Glitches, bugs, programming mistakes – whatever you call them, they are present in nearly every game imaginable. Even big-budget AAA titles have glitches to be found if you know where to look. Sometimes, they’re harmless, amusing errors. In other cases, they break the game’s difficulty in ways the programmers didn’t intend. Then there are those glitches that break the game in the worst way imaginable.
They’re not always bad, though; in fact, it’s these imperfections that contribute to making the medium so endearing. In fact, certain glitches even get embraced by the creators wholeheartedly, and are subsequently turned into features. Though I can’t say I’ve ever encountered a glitch severe enough to irreparably damage my cartridge, like other enthusiasts, I have stumbled upon quite a few odd ones over the years.
Part of the reason I could attest to the game-breaking glitch in Super Mario Bros. 3 when I reviewed it last Sunday was because that happened when my brother and I played it back in the nineties. We made it all the way to World 5 only for the airship to relocate itself to the unreachable spot seen in the above screenshot. Needless to say, we were extremely frustrated that we had to shut down the game. The reason this one is notable for me personally is because it was the first time I recognized a game could be imperfect. I was so used to games doing the exact same thing each time in response to your actions that it never occurred to me that programming errors could exist in a finished product.
The first generation of Pokémon is probably the most universally beloved in the franchise. It has also aged rather poorly due to its terrible balance and rather dubious programming. To be fair, the latter of which is understandable given the hardware they were working with and the ambitious scope of the project. Even so, it’s actually kind of amazing in hindsight that people managed to get through those games without encountering a glitch at all.
I’m not one of those people, for as a kid, I got the bright idea to see if I could hold more than 99 of a single item. I quickly found out the answer is a resounding no. Weirdly, the game doesn’t prevent you from trying; I withdrew items after having 99 of them in my inventory. What happened next could only be described as the complete and utter collapse of the game world. Eventually, my character couldn’t move. Because I was brimming with excellent ideas, I decided to save in that position and see if resetting would restore order. Again, the answer was no. From there, I had to restart the game. The only silver lining is that it was back when I didn’t mind replaying games I really liked.
King’s Quest II is the game that introduced me to adventure games. In hindsight, it’s not particularly good, being a classic example of an adventure game made difficult due to its unduly cryptic nature. Even so, there is a particularly amusing glitch present in the pictured screen. The lake in the bottom-right corner of the screen is poisonous. Whether Graham attempts to swim in or take a drink from it, the result is the same: death. Drinking the water results in a unique death animation, but there’s one problem: the developers forgot to freeze Graham in place when it plays out. This means if you type “drink water” while moving and are close enough to the water, the death animation will play while Graham continues to move in that direction. Normally, this wouldn’t save him, but if you position him close to the edge of the screen, he will move to the next area before the death animation can complete itself, producing this bizarre result.
Graham is now floating on the poisoned lake while the death animation loops endlessly. As long as he’s in this state, he cannot actually die from the poison he ingested, and you can continue to move him around as though nothing is wrong – most commands still work in this state. The only downside is that attempting to proceed with the game will likely result in it crashing due to understandably having no idea what to do in this bizarre situation. Fortunately, you can take advantage of Graham’s newfound ability to float on water by making your way to the castle situated on the island of the poisoned lake without the ferryman’s assistance. The only downside is that if you haven’t made enough progress, you will have trapped yourself in a terrible situation because while the ferryman appears one screen south of the castle regardless of the game state, getting to him without immunity from the poisoned brambles is incredibly frustrating.
King’s Quest III is notable for casting an entirely different protagonist in the lead role. Gwydion is a slave to an evil wizard named Mannannan. His goal is to escape captivity and find out who he really is. Among the wizard’s possessions is a magic map, which teleports Gwydion to any screen of the overworld he has visited. Normally, usage of the map is disabled under certain circumstances. For example, you cannot use it to escape fatal situation such as falling off the edge of a cliff. However, there is one curious exception to this rule.
If Gwydion falls off the edge of a platform and survives, he will enter a dazed state for a few seconds. This is one of the situations for which the magic map is disabled, but the programmers didn’t account for every instance. In some screens, you can still bring up the magic map.
If you close the map rather than opt to teleport anywhere, Gwydion’s dazed animation continues to play endlessly. Like the above case with Graham getting poisoned, you can amusingly move him around normally, though the animation has a noticeably larger hitbox, precluding him from reaching certain areas. Unlike the above case, there is no practical reason to do this. Luckily, it’s simple enough to fix; simply use the map to teleport to a different screen and you’re good to go. On the other hand, you can glitch the game even further by attempting to climb the staircase in the final area, which will cause Gwydion to fall endlessly. Though amusing, this disables both the text parser and the map, rendering the game unwinnable.
So now it’s your turn.
What are some of the strangest glitches you’ve ever stumbled upon playing games? Bonus points if they’re not extensively documented.