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Once More, with Weirdness: 8 of the Strangest Ports in Video Game History

Ports of popular games are a normal fact of the industry, unless said port is just odd.

Feature by Nadia Oxford, .

When a video game experiences a successful release (or when developers anticipate a successful release), ports to other systems typically follow. While some ports are as expected as water at a beach-a non-exclusive PlayStation 4 game coming to the Xbox One, for example-others make us double-take.

Some of these unorthodox ports are good. Some are bad. Others simply Should Not Be. We've rounded up eight of the strangest ports to hit everything from Japan-exclusive computers to Tiger-manufactured hunks of plastic junk justifiably left to die in the deserts of game history.

Street Fighter II (Game Boy, 1995)

Some console-to-Game Boy ports are mysterious for simply existing. They arouse the question "...But why?" I suppose the answer is obvious (Hint: "Money, Mr Squidward!"). At any rate, projects like Street Fighter II for the Game Boy are interesting to look back on. Here's a game optimized for six-button controls and roomy battle arenas, all whittled down to two-button controls and one of the teeniest screens in gaming history.

Unsurprisingly, Street Fighter II for the Game Boy makes a lot of compromises: Your move strength is determined by how hard you press the Game Boy's buttons (talk about a flashback to the pressure pads from the original Street Fighter), the roster of challengers is thinned out, and there aren't even unique endings for each character-just a generic "Congratulations!" when you lay Bison flat. The character sprites, while well-rendered, are over-large and take up too much of the Game Boy's sparse visual real estate. I also admire how this port utilizes character portraits from Super Street Fighter II, but none of the New Challengers show up to duke it out with Ryu and the (diminished) gang.

Several iterations of Street Fighter II were on the Super Nintendo by 1995, and the Super Nintendo itself was hardly cutting-edge tech by that time: Acquiring a 16-bit copy of the game and a console to play it on wouldn't have been difficult. Maybe some kids were just that desperate to play Street Fighter during the long ride to grandmother's house. Or maybe they were entranced by the admirable Game Boy chiptune adaptations of Street Fighter II's classic songs. You know what, I can respect that.

Console Ports of DOOM (SNES, Jaguar, 3D0, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, mid-1990's)

Running DOOM on low-spec hardware is an inside joke with game players: Kind of the inverse of asking "But can it run Crysis?" Nowadays you can literally get DOOM to run on a laser printer, but there was a time when id Software's revolutionary 3D shooter gave console game developers big headaches. Back then, the gold standard for console DOOM ports was-get this-the Atari Jaguar version. Every sinner has at least one good deed chronicled in the Book of Life.

YouTube channel Stop Skeletons from Fighting has an informative breakdown of DOOM's console growing pains. The problems developers faced range from expected (problems securing the original game's source code) to the unbelievable (the CEO of the company in charge of porting the game to 3D0 literally thought the job involved copying and pasting the game's music and graphics from the PC to a 3D0 disc). Oh, video games. You want us to forget your awkward teenage phase, but all your humiliations are archived for everyone to laugh at.

Super Mario Bros Special (NEC PC-8801, 1986)

Pardon, were you about to extoll the superiority of computers' processing power over home consoles back in the day? Denied. Let's take a step back to the '80s with Hudson Soft's efforts to port the classic platformer Super Mario Bros to Japan's NEC-PC88 computer. While Hudson Soft was no fly-by-night developer and it tried its best, Super Mario Bros Special is one awkward piece of work.

The primary problem is the NEC-PC88's inability to scroll the screen from left-to right. Instead, Mario travels from one static screen to the next-not a great way to play a platforming game. But when you finish laughing about how terrible the whole thing looks and sounds, you begin to see a Super Mario "sequel" with some interesting new power-ups and level design ideas that honestly would've made for a decent mid-'80s action experience. C'est la vie, Mario.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Nintendo DS, 2007)

Like Street Fighter II for the Game Boy, the Nintendo DS port of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is another esteemed entry in the "Err, yeah, sure, why not" school of game ports. And, like Street Fighter II for the Game Boy, Modern Warfare for the DS is more or less "OK." It does have one unfortunate quirk: As a game from the beginning of the Nintendo DS's lifespan, you're expected to control the 3D action with the touch pad. It didn't work well for Super Mario 64, and it doesn't work very well here, either (anyone remember that thumb-stylus Nintendo packed with the DS in hopes touch-screen analogue controls would catch on?).

While this iteration of Modern Warfare lacks online multiplayer over the DS's rickety infrastructure, you can still get together with pals for some solid local multiplayer action.

Crazy Taxi (Game Boy Advance, 2003)

For much of the early aughts, the Game Boy Advance was gaming's Jurassic Park. Developers ported games to the little handheld to see if they could without really stopping to wonder if they should. The result is a library of fuzzy-looking 3D GameCube / PlayStation 2 / Dreamcast ports that were ambitious if nothing else. Again, Stop Skeletons from Fighting has a great breakdown of these lawless experiments.

For my cab money, nothing says "Game Boy Advance port" like Crazy Taxi. The low-res graphics, the muffled voice clips, the compromised soundtrack (no Offspring or Bad Religion here)-it's all so quintessentially GBA. It's also pretty good! I wouldn't recommend Crazy Taxi GBA over its console brethren, but the Crazy Taxi formula generally lends itself well to bite-sized gameplay sessions. Awriiiiight!

Resident Evil 2 (Tiger Game.com, 1998)

You might be tempted to think Tiger Electronics' Game.com handheld was something an apparition screamed about in one of your fever dreams. Nope, it was a real thing. It just died in record time because it was poorly-made, to say the least. Believe it or not, this molasses-slow black-and-white port of Resident Evil 2 is amongst the very best offerings in Game.com's paper-thin library. Its death was a blessing.

Rockman & Forte (Wonderswan, 1999)

Rockman & Forte / Mega Man & Bass came exclusively to the Super Famicom in 1998, and a Game Boy Advance port followed in 2002. Said GBA port isn't very good, but it's generally unremarkable. The 1999 Rockman & Forte port for Bandai's Wonderswan handheld, however, is bad and weird.

There are enough Mega Man games in the world to fill a classroom, and Rockman & Forte for Wonderswan is the left-back student who sits in the corner and eats paste. The game, which is developed by Bandai under license from Capcom, is difficult to control, and the Robot Master weapon-weakness mechanic that defines the series is absent (all weapons dish out the same amount of damage). The unusual sprite work just ties the whole package together-but we're talking about a package filled with furious late-summer wasps. Mega Man X, this is not.

Bioshock for iOS (iOS, 2014)

In the year 2014, mobile games were big news. Investors and journalists wondered if a console-free future filled with Apple tablets was imminent. Answer: Nah. Though 2K's classic adventure game BioShock arrived on iOS with excitement and fanfare, people quickly realized the folly of paying $14.99 USD or more for downsized battery-gobbling mobile ports of console games.

BioShock for iOS also came out around the same time as iOS 8-a system update that played merry hell with games parked on the App Store. Thousands of titles broke, and when applied fixes simply broke again whenever Apple rolled out another update, many developers opted to just pull their mobile ports. 2K put a gun to BioShock iOS's temple and pulled the trigger when iOS 8.4 broke it beyond repair a mere year after its release. Good night, Big Daddy. Good night, all hopes of console-quality mobile gaming.

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Comments 16

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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #1 Godots17thCup 3 months ago
    Ha, the first thing I thought of when I saw this article was, "Ooo, this all sorta sounds like Punching Weight!", only for Stop Skeletons from Fighting to get name-dropped a couple of entries in.

    Anyway, good stuff as always, Nadia. It's always interesting, and often baffling, to hear about all of the weird and unnecessary ports that have popped up over the medium's history; I completely forgot about all of those Call of Duty games Activision brought over to the DS.Edited August 2018 by Godots17thCup
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #2 MetManMas 3 months ago
    The Game Boy Advance had a lot of crazy stuff. Jet Grind Radio also had a GBA version as an isometric 3D adaptation with tank controls, and Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars was ported sans voice acting and animated cutscenes.

    Still not as crazy as the Game Boy Color, though! Dragon's Lair was on the handheld, not as a platformer but as a "redrawn for GBC" adaptation of the arcade QTE cartoon.



    Then there was the Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare's GBC port, which was the spiritual successor to the ambitious but cancelled Resident Evil 1 GBC port. Not a particularly good game, but a real looker and an impressive feat.Edited August 2018 by MetManMas
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  • Avatar for nimzy #3 nimzy 3 months ago
    Splinter Cell got ported to the N-Gage.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #4 link6616 3 months ago
    Awww no sonic n? The half as long version of sonic advance for Ngage?

    More seriously, I thought we all had agreed the touchpad for aiming in MP Hunters and various FPSs was a good thing?
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #5 Funny_Colour_Blue 3 months ago
    I want to chime in since Street Fighter 2 for the gameboy was mentioned: A neat tidbit about the game; if you put it into a super gameboy, it becomes a 2 player game, with borders that change depending on which stage you're fighting in (If you're fighting Blanka, Blanka's Brazil stage becomes the super gameboy border etc.)

    But like as Nadia mentioned, why would you want to play a 2 player version of street fighter on the super gameboy when you could own the actual cart?

    …I kind of have an answer to this actually - growing up when we finally got an SNES, we got the SNES that came with the Super GameBoy, because a year prior to that, we got 2 gameboys for Christmas - the idea was that, If we were going to get a new game console, we'd at least have gameboy games to play on it, before saving up money to buy new games for the SNES.

    Now here's where it gets interesting: My brother owned a copy of mortal kombat II for the gameboy - while regarded on the "internet" as one of the worst ports for the franchise - we didn't care, it was the 90s, we played the hell out of the game. It had less levels and less characters than the console ports, but it was easier to playthrough, the special moves were even easier to perform than the ones found in street fighter 2 for the gameboy.

    Years later, our older cousin would eventually giveaway his games to us and one of the games he owned was Mortal Kombat II for the SNES - But up until that point, we were sort of training for it on the gameboy.

    Looking back at these ports, context really is everything here. Like Dragon's Lair for the GBC maybe be a really weird port. But for those of us who never owned a high end computer or a laser disc player, it was like the next best thing. There's something to be said about owning a smaller, more portable versions of the games that you love.Edited August 2018 by Funny_Colour_Blue
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #6 Vonlenska 3 months ago
    That Crazy Taxi GBA gameplay video simultaneously reignited and killed my love for that little system.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #7 MetManMas 3 months ago
    @Funny_Colour_Blue Yeah, pretty much the main reason you'd play the Game Boy Street Fighter II on SNES is if you already had that cart before getting a SNES and Super Game Boy. And lest we forget, games were still pretty dang expensive back then, especially cartridges for the 16-bit consoles. Game Boy games were also cheaper than your average SNES release.

    Of course there was always the 90s rental market. I didn't own a Street Fighter game until years later, but I did rent it a lot.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #8 Funny_Colour_Blue 3 months ago
    @MetManMas Yes! i wanna quickly elaborate on this further, cause what I said wasn't quite right and I actually remember now, when I actually saw street fighter 2 for the gameboy on TV:

    There was a show up here in Canada called "Video Arcade Top 10" (Nadia did an article on this) on Channel 25 where 4 kid contestants in Toronto, would compete for highscores and prizes, while show hosts would divulge more information on video games, such as special moves, cheat codes and the game's plot and characters, - This show sounds kind of crazy on paper right? But it will make sense to anyone watching this show growing up. Because back then, beside video game magazines, before the internet and G4TechTV, this is all video gamers had in Canada.

    Anyways! between 95 and 96, there was a really weird time where, after Donkey Country 2 came out, fewer and fewer SNES games were being released for the system and were still really expensive.

    So Video Arcade Top Ten would broadcast new gameboy games that were compatible with the super gameboy…And Street Fighter II for the gameboy was one of those games on the show!

    If you need a further explanation as to why this game exists in 1995, You're asking yourself the wrong questions here: It's not "Why would anyone want to own Street Fighter 2 for the gameboy?" It's "Wow, The Gameboy can play Street Fighter 2? Is there anything the gameboy can't do??"Edited August 2018 by Funny_Colour_Blue
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  • Avatar for Outrider #9 Outrider 3 months ago
    @MetManMas There's also a GBA port of Super Monkey Ball which is surprisingly very very good.
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  • Avatar for Outrider #10 Outrider 3 months ago
    I'm not even kidding when I say that this topic is like... one of my favorite things to read about in gaming. I love seeing how developers tried to adapt a game for modern hardware and put it on a much weaker platform.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #11 MetManMas 3 months ago
    @Funny_Colour_Blue Oh yes, the Game Boy Street Fighter II is definitely a product of its age. It may not be the best port, and portability may run counter to competitive two player play (i.e. finding someone with both the same portable and same game as you), and it may be a port comprised for screen size/cart space/button lack, but it was still a portable version of Street Fighter II.

    It may be obsolete now that people can carry around a few arcade's worth of Street Fighter machines on a Nintendo Switch,* but these fighters being portable at all was still a pretty big deal back then.

    * Speaking of, hopefully we won't have to wait too much longer for some good third party JoyCons made specifically made for fighting games.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #12 MetManMas 3 months ago
    @Outrider And ChuChu Rocket! was a launch game for the Game Boy Advance. Still one of my favorites on the platform.
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  • Avatar for jimgamer #13 jimgamer 3 months ago
    This made me think of the late ‘80s UK computer scene when arcade conversions were a weekly source of despair. The Spectrum isn’t even worth discussing given its sound and color capabilities, but C64 ports of Space Harrier, Out Run, Rastan, Paperboy were just shocking. Thankfully some ok ones were around as well (Green Beret, Renegade, Salamander, Ghosts n Goblins, Alien Syndrome, to name a few). Huge respect to the coders trying to pull some of these things off, but the publishers had some serious stones trying to cash in on their IP this way.
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  • Avatar for yuberus #14 yuberus 3 months ago
    I think my favorite "good god why" ports not mentioned might be Street Fighter II for the c64 (my god, it's a mess), and Ikari Warriors for the 2600 (not bad, but barely Ikari). I'm just kind of amazed anyone tried to make those games happen on way underpowered systems.
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  • Avatar for victorehunter #15 victorehunter 3 months ago
    Ooooh I love this. I'm a sucker for bizarre ports and transpositions. Game.com also had a terrible port of Sonic Jam that I adore.

    I'll also stand up for the touchscreen FPSs of the DS era. At the very least it's a kind of game that will just never be made again. Even Goldeneye Rogue Agent on DS is kind of cool. This article could have been almost entirely bizarre James Bond ports though. Every 007 for handhelds in the 2000s was bonkers. Quantum of Solace DS with the sideways book control scheme. And Nightfire on GBA was an FPS that almost made it work.

    I only wish that the Metal Gear Solid Game.com port saw the light of day. What a treat that would have been. Great work as always, Nadia!
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  • Avatar for JamesSwiftDay #16 JamesSwiftDay 3 months ago
    The Crazy Taxi GBA game looks surprisingly good.

    Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 for GBA will always be a personal favourite port. It played great and set me up surprisingly well for the 'real' version.
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