old Fahey’s face as he sat down in front of the TV in his father’s den, opened the box, and popped in the cartridge. Then imagine the bullshit above happening.

The best-selling Atari 2600 cartridge of all time, folks. This hideous, blomping, flashing, flickering, nigh-monochrome piece of arse. Programmer Tod Frye did the best he could with what little resources he had available, but damn. Give me K.C. Munchkin! for the Odyssey2 any day.


April 1992, and conventional scales could not measure my anticipation for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The day finally came. I got it! And I… finished it within 24 hours? While that’s what I remember, I honestly can’t say if it’s true… I’m become my own unreliable narrator. Maybe Jonathan Frakes can weigh in. But whatever the actual duration of my third jaunt through Hyrule, I was definitely let down by how quickly it ended, a disappointment that then coloured my feelings about a game I had till then absolutely enjoyed.

A more acute, formative disappointment occurred a bit later. As a huge fan of early SNES RPG Final Fantasy II (FF4), I was among the first, on [checks receipts] October 8, 1994, to plunk down a wacky $US85 ($118) for its long-awaited sequel, Final Fantasy III (FF6).

Didn’t love it. FF6 is a good game, and I even feel enough nostalgia that I’m planning a replay with some mods. But it was different in ways I wasn’t expecting, and failed to give me the same awed endorphin rush as its exalted predecessor. Maybe, I began to realise, investing too much excitement into future events — and smothering them in hard-to-meet expectations — is a recipe for disappointment.


In the early 1990s, I owned a Sega CD. I had Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, which I enjoyed, but I also got Kris Kross: Make My Video (I did not own Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch: Make My Video). I actually thought I could Make My Video, but instead, the game (such as it was) only let me cut up old nonsequitur footage of cowboys, ballroom dancers, cars jumping in the air, and a bear. It was possible to add effects to the footage, like pixelization. However, I was expecting more footage of Kris Kross from which to actually edit my own music video.

I guess it’s my fault for expecting more than the game or technology at the time could offer, because whatever I made seemed worse. When I finished making the video, I had to sit there and watch it, and I inevitably felt like what I had just made was just a screwed-up version of what had been a perfectly fine music video (see above). I think I only played this a handful of times — even crappy ports I got as a kid got more playtime than this!


I want to say Far Cry 5, because no game has let me down as much as Far Cry 5. But that would be altering my memories for the sake of a narrative, which I’m told is journalistically irresponsible. No, the true first disappointment is a 2003 Capcom game called P.N.03. I was in third grade, I think (maybe fourth), when it came out, looking for a slick, sci-fi escape from bullies who really didn’t feel like listening to a weasley kid talk about how freakin’ cool Groudon is. Instead, I got a tepid grayscale hallway that was somehow both painfully boring and brutally punishing. Is P.N.03 an actually difficult game? I don’t know. I was eight! Did it kick my arse a thousand times over and teach me that, hey, video games can be just as drab and mean as real life? Most definitely. Talk about a bummer of a wake-up call.


I was about seven or so when I got a PS1, which at that point was already on the way out. But I was a dumb kid and my parents knew I loved video games and didn’t need to have the latest. Plus I got more games because the older stuff was cheaper! Anyway, that’s how I ended up with a copy of Star Wars: Rebel Assault II on the original PlayStation. I loved Star Wars. I loved games. This seemed like a perfect match for me!

Wrong. Instead what I got was a weird on-rails shooter that mixed live-action and bad CGI to create boring and frustrating levels I could never beat. I distinctly remember a new feeling after playing it. Before this games were good and I played them and enjoyed them. Then I played this game that I was excited about, based solely on the cover and its connection to Star Wars, and I was no longer happy. It was then that I realised games could be bad, a wild concept to 7-year-old Zack.


The first game I ever fully purchased with my own money was 1994’s Tin Star for the SNES. I walked into the mall, bee-lined for EB Games, and scanned back and forth across the shelves until I finally found something I could afford. Tin Star looked colourful, it looked fun, and most importantly, I’d stared at a screenshot of it dozens of times because it was on the back of my SNES’ box. I might have been eight or nine at the time, which meant that I took it as an article of faith that no console manufacturer, especially Nintendo, would ever steer me wrong. If it was good enough to make it onto the SNES box, it was good enough for me.

And maybe Tin Star isn’t that bad if you have a fancy Super Scope 6 light gun. I sure didn’t. Without it, Tin Star is a trash shooting gallery where you move a cursor around to kill cowboys before they kill you. On my worn SNES gamepad it played like complete trash.

For about a day I was in denial about just how bad a purchase I’d made. Then my older brother took a crack and also quickly abandoned it, which is not a thing any of us ever did because we only bought like four games a year. Tin Star was the first game that ever made me realise games could be really bad. It would still be to this day the worst experience I’ve had with a bought game if I hadn’t at some point also purchased Battlefield Hardline because someone said it was like a Michael Mann movie (it was not).

Oof, this one still hurts. (Screenshot: Square Enix) Oof, this one still hurts. (Screenshot: Square Enix)


I used to only have a gaming laptop, which burnt itself out due to a design flaw in 2013. For my birthday, my friends all pooled their money and expertise to help me build my first gaming PC. We pored over parts and specs, and it was so exciting to go from asking “can I run this?” to “what games do I want to run?”

I built my PC with two then-forthcoming games in mind: Watch Dogs and the rebooted Thief. (Immersive sims! Stealth!) Neither game went over well with critics, Thief especially, which gave me some pause. But I persevered, buying Thief and feeling determined to make the most of it. I didn’t get far; it felt like half a stealth game, absent the experimentation and freedom that drew me to favourites like Dishonored and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. These days, a disappointing stealth game would be just that, but at the time, it was a carefully budgeted-for big game purchase and the guiding principle behind my whole setup. I resented it. I was angry at it!

Sometimes I think about finishing it, just to be sure I dislike it as much as I do, but I think my PC is better used on games that won’t disappoint me so much. (I didn’t like Watch Dogs much, either.)

Image: Square Enix Image: Square Enix


As I thought about my answer, I realised I don’t usually get “disappointed” in games. Disappointment belies an expectation that was not met, and I typically don’t set expectations for video games. Except for Kingdom Hearts.

Kingdom Hearts owned my arse from the moment I saw the “Simple and Clean” commercial at 16 years old. I had a shelf full of Final Fantasy games right next to Disney VHS tapes — a game that combined them? Tuh. Say less. Kingdom Hearts II came out my first year of college. I forwent buying a textbook so I could have enough for that game, and the BradyGames strategy guide, and the disc protection insurance. I was less enthused by the rest of the games in the Kingdom Hearts universe, largely because I didn’t own the consoles needed to play them (especially PSP’s Birth By Sleep). I missed out on those games and by the time they were compiled for the PS4, I was older and cared just a little bit less. I was simply waiting for KH3 to stun me speechless with its characters, story, and music the way its two predecessors did.

Then it didn’t. It was a mistake to play that game without playing the 623,000 games that came between KH2 and KH3, even though I consulted heavily with explainer videos and my friends who were deep into KH lore. Story points went over my head and the worlds were just boring to me. Frozen? Ew. I couldn’t finish it. It just wasn’t what I hoped it would be.


I can ignore a lot of awfulness in a game if there’s a small detail or gameplay quirk that I particularly enjoy. That’s why Beast Wars: Transformers, released on PC in 1998, remains such a traumatising memory for me. It took something I loved and butchered it to the point that not even the source material could save it in my eyes.

While Beast Wars: Transformers had all the makings of a terrible game — sloppy controls, awful graphics, a complete disregard for providing the player with anything resembling fun — its biggest sin has to be the way it treated the eponymous transformations. In the television show, the Transformers’ animal forms were just as important as their robot forms because it protected them from Energon, the radiation from which would fry even the strongest Maximal or Predacon. As such, the characters would often have to solve problems without the use of weaponry.

But the Beast Wars game throws all that out the window. Yes, Energon is present and, yes, your character’s beast form will protect them from succumbing to its influence, but that’s it. There’s no way to attack while in beast form and rarely does the transformation give a character access to a new skill or ability. it’s really just there as a cheap distraction while your Energon resistance refills. Needless to say, I was disgusted, and never gave Beast Wars: Transformers further playtime beyond the terrible 15 minutes it had already stolen.

Dramatic reenactment. (Screenshot: MobyGames / Kotaku) Dramatic reenactment. (Screenshot: MobyGames / Kotaku)


I can’t swear that Super Punch-Out!! was the first game that disappointed me. There might have been something bad on our Odyssey2, and I’m sure The Adventures Of Bayou Billy on NES were not as exciting as I’d expected them to be. But Super Punch-Out!! gave me that special sting of being a game that did not, at first button press, feel close to worth the money that I paid for it.

Games I played in my childhood were gifts from my parents. How disappointed could I really be in them? But Super Punch-Out!!… I paid $US60 ($83)? $US70 ($97)? Can’t remember. SNES games cost a lot then! But I paid for it with my own money from my own job that I worked on Fridays during my sophomore year in college, and this game seemed to suck. Health bars in my Punch-Out? I remember that really bothering me. The game just didn’t feel like the NES original and I wanted nothing of it.

I bought it from a now-defunct New York City electronics chain called Nobody Beats The Wiz, but they wouldn’t take it back even though I was trying to return it two hours after I bought it. It was out of the shrink wrap, they said. So I took it to a used game shop and told them my problem, hoping they’d give me decent money for it. They took the game into a backroom and it came back out shrinkwrapped. Here, they said, take it back to the store now. I took it back to the Wiz. I got a refund from the Wiz. I beat the Wiz. So this wasn’t entirely disappointing.

How About You?

Kotaku’s weighed in, but what’s your take? What was your first major gaming disappointment? The conversation continues below, so have your say. We’ll see you in the comments, and will be back next Monday to take on another no-doubt nerdy head-scratcher.


  • Buck Bumble for the N64. Game just plain sucked. Luckily I bought it second hand so only lost something like $30 on it.

  • I cannot, in good conscience, take seriously the opinions of someone who was disappointed by P.N.03, arguably the best Capcom 5 game that’s still a Gamecube exclusive.

    I think the most disappointing game I ever played was Heavy Rain for the PS3. I was expecting… a game, I guess? And what I got was Press X To Jason.

    • Heavy Rain, one of the best games I’ve ever played, absolutely a must-own for the PS3? You are both insane and small-minded about what a game has to be.

  • First disappointment is a really hard question to answer. If we were talking about arcades I’d likely say whichever variant of Street Fighter 2 one of the local takeaway places had, since it was pretty much impossible for young me to play and get anywhere in.

    If you were talking console / handheld, I’d say Batman Returns on the Gameboy. Loved the movie, and I got it for Christmas one year and it was one of those ‘over in an hour or less’ games.

  • Super easy answer. NBA Jam on the Gameboy. I must’ve been 11 or 12 or something.

    I had a NES and GB. My friends had SNESes and Mega Drives. We played NBA Jam together on those at their house, all the time. I was left hungry for more, every time.

    I’d been saving up my pocket money from chores to buy Road Rash, which was a $54 (in early-90s money – equivalent to $97 now) from Target. But when I got to the store, ready to fork over, I saw the new release: NBA Jam. All those good memories came to me of playing with friends, and I paid the extra for the $79 (now $141) premium title.

    None of the commentator sounds, none of the backboard-smashing effects, none of the screen-zipping action from passes, none of the responsive controls, pared back career options/no progression, characters were completely indistinguishable from one another… it was all around a giant pile of sluggish, blurry garbage.

    I had the deepest buyer’s remorse within minutes. The amount it had cost me, the time and effort I’d spent on saving for it… I actually cried. Fortunately, Mum took me back to the Target where I was able to get a same-day refund, and I bought Road Rash after all.

    And despite being a port down from the uber systems Road Rash GB was still great in its own right and frankly even holds up today on emulation. It earned its place in my holiday travelling gameboy game pack carry case.
    (Along with: Zelda, Wario 3, Kirby 2, Tetris, Gargoyle’s Quest, Mega Man, and Donkey Kong Country.)

  • If it was my first console game, it was probably a rental from block buster. I really enjoyed most games I played… slept since they were 2 day rentals, there was never buyers remorse.

    Most disappointing game…
    Monopoly the board game. I couldn’t understand how anyone in there life could enjoy that game let alone subject a family to that torture. I refuse to play it.

  • Almost every game in the last few years have been disappointing, basically just for being a money grab for a non-physical version (PC collectioons), with a questionable length (outer worlds is way to short), and the money grab dlc. So much of a disappointment in the last few years.

    • In short: you’re not a gamer and haven’t played jack s*** over the past few years, which explains why you are so completely clueless.

  • Buying any C64 game, getting it home, and discovering it was a text adventure and the box lied to you about what you were paying for (or you were a child and easily motivated by rad cover artwork instead of reading the blurb).

  • You know what they say about a fool and his money, Its even worse when you spend more for games that were highly hyped and turned into a pile of poopoo.

    i spent actual money on the special editions of Duke Nukem Forever, Aliens: Colonial Marines and Watch Dogs. I have never even finished playing A:CM and WD.

    To be fair though, the quality of the A:CM collectors edition is a lot higher than the game itself.

    • The f*** is wrong with you? Watch Dogs is a fantastic game, in fact I liked it more than Watch Dogs 2, which I played first.

  • I saved up so much damn money to buy a Gamecube and then even more to buy Spiderman (2002) because I was obsessed. It crashed on the first or second level.
    I bought a used copy a year later and same thing. I never got to finish the game, but luckily Spiderman 2 came out and filled that void in my teenaged self.

  • Imagine being dissapointed by both A Link to the Past and Final Fantasy VI. I was just disappointed FF VI didn’t get a PAL release at the time.

    • In short: you’re not a gamer and haven’t played jack s*** over the past few years, which explains why you are so completely clueless.

  • I suspect it’d be something flat out not working on my crappy 386 that was my first gaming disappointment.

    Deus Ex: Invisible War seems way too late in my gaming career to be my first disappointment of the games that actually functioned, but its certainly a memorable one. I think there are genuinely good elements in there, but back at release they were massively overshadowed by all the shortcomings and questionable design decisions.

  • I got into games late, but very early on I was spoiled by an absolute classic in Half-Life. I knew about HL2 and heard how amazing it was supposed to be and after how much I loved Half-Life I was really excited (even if HL2 by that stage was a pretty old game too).

    Disappointed here doesn’t mean it was bad, it wasn’t, but Half-Life blew my mind and after HL2 finished I just thought ‘that’s it?’.

    HL2 Episode 2 though absolutely made up for that disappointment, and it’s still a great game. I just think Half-Life did what I wanted from the Half-Life series better than Half-Life 2 did.

  • I was really, really careful with game purchases as a kid – mostly very cheap or free games (or pirated games) and sure-fire winners like Mario.

    I’m pretty sure the first really disappointing game I bought with my own money was Kingdom Hearts. I’d heard so much! People thought it was great! It… was a fairly limited menu-driven action RPG (a bad combination at the best of times) paired with a pretty dodgy world traversal mechanic and a bunch of really crummy Disney worlds. I’m told it gets better later, but honestly after the dodgy Wonderland level and then the Tarzan level, I gave up.

    Given where the series went – increasingly up its own intestine, with a penchant for final teaser scenes that it turns out they have no idea how they fit into the larger plot – I don’t feel like I’m missing out.

  • For me it was Depression Quest. Nathan Grayson told me it would be amazing. It was not. Not sure why he gave so much attention towards it.

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