A Slap-on-the-Wrist Nuke is a powerful attack that is nonetheless far less damaging than it should be.
Partner in crime to the Overly Long Fighting Animation, and with the help of cousins Made of Iron and Friendly Fireproof, this trope broke into Awesome, but Impractical's house and stole the Awesome, but left the Impractical. You see, a Slap-on-the-Wrist Nuke is still a solid attack you'd gladly use on an enemy... it's just much, much less powerful than it ought to be, considering what it actually entails. When You Nuke 'Em, you may find this diminishing your triumph, if only a little.
Using a Summon MagicMonster that destroys the moon to rain fiery Death from Above on enemies, or a Wave Motion Gun fueled by consuming Galaxies, and the nine hundred megaton Colony Drop that won't scorch your lawn but willdisintegrate that Money Spider... only mildly damages the Final Boss. Also, expect any stellicidal attacks or planet busting techniques to be polite enough to rebuild the destroyed real estate after the CGI is done.
A particularly noticeable form of Gameplay and Story Segregation. Justified, because trying to render a life-sized nuclear explosion in the middle of the game will become too overpowered, won't fit in the monitor, and/or fry the graphics card.
Explanatory rule of thumb: If dropping an asteroid the size of Russia on the Boss does less damage than slashing him once with the Infinity+1 Sword, which has the same animation as using the starting stick, you've fallen headlong into this trope.
Sometimes it's mostly because of programming issues. An attack may indeed be programmed to be powerful; but due to a problem with calculating the formula or some other factor, it's severely weakened.
In Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2, a particularly strong attack will show an animation of half of the Earth exploding, and change the stage you're playing on to a "ruined" version - but will do 1 1/2 health bars of damage. Mind you, this is pretty much exactly how it happens in the series. The Budokai series did this too but ultimate attacks were a bit harder to pull off, and only a handful of them did it. Tenkaichi 2 went a bit overboard as any energy blast ultimate would do it, as long as it hit the character while they were on the ground, or just hit the ground directly. Budokai Tenkaichi 3 had to tone it down a little by having this happen only once certain conditions are met.
Shadow Warrior is one of the few FPSs with nukes. Since the game is pretty silly to begin with, the nuke's ability to kill everything in the game's largest rooms is reasonably impressive.
Battletanx: Global Assault features a tactical nuke weapon whose blast wave will generally cover the entire level. Most tanks will be wiped out by the blast, however, the game's Mighty Glacier — the Goliath-class tank — can literally stand right on top of the nuke as it goes off, and it will survive with about a quarter of its health left.
Turok. All bosses shrug it off, though it does still do considerable damage. They just act as if they didn't feel it.
The Redeemer in the Unreal Tournament games is supposed to be a nuke, but its blast radius is only a few meters. Its destructive power is about what you'd expect for anyone caught in it though.
The Tactical Nuke in Modern Warfare 2. Getting a 25 killstreak in multiplayer with this equipped allows you to call in a nuclear warhead to end the match in your favor regardless of the current score. While it does kill every player on field regardless of team, the entire map remains intact and untouched.
Back again in Modern Warfare 3, this time called the M.O.A.B. (Mother of All Bombs). Unlike the Tactical Nuke, the M.O.A.B. only kills everyone on the opposing team upon detonation, as well as having an EMP-like effect on the other team for one minute and giving everything onscreen an orange tint. More importantly, it doesn't end the round, meaning everyone can still be fighting on a thermobaric ground zero with everything intact.
Touhou: Utsuho makes it literal. In her first appearance as the final boss of the 11th game, her signature bullet (Minisuns) were only more threatening than other bullets due to being much larger. They do not take multiple lives (fortunately.) In 12.3, they're damaging but (with the exception of Giga Flare for most charactesr) possible to avoid. They're not even the most powerful attack in the game. (but considering the most powerful attack is basically 7 hits to guaranteed victory....)
MDK has the "world's smallest nuclear bomb", which is used to open locked doors.
Fallout 3 introduces the Fat Man, which ballistically launches a miniature nuclear warhead that produces an explosion that a conventional explosive the size of a satchel charge could produce. But it mushrooms!
Although it bears mentioning that it is nonetheless, shot-for-shot, the second most powerful weapon in the game (exceeded only by its unique variant, the Experimental MIRV, which fires eight mini-nukes at once) and is more than sufficient to kill anything in the game, save for Broken Steel's Boss In Mooks Clothingsuper-variants of enemies.
Old wrecked cars can detonate in a nuclear explosion if shot enough times due to the remaining "fusion materials" somehow left untouched during the original bombs. The cars will even explode in mushroom-cloud style, but it won't do a thing unless you're within conventional explosive radius.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 loves this trope. Most Ultimate Ninjutsu really should shred the target's body, if not outright vaporize it. They take 3-4 hits to kill from full health. This one probably takes the cake:
Madara Uchiha drops a meteor on someone's head, and then another meteor on top of that one. Edo-Nagato forms a floating planetoid with his enemy crushed in the center, then blows the whole thing up with his Arm Cannon. Etc, etc...
In Dune II the Harkonnen Death Hand missile is stated to be atomic. It is a fairly small blast if so. That and in the books any use of atomic weapons by a noble house is grounds for immediate planetary annihilation by the Emperor.
The nukes in Command & Conquer always were relatively weak for nukes, but those in the first Red Alert game were the worst of the bunch, having barely enough yield to take out a pair of power plants and being unable to even completely destroy a Medium Tank with a direct hit. Seeing the white flash of a nuke in the Allied campaign though - your base just disappeared.
Only in multiplayer though, in single player, the nuke can literally destroy ANY building, including construction yards. Can be used to great effect in some missions of the Covert Ops.
China's superweapon in Generals is also surprisingly weak, given it's an ICBM launched nuke. It's weaker than the GLA toxin-laced Scud Storm, has a longer cool-down timer, and (unlike the Storm) requires power.
The GLA scud storm is arguably a case since the missiles do nowhere nearly as much damage as they should for their size.
In Command & Conquer: Renegade, nukes (fired only by placing a beacon and waiting 30 seconds) had a pitifully, ridiculously small radius of effect. The damage it did at the center was incredible, killing almost any object in the game with that shot, but you could be literally standing 10 feet away from the nuke and not get a scratch. This gets a pass, partly for balance reasons (as it's the counterpart to GDI's ion cannon), and partly because the default setup allows for 'pedestal victories' where placing the nuke in the GDI barracks automatically wiped out the GDI base.
Also played straight in the third of the sister seriesEmperor, Battle For Dune, where the Harkonnen family atomics are only enough to topple a single building. and irradiate the ground beneath it for a while.
Played straight in World in Conflict, where multiplayer nukes are underpowered compared to their real counterparts, even if they do kill anything in the large blast radius barring Mercy Invincibility and radiate the area. In the campaign, meanwhile, it is averted: Launching a single one is treated as toying with the fate of the planet. The chronologically next mission features bands of rabble in ruined or smoldering forests, with the last mission's location visible in the distance through the enormous cloud of black smoke as it's still on fire. Characters are horrified for the rest of the campaign.
Some of the spells in Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars are like this - even though they might take away a significant number of HP, from the spell descriptions there ought to be no way the target can survive.
And some of the weakest spells in League of Legends include falling stars, a tidal wave and a tornado. Due to Competitive Balance, anything that disables opponents for a significant amount of time deals barely any damage regardless of what it is supposed to be. Ziggs' actual nuke is fairly powerful for an ultimate, but this means about 1/4th of a high level character's health bar in an area that's half as wide as the river.
Handwaved in Starcraft by the back story: the game's nukes are ridiculously underpowered because, when the Confederacy used full-sized nukes against the rebels in Korhal, they nuked the hell out of it until the entire planet became a smoking ball of glass, and the Confederacy only allowed the game's teeny-tiny little nukes ever since.
Not that it really matters when the Protoss do pretty much the same thing to sterilize Zerg-infested planets.
The nukes in the sequel, StarCraft II, are even weaker. This is justified by them being easier to research and produce.
War Front Turning Point plays this straight with the Allied nuclear strike in alternate history WWII. Despite the nuke's magnificent visual effects, it is wide enough only to conflagrate a tight nest of buildings and leave a glowing slagpile. The earthquake bomb, however, topples more, but does little to infantry. German V-2s have a similar blast radius (albeit sans nuke-slag) and cannot be intercepted with anti-aircraft flak.
The Orbital Bombardment ability in the Dawn of War games, in which the Space Marine faction directs an orbiting Battle Barge/Strike Cruiser to fire its weapons on a target. The ability is impressive and can kill almost anything in one shot, even the bosses in the second game's campaign suffering tremendous damage, except the weapons of these vessels are known to take entire chunks out of planets (and can render a planet lifeless when enough vessels fire them at once), so it is incredibly implausible that anything survives at all, including the Space Marines that ordered it.
Considering that the Strike Cruiser and Battle Barge are optimized for orbital bombardment and are using their secondary weapons, they probably just turned they power down a bunch.
In the sequel, the Orbital Bombardment is tweaked; it now does even more damage on those it hits, but each individual blast has pitiful splash damage range, and has an overly long build-up time. You will ONLY successfully pull it off if you can use scouts' infiltration successfully, or call it down on top of your own troops, at which point your other forces still have to mop up at least 50% of the enemy units. Then, in the Redemption expansion, we see that what we thought were godly cannons from the stars were overgrown point-defense weapons, as an Exterminatus fleet arrives to perform its designated function.
Hearts of Iron features nuclear weapons. To access them, one faction has to research enough technology to build a nuclear reactor to a high enough level to produce a bomb, and then one is automatically added to your stockpile once a certain amount of time passes (which decreases the more technology you invest into it). Nuclear weapons have the following effects: they destroy all enemy troops in a province; they cause an amount of dissent directly proportional to the target country depending on the population levels, industry, infrastructure, etc.; they completely deplete all improvement levels (infrastructure, industry, etc.) to 0% and make it so it takes years to repair. And that's it. There is no fallout, nuclear winter, global warming, or anything else. Troops that occupy a province that was just nuked suffer no ill effects. Furthermore, most provinces have such a low population that it's nuking them isn't effective enough to change anything. The best cities to nuke are state capitals and some high-population provinces in China, and that's it. While the no fallout may be excused when you consider this depicts early nuclear weapons in the WWII era, the technology tree allows you to advance and develop better nuclear weapons that existed in the Cold War, but the basic effects stay the same. Nukes also do not affect diplomacy when one would think they really should. Finally, not only can the AI not handle nuclear weapons, there is no concept of 'deterrence': a country without nukes is just as likely to attack a country with nukes as without.
In Vindictus, Kai's ultimate attack, massive impact, creates an explosion about 60 feet in diameter. Even heavily ranked and used in dark knight form, it doesn't deal enough damage to even stun most bosses even a few stages back from where you would have reached by the time you unlock it.
Final Fantasy became rife with these as soon as the graphics got far enough along to show it:
Given how deep underground the final dungeon is, summoning Bahamut ZERO while inside it (which results in a giant dragon appearing in space and doing an orbital bombardment of the enemy) should logically cause much more damage to the planet than Sephiroth's plot-based Meteor spell.
Another one would be Bahamut Fury's Exa Flare from Crisis Core. You'd think melting the moon and causing a dust cloud covering half the planet would do some terrain or ally damage... though to be fair it does regularly do 9,999 to all enemies.
ALL Limit Breaks in Crisis Core can be this in general due to how their damage is calculated. For example, summons are dependent on your Magic or Spirit stats whereas Tseng's helicopter-bombardment of Rush Assault are dependent upon your strength and vitality. So it's entirely possible for a single punch from Rush Assault to do more damage than Meteor depending on what gear you're wearing.
The third form of Final Fantasy VIII's final boss, a fusion of Ultimecia and the "strongest GF", Griever, has an attack called Great Attractor. It shows the boss pulling planets from across the solar system to collide with the players, and yet they survive! Supposedly it also does relatively little damage.
Any of the Aeons' overdrives in Final Fantasy X, but especially Ifrit's. Being engulfed in a fireball, raised twenty feet in the air, hit with a chunk of floor and then dropped from a great height should by all rights be an instant kill, to anything, rather than causing a moderately severe bruise.
In the international version, one of Penance's attacks is "Tera Graviton", which, logically, should be even stronger than Sin's Giga Graviton. But, here, it only does percentage-based damage! His other "ultimate" spell, Judgment Day, isn't much better either, since you can avoid it by summoning an aeon, unlike Sin's attack, which is an instant game over.
Final Fantasy I has WarMECH and its ability "NUCLEAR". It seems like this ought to destroy the entire dungeon, but it doesn't, and the Light Warriors can survive it (if you've grinded enough). There's also the player-usable spell "NUKE" (retitled "Flare" in later editions) which is stated to work by teleporting in a piece of the sun. Unfortunately, because practically everything in the game has ridiculous levels of magic defence, it will typically do a lot less than your Knight or Master's standard attacks (and the latter is attacking with his bare fists!).
The Emperor's Starfall attack in Final Fantasy II, despite looking intimidating, has an utterly pathetic damage output since damage spread across the entire party or opposition in this game gets reduced by an incredibly large factor compared to single-target attacks.
The Espers' final attacks often fall into this category. They all have long elaborate movies that typically show the Espers creating all kinds of natural disasters such as tornadoes, tsunamis, a meteor from space, and even an ion canon. Zodiark gets the best though, since his final attack seems to be an explosion on the scale of the big bang. Espers themselves are basically useless as allies in this game, dealing nowhere near the amount of damage your regular party would deal in the same amount of time.
Some of the Quickenings are also goofily underpowered for their special effects. You can have Baltheir drop a building-sized meteor on a boss, back this up with Basch punching it out of reality, have Penelo stop and shatter time, then see Ashe summon a hurricane sized electrical storm and wrap it all up with Vaan smacking them in the face with a tornado. Despite the fact that by rights most of Dalmasca should be in ruins after just the first few, you just deal some nasty damage high above the 9999 cap. If you use Quickenings on a mook or critter, don't count on getting even the more brusque death animation from a hit that causes knockback.
Final Fantasy Tactics and its GBA counterpart have summons that literally destroy the entire battlefield, but unless you were level grinding, the targets only suffer bruises in a few HP damage.
In Tactics, the Meteor spell is almost as large as the battlefield, while Ultima (angelic version) engulfs the entire battlefield in "absolute energy" and Divine Ultima's explosion radius would probably cover fields twenty five times their size. This, despite their actual effect range being 3, 3 and 4 panels, respectively.
Also in Golden Sun: The most powerful summon in the game, Iris, attacks by throwing the enemies into the sun. Bosses still survive, while most standard enemies probably won't. It also had the ability to fully restore your HP AND revive fallen members, even though there was nothing showing it.
In addition, the unleash of the game's most powerful weapon, the Sol Blade, drops a miniaturized sun on the enemy. This doesn't even do triple the damage of a normal attack with the weapon, which is just a sword swing...
And for extra fun, it's another reference to Armageddon.
Also, two of the bosses have a Psynergy called "Meteor Blow", which is basically a meteor impact much in the same manner of the Meteor summon. On the plus side, the attack is far more powerful than the summon, and will very likely kill the character with the lowest max HP.
The Fireball, Blizzard, Lightning Storm, and Earthquake spells (the last one in particular) in Dragon Age seem like they ought to cause a lot of collateral damage when used inside the rotting wooden shantytown of the Alienage in the latter part of the game, and Earthquake really ought to cause some complications underground of the collapsing tunnels sort in Orzammar.
In Xenogears, Fei's final spell, Big Bang, is nearly as over the top as it gets, apparently focusing a beam of chi through the gravity lens of a galaxy, and blowing the moon into tiny pieces every time it's used, and yet he can do much more damage by repeatedly punching and kicking the enemy.
There is also Galcian's special: Terminal, which involves him diving at you with his sword and destroying armada ships along the way and plunging the sword into you creating a large explosion that shakes the Hydra. The targeted character is unlikely to die from this.
Games made by Nippon Ichi tend to have plenty of these, though all of them are capable of causing an appropriately high amount of damage with enough grinding.
Also subverted in Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. Don Joaquin's Galactic Power summons a meteor which is pathetically weak, and is accompanied by a sound affect which sounds something like "plop".
One character's ultimate attack in Chrono Cross is the destruction of the entire universe. It does do a lot of damage, though, even compared to a giant Venus Fly Trap or a tidal wave.
Chrono Trigger did it better, though. The final boss, Lavos, has an attack that, in cutscenes, destroys the planet (or at least takes a good chunk out of the biosphere and makes it nigh-uninhabitable). In battle, it does about 400 damage to each party member (with the HP cap set at 999, that's quite terrifying). However; this depends on your characters' own defenses - enter Lavos when you're severely underleveled and very undergeared and it'll deal a thousand.
The nuke powers from City of Heroes top tier Blast powers look like they'd be rather impressive, and canonical uses treat said powers as being impressively deadly. They're called nukes by players. They still won't kill a same-level minion on their own, though.
Not only do nearly all of these "nuke" powers consume all of your endurance to use them and have some of the longest recharge times in the games, they can also MISS your foes completely and leave you exhausted and defenseless in the middle of a pack of angry foes.
The whole "use all your endurance and be useless for the next minute or two" is fine for a Blaster with a team backing him/her up, but for a Defender or Corruptor who is also there to buff, debuff, and heal could end up getting teammates killed by taking themselves out of action like that. Hence why the nuke powers are common on Blasters but often skipped by Defenders and Corruptors.
It also helps that Blasters do even more damage with a "nuke" than Defenders or Corruptors.
A little work can also earn you the (one-time, until you earn it again) ability to call down an actual nuclear missile. It makes a depressingly small explosion and isn't much more powerful than the aforementioned Blaster nukes, but it can still help out in a pinch.
The Legend of Dragoon gives you the ability to summon dragons capable of dealing far more damage than any other single spell, but given the mana requirements only one of them is actually any better then spamming the next most powerful spell, or the non-magical dragoon additions. Hell even entering dragoon mode at all means you'll deal less damage than with your strongest regular additions. Some bosses even impose further penalties on the use of these powers. They are still the most visually impressive moves in the whole game though. Also, a select few bosses need the defense boosts of that dragoon mode gives to be even remotely beatable.
Certain powerful spells in Fire Emblem games, especially those used by late game bosses, tend to have impressive animations involving planets, black holes, six foot pillars of light and other such eye candy. However, even if after all that your opponent doesn't outright dodge it, it may or may not be fatal and is guaranteed to only affect one person on the entire battlefield at a time.
You know what's awesome? Rexflame in Radiant Dawn. Turn off animations, and you'll still see the river of freaking lava swallow up the entire screen, but the only thing hurt is the enemy you were aiming at. Singular.
Super Robot Wars is the absolute king of this. Generally, the more powerful an attack is, the more over the top the animation. This gets especially crazy for final bosses. Although those attacks all meant instant death for the target, keep in mind the final one did damage to exactly ONE individual. And not even more than your characters are capable. This tends to get even more outrageous because of skills that will make attacks deal 1/4 damage to you, have the next one deal only 10 damage to you, no matter what it is, or even miss entirely! Yes, the attack that destroys countless planets just to try and kill one mech can be made to deal a measly 10 damage. Or even miss. There is nothing more satisfying in gaming then this.
In the Might and Magic series, the nuke spell (also called Armageddon) will do tremendous damage to everything in the same area, including the caster, and will kill all civilians instantly. Due to engine limitations it has no effect on buildings and terrain though.
The spin-off Heroes of Might and Magic has the same spell, and the icon for the spell is even a mushroom cloud. Despite this, it's quite easy to get hit by it and only lose half your forces. (Oh, and it can't touch Dragons. Apparently dragon-scale is nuke-proof.)
Toyed with in the later Wizardry games. Nuclear Blast, the "ultimate" fire spell for the Thaumatergy school, is explicitly described as a miniature fusion bomb, and it does inflict an enormous amount of damage to every enemy present (the distinguishing trait of all the "nuke" spells) and can oftentimes instantly kill several enemies, but most higher-end enemies, or those resistant to fire, will shrug it off.
Phantasy Star IV features combination attacks that play this trope straight. One of them is even called "Holocaust," which tries to kill every enemy you're fighting. The most powerful combo is appropriately called "Destruction," and is basically a huge bomb. It's powerful enough that one of the characters in the combo has to cast a shield spell to protect the party, but it still can't break the damage limit.
One of the Limit Breaks available in Epic Battle Fantasy 3 is a Nuke that deals moderate damage to your enemies, a tiny bit to your party, and poisons everyone. Often, the poison will outdamage the nuke within two turns. The Nuke itself CAN deal ludicrous damage to enemies who are weak to fire, though.
Epic Battle Fantasy likes it a lot, in fact. Lance especially. Besides the aforementioned Nuke he also possesses an Ion Cannon which also plows through the ground, obliterating it with no damage to the party at all and only decent damage to enemies. Natalie herself is not one to be outdone. Her attacks include a massive beam of Holy power visible from space itself (pardonable, since it's Holy after all) and a BLACK HOLE which does deal heavy damage to all enemies and players with a chance to kill, but does not do what black holes are meant to do, which is destroying the world.
PK Starstorm in EarthBound and Mother 3. There is reason to believe that what it really is is the psionic equivalent to a meteor shower.
A couple of attacks in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team are a bit like this. Like the Zee Egg and its 'nuke the screen with magic' effect, which is still a tad less powerful than you'd expect given it's concept (albeit still an Infinity+1 Sword). Or Giant Bowser's stomp attack, where a boss about ten times bigger than your character steps on them... and which can supposedly be survived with health to spare. Or just Luiginary Ball, which sends enemies/bosses flying into the background hard enough they wrap around from the front again... and happens to be the weakest special attack in the game.
Some moves in the Pokémon series fall victim to this, looking absurdly powerful, but in reality, not being much stronger (Or even weaker) then some far more mundane attacks. For instance, Palkia's signature move of Spacial Rend is described as tearing apart space itself (And looks as though it practically destroys reality in Pokemon Xand Y), yet it possesses a relatively unimpressive power of 100 (For comparison, Head Smash, which is simply described as being a full-power headbutt, has 150 power), and worse, can be completely nullified by Fairy type Pokemon due to it being a Dragon type move.
Player-generated example in Avencast: Rise of the Mage: since point distribution is player-driven, one can choose to develop a character with high-level spells but a low damage stat.
An odd example: the video game of Spider-Man 2 had a spinning pile driver attack that Spidey could pull on thugs. He could do this from any height, including from the top of the Empire State Building (provided he swung up this high, first). It would seldom kill any thug one shot, no matter how high you were.
In Fate/stay night, one character possesses a sword said to be bound with the creation of the world. Its main attack is described as 'anti-world' in strength and thus presumably capable of destroying the world — except that whenever it is used, it never seems to do worse than knock the main characters around a bit and put a few dents in the local concrete. In fact, the only way it will ever kill you is you choose not to use Heroic Resolve to shrug it off.
Ea seems to have an adjustable destructive output depending on how much prana is put into the attack, and almost all of the times Gilgamesh uses it are in the Fate route, when he's trying to subdue — not atomize — Saber. When Gil uses it to more lethal effect in Hollow Ataraxia and Fate/Zero, Ea's usage rips holes in space-time, blows apart a pocket dimension, and massacres Alexander's army of heroic spirits with one shot.
Parodied in Psychonauts during the Kochamara boss battle. Before Kochamara attacks he charges up and shouts the name of the attack, as if he's ready to unleash the fury of Hell itself. Of course, with names like Overly Intricate Combination and Hard To Avoid Area Attack, you don't expect the end result to be very spectacular. And obviously, it isn't. Simply activating your shield saves you from any damage (which isn't a lot to begin with), not very dangerous.
In Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010), getting hit with an EMP or a spike strip will not (normally) end the car that is hit. Not a nuke-power thing, but logically a car should not run with knocked out tyres/electronics.
Pretty much everything in Animal Kaiser. A few examples: Crashing various moon-sized objects into the Earth (including the actual moon), slicing the Earth in half, slicing the Earth into quarters, sending the Earth into the Sun, running completely around the Earth, tunneling completely through the Earth both ways, dropping various colossal objects on the opponent like swords, steam irons, stone arms, and cheeseburgers, squashing the opponent flat, and eating the opponent.
Though Nukes in Civilization games are incredibly powerful, heavily damaging things and trashing the landscape, in IV they can't kill anything with 100% certainty. This doesn't stop your computer rivals from scorning your name should you use them yourself, however.
Contrast with the ICBM in Civilization: Revolutions. It will completely destroy anything in the region it is launched at and all units adjacent to it. If used against a capital, it will destroy everything except for the Palace and one unit of population. On the other hand, only one can ever be built.
Probably because nuclear shelters and bunkers are buildable long before nukes hit the table; completing the Manhattan Project unlocks nuclear weapons for everyone, including your enemies. Therefore - if a nuclear war is inevitable - players will stall from building the Project and build up their defenses beforehand, significantly reducing the potential impact of nuclear weaponry when it does occur. On the other hand, throwing half a dozen nukes around will cause rampant global warming, rapidly terraforming random plains and grassland tiles into inhospitable desert tiles, and so on. The Fallout effect also reduces a tile's resource output until scrubbed by workers, so a city can suffer a gradual decline as an after effect even if it survives the initial attack.
Averted in Alpha Centauri, however. Planetbusters do exactly that, killing everything in a 1-16 square area, destroying land so water fills it in and destroying any cities caught in the blast radius. Also pisses the planet off immensely, expect the mind worm attacks to increase after every use. And oh, yeah, everyone declares war on you.
In many 4X games, such as the Master of Orion series, nuclear missiles are the most basic type of missile you can build. This can lead to absurd examples like how in Master of Orion 2, a single unmodified nuclear missile can only kill the weakest ships with a single hit, and it is relatively easy from the middle of the game onwards to build a ship that can survive a hundred basic nuclear missiles.
Empire and its derivatives likewise have nukes kill everything in their blast radius, but cities are merely depopulated instead of being destroyed (the ability to destroy cities would be a Game Breaker, since cities can not be built, only captured).
In Advance Wars, Sturm's CO Power drops a meteor onto the field. This power can only drop a unit 5 HP, whether it's an infantry or a battleship, and it cannot kill a unit, only making it drop to 1.
Same in Advance Wars 2, and in Advance Wars 2 and Dual Strike there's the addition of giant cannons, lasers, and missiles that all have the same effect.
Also, in the final mission of 2, you can fail and let a doomsday missile be launched, but due to the game's Non Lethal KOs when losing, Sturm can drop the missile as many times as he wants and the world looks unscarred and the allied forces can just keep coming back.
Pokémon Battle Revolution turns Seismic Toss into this. While the other games had a more modest animation for this, Seismic Toss shows the opponent's Pokemon being thrown into space and colliding back into the ground. Despite such an animation, it's not very strong (it's level-based, meaning the best you can do with it is 100 damage). Here's an example of it.
In the handheld games, the move is described as throwing the Earth at the enemy.
In the main Pokémon games, there are attacks like Earthquake and Surf, which are Exactly What It Says on the Tin and a tidal wave respectively, and are decent attacks, and can be used inside buildings and the like. Then we also have things like tearing through space or the wrath of God, in the same power range as the previous moves... or an explosive egg. Or Bug Buzz, the sound of buzzing of an insect's wings.
The move Incinerate sounds like a devastating Fire move, and its animations are similarly dazzling, but it's weaker than Tackle or Pound, two moves most Pokémon begin with.note It's a little stronger as of X and Y, but still fits the trope.
In Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, there was a spell in an official Splat Book that basically ripped the target's entire circulatory system (other than its heart) out of its body (an a slightly higher level version that then used said veins and arteries to entangle nearby targets!) - and yet it did exactly half the target's hit points in damage. No more, no less. Funny, one would think losing your entire means of carrying blood to the brain, not to mention the rest of the body, would do a bit more damage than THAT.
One monster has an attack in which they reach inside you and claw out your lungs, dealing... 1d4 damage, which is on-par with what you take from a dagger wielded by someone with average strength.
Various characters in Warhammer 40k have had the ability to call down orbital bombardments, including Space Marines Chapter Masters, Inquisitors, Masters of the Fleet, Abaddon the Despoiler (from the not-misnamed Planet Killer) and even Orks (who flung asteroids at the planet rather than using their own guns). Considering that guns from all of the aforementioned ships have the ability to render a planet uninhabitable, if not destroy it outright, their effects in-game are quite underwhelming (typically a 5" blast template with STR 10, AP 1, unlimited range, and an increased tendency to scatter). Indeed, there's several tank-based artillery cannons that are just as strong, and more accurate to boot. Given the scale of weaponry mounted by 40k starships, it's actually kind of amazing that they have anything capable of producing a blast that small.
In Digimon, Starmon's attack is called, and basically is, a Meteor Shower... but is otherwise an average champion-level attack.
Saint Seiya has the eponymous Saints use attacks of awesomely destructive power, especially the higher up on the Sorting Algorithm of Evil one goes. However, several of these attacks come with names and animation like "Galaxian Explosion" (attacks with the force of an exploding galaxy) and "Lightning Plasma" (shoots 100 billion shots of plasma at an enemy). Yet for all this destructive power, the only destruction is of the local landscape and structures.
Things peak with the Athena Exclamation, a technique that releases the power of a Big Bang. Three Gold Saints must work together to perform the attack, and it IS a forbidden technique, but it's eventually used anyways. And then, not too long afterwards, two are used at the same time, against each other. If not for the actions of Shiryu, (or the four Bronzies if you're talking about the OVA) the series would have had a painfully quick ending.
The JSSDF was forced to hand control over to NERV in Neon Genesis Evangelion when Sachiel treated an N2 mine as this. The "Non-Nuclear" mine has all the power of a state-of-the-art nuclear weapon... and all it managed was to make the Angel take a nap.
Done with a literal nuke and the Saint of Killers in Preacher.
Saint Of Killers: Not enough gun.
A quarter-gram of antimatter releases a medium-altitude areal photon burst of 45 Terajoules (11 kilotons) in both the book and movie versions of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons doing little more than shaking things up a tad. Equal to the flash-burn caused by Fat Man, such a burst would handily have blinded everyone in Rome outdoors at the time (especially the large crowd watching the burst) as well as set fire to any medium colored surfaces in line-of-sight.
A column in SFX by David Langford remembered the dodgy science in a novel where the villain has a giant earth-shattering weapon "with an ammo belt of black holes. Things look bad when he turns it on the hero. Fortunately, it's a glancing blow..."
Mocked by Weebl & Bob in their Final Fantasy VIIparody: The 'super special attack' drops the moon onto the planet, which itself causes three separate mushroom clouds from the explosion, and finally deals... 7 damage. To a random encounter.
Strong Bad once pressed a self-destruct button on his laptop, creating a mushroom cloud at least a hundred feet high. The laptop and a ream of printer paper were the only things damaged in any way.
In Adventurers!, the mostly flashy magic attack shatters the entire planet, the solar system, the galaxy, and even the game's CD. The damage is fairly good but far less than what those events would entail.
Also lampshaded in an earlier strip. "You'd think that destroying the entire planet would be more damaging..."
Spoofed in Flaky Pastry, where a ludicrously overpowered spell called Omega Murder Blast literally obliterates all terrain in a huge radius, annihilates whoever it was aimed at, but does not affect any other living creature in said huge radius because "it is a single-target spell".
In The Simpsons, Sideshow Bob manages to set off a nuclear bomb inside Springfield's air force base - but all it does is feature a tiny explosion about a foot wide. He then notices that printed on the side of the bomb is the disclaimer "Best before Dec 1959".
Bob (to himself): There were plenty of brand-new bombs, but you had to go for that retro 50s charm!
Some tactical and strategic nuclear warheads did far less damage per square foot than conventional explosives, they just covered LOTS of area. A nuclear weapon detonated on the ground will also do far less damage than a nuclear weapon detonated thousands of feet above ground - at least direct structural damage. The resulting fallout, on the other hand...
Compared to other nuclear arsenals, North Korea's nukes could qualify for this trope.
Subverted with a dirty bomb. The initial explosion is only intended to disperse radioactive fallout, which is what actually does the killing.
Or just forces the target to be abandoned for decades. Producing enough fallout to kill people over a substantial area without a nuclear explosion is extremely difficult.