By today’s standards, the Game Boy seems simple and primitive — a relic of a time long gone by. It had a monochrome, dot-matrix display that relied on natural light; it offered just two face buttons for input, in addition to the directional pad and little-used “SELECT” and “START” keys; it was capable only of 2D raster-based visuals (with one noteworthy exception). Retro indeed.
And yet, the original 1989 handheld from Nintendo and its direct descendants went on to be one of the best-selling game devices, paving the way for the global saturation mobile phone games enjoy today. It introduced Tetris to a truly mass audience for the first time, cementing that iconic puzzler as one of the greatest games ever released. It gave us the first Kirby title in a long-running series. It gave us one of the best Legend of Zelda titles (the best, according to some). And it did all of this with some remarkable hardware configuration, using technology that was already a decade old when it first hit the gaming world.
You’ll learn a lot about the technical side of Game Boy and just how ingenious it was as a gaming platform, as well as a challenge to programmers, by watching these videos by JackTech. They’re on the long side, but definitely worth your time.
Of my many regrets in life, easily the worst I have as a gamer is that I lost my Virtual Boy. Yes, I was one of the just over 700,000 or so people in the world to own an actual piece of Nintendo’s greatest failure. It was a Christmas gift in 1995, from my overworked mother whom I now know could not afford it, but wanted to make up for what had been an awful year for our family.
For all the criticism levied against this clunky early attempt at 3D gaming (don’t call it VR, because it really doesn’t meet the definition) I absolutely loved it. Mario’s Tennis remains one of my all-time favorite games — in my memory, anyway. I also got a great deal of enjoyment out of the simplistic Virtual League Baseball and Golf. The only other title I owned was Teleroboxer, which I did not like at all, owing to its steep difficulty. I never did get to try either of what are considered the “best” games: Mario Clash and Virtual Boy Wario Land.
I took the Virtual Boy with me when I went off to college, but unfortunately my university experience included a few years in a fraternity house, and it was probably destroyed or stolen around that time. By then, I had become something of a lapsed gamer. In what was the other great error of my gaming life, I sold most of my NES, Super NES, and Nintendo 64 games for spending money, along with the N64 console itself. (Fortunately, I still have my NES, SNES, and various Game Boy consoles.) One of my goals as a collector today is to rebuild that lost collection, most of which can be done fairly easily and at a reasonable cost.
The Virtual Boy is a different story. Because so few were made, prices can be quite steep; I’ve never seen one for less than $200, and they often don’t include vital accessories like the controller and AC adapter. (It can run on batteries, but this is inconvenient and expensive.) Games can be hard to come by as well, particularly Wario Land. I still have my copy of Teleroboxer for some reason, though.
So much has been written on Virtual Boy already, and I have nothing meaningful to add until I re-acquire one for myself. PlanetVB.com is the ideal resource for any collector interested in learning more about this whimsical gaming machine. I also heartily recommend this excellent written history published earlier this year on NintendoLife. It’s a real eye-opener on a console best known for creating eye strain.
It’s hard to imagine a world in which Super Mario Bros. was lost and forgotten a few years after its release. Even if Nintendo had failed to re-release it in some form on nearly every subsequent platform it produced, there are still perfectly functional SMB cartridges and Nintendo Entertainment System consoles and NES clones to allow for continued enjoyment of this landmark game. Plenty of PC emulators exist to offer this and other classic games in a dubiously-legal format. We don’t have to worry about losing Super Mario Bros. forever.
Incredibly, we may face a situation in the not-too-distant future wherein the best-selling home console game of all time is essentially unplayable, remaining only in the memories of players and YouTube videos.
Wii Sports and hundreds of other motion-controlled games for Wii and Wii U have an uncertain future. The NX, Nintendo’s replacement for the not-quite-good-enough Wii U, arrives next year. At some point around that platform’s arrival, Nintendo will cease manufacture of Wii and Wii U consoles. Unless the NX maintains full backwards compatibility with both of those systems and, crucially, the Wii Remote controllers, it will effectively trigger a time bomb that will effectively kill all Nintendo games that depend on motion controls.
This is purely speculative, but it is a point worth considering, as Justin Davis writes for IGN: what happens if these games are trapped forever on the Wii and Wii U? Within 30 years, it’s likely most of the original Wii and Wii U consoles will have been junked, no longer functioning properly, or completely incompatible with whatever video display / TV format is in use by then. Optical drives will almost certainly have been a relic for decades at that point. Will there be enough demand in the retro / classic gaming hobby to maintain them? And what of Wii remotes and sensor bars? Will a manufacturer continue to make them available?
The pre-CD era of gaming is well suited for the retro collector, as the 8-bit and 16-bit consoles from Nintendo, SEGA, Atari, and others were solid-state. They have no moving parts, aside from the odd power or eject buttons, and they are easily renovated or recreated. Disc-based systems, on the other hand, are innately more complex. So far, we haven’t seen a market for cloned PlayStation 1 or SEGA Saturn systems, though many of the original consoles remain in use. More importantly, a significant number of games for those systems have been re-released over the years and can be easily emulated on modern platforms, with ordinary controllers.
Motion controls are a different beast, and thus the concern for the longevity of Wii and Wii U software. As Davis notes, VR may hold the key to preserving the gems of those generations, assuming Nintendo has any interest. But it’s still very early to worry about this problem; if nothing else, the history of gaming has shown us that eventually, technology provides a solution.
That being said, I plan to keep my Wii and Wii U consoles in pristine shape for many years to come.
Every so often, we hear of astonishing finds in the gaming world, the sorts of discoveries that collectors dream of and that occasionally make ordinary people a fair amount of coin. They include the Atari E.T. desert landfill; the most-valuable NES game showing up in a Goodwill bin; or a discarded prototype arcade cabinet resurfacing. But to find an entire arcade, filled with classic machines in near-mint condition, untouched in decades? That’s the sort of thing that’s too incredible for even an Ernest Cline novel.
Naturally, this story takes place not in a single instance, but over several years and strange circumstances: a luxury cruise ship, run aground and abandoned; urban explorers, trespassing and failing to realize the value of their discovery; an internet sleuth; price haggling; and the Herculean efforts of arcade collectors and game enthusiasts from around Europe.
This all unfolded between 1983 and 2012, but the details only became known to the general public last month. Head over to Arcade Blogger for the full story and many more photos and videos. It’s a great read!
For another, similar discovery on the other side of the planet, check out this International Business Times write on the ghost arcade of Chiba.
The Final Fantasy series has taken on many forms in its myriad releases and spin-offs over the years. Included are action RPGS (Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest); tactical RPGs (Final Fantasy Tactics); rhythm and music games (Theatrhythm Final Fantasy); collectible card battlers (Final Fantasy Trading Card Game); kart racers (Chocobo Racing); dungeon crawlers (Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon); party board games (Chocobo Land: A Game of Dice); MMORPGs (Final Fantasy XIV); fighters (Dissidia Final Fantasy); and in-app purchase generators (Final Fantasy: All the Bravest). The results have been… mixed, at best.
Among all these side-stories, half-sequels, and shameless cash-ins, we find Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles – My Life as a King. Unique not merely by virtue of being a spin-off of a spin-off, it is the only city builder title in the entire series, offering players a bit of role reversal and digging a bit into the meta-core of RPGs in general.
To oversimplify a bit, My Life as a King places the player in the role of an NPC from the Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles series. No prior experience with the Crystal Chronicles games is needed, nor need one be familiar with Final Fantasy at all. This is a simple map planning / resource allocation game, with dashes of RPG and RTS elements tossed in to create a surprising and fun experience.
Let me back up a bit. The Crystal Chronicles games, exclusive to Nintendo platforms, are Final Fantasy in name only. They have little to do with the mainline FF series, though they are tied together with an arcing storyline taking place in the same world. Many races, enemies, and items familiar to Final Fantasy can be found here, such as Moogles, malboros, adamantoises, and so on. The similarities more or less end there, with the games mostly taking an action-RPG approach, distinct from the classic FF battle sequences.
My Life as a King takes place some time after the events of the Crystal Chronicles series, focusing on the aftermath of those games’ good-vs.-evil showdown. There is a simple story here: Leo, the prince of an unnamed kingdom, finds himself in charge after his father’s apparent death. Surrounded by his retinue and a handful of loyal subjects, you take the role of Leo and attempt to rebuild his kingdom from the ground up. Conveniently, Leo and company begin the game having found an abandoned castle and surrounding fortress, at the center of which is a giant cluster of the titular crystals. The crystal unexpectedly grants Leo the magic of architek, giving him the ability to instantly create buildings around the new castle town.
As the game progresses, Leo develops the ability to summon more complex and useful structures — all of which should be familiar to longtime Final Fantasy fans. Just as in most towns and cities in the main series, your castle town can include a weapons shop, an armory, a potion shop, and an inn, along with citizen shops and bakeries. Also available as your city grows are academies for white and dark mages, and training halls for warriors and thieves.
These four archetype classes reflect the series’ long-running jobs system, and that’s where the proto-RPG meta-game kicks in. As you build houses, more subjects return to your growing kingdom, and some of them want to join your small army. As such, you assign them jobs and issue daily edicts, here known as behests. Essentially, in this role, you’re sending these adventurers out to do Final Fantasy while you stay behind and run the kingdom. Their quests include gathering crystals and other raw materials; clearing roads and landmarks of monsters; fighting bosses; and ultimately defeating the game’s antagonist.
None of this is shown in anything other than the most abstract manner possible: a daily briefing prepared by Chime, your adorable young chancellor. As each in-game day passes — about five minutes in real time — your adventurers either successfully complete behests or fail at them, and the game progresses accordingly. This is where resource management and some very light strategy come in, as you decide which adventurers are best-prepared for the needed quests. By providing funding to your town’s shops, you enable the shopkeepers to develop progressively stronger weapons, armor, and items; likewise, the mage academies and battle hall desire funding for improved spells and fighting techniques which are taught to your adventurers.
The game is easy to learn and doesn’t do too much holding in the opening days, which serve as a built-in tutorial and establish the story. I found building my kingdom (which I named Midgar) to be enjoyable and relaxing, with interesting things to do in each in-game day. It does get repetitive in later phases, and once your town is built out, with the maximum number of structures in each genre, there’s not much left except grinding your adventurers until they are strong enough to take down the final boss.
This is where the game’s biggest weakness lies. In order to build beyond the standard limits, players were invited to purchase DLC through the in-game store. It is not at all invasive and in fact I didn’t even know this was possible until much later in the game, so I appreciate Square Enix not hitting me over the head with it. But I don’t like having what amounts to not-very-meaningful content locked behind a paywall. DLC can only be purchased by using Wii Points, another reason I didn’t get to experience everything the game has to offer.
If any of the above interests you, act fast. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles – My Life as a King is an endangered game. The only way to play legally is to download it from the Wii Shop Channel, either on a Wii or a Wii U via Wii Mode. While the Wii Shop is still functional as of this writing in June 2016, it will undoubtedly be shut down by Nintendo at some point, and the fate of WiiWare titles after that remains uncertain. Unless Square Enix decided to re-issue an HD version of the game in another digital storefront, My Life as a King will be lost forever.
Considering how much fun I had with it, that would be a real shame.
- PLATFORMS: Wii; Wii U (via Wii Mode)
- PUBLISHER: Square Enix
- DEVELOPER: Square Enix
- RELEASED: May 12, 2008
- ESRB RATING: E
- FRANCHISE: Final Fantasy
- DESCRIPTION: City builder with light tactical RPG and strategy elements
- WHO WILL ENJOY THIS: Final Fantasy fans; anyone looking for a unique sim-type experience
- WHO WON’T ENJOY THIS: RPG fans looking for a challenge
- SIMILAR TITLES: SimCity 2000; Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles – The Crystal Bearers
The more research I’ve done, the more surprised I am by how many characters, worlds, story-lines, and settings have been essentially abandoned by Nintendo. Shigeru Miyamoto has said Nintendo generally comes up with a game-play design first, then chooses a suitable IP / franchise later; so if they ever need an old idea to present in a new way, they have a lot of options!
Introduced: 1985, Wrecking Crew (Famicom / NES)
Latest entry: 1998, Wrecking Crew ‘98 (Super Famicom)
This old-school, literal blockbuster got the Virtual Console treatment, so a whole new generation of players is discovering the finer points of building demolition. I guess you could say this is technically a Mario game since it stars the Bros., but no game like it has been produced since, save the Japan-only Super Famicom sequel Wrecking Crew ‘98, which apparently included a cinematic story mode along with improved visuals and much faster action. I think this franchise deserves a second chance! For an excellent and quite authoritative look at both games, check out Jeremy Parish’s excellent mini-documentary in his Good Nintentions series.
Introduced: 1985, Mach Rider (Famicom / NES)
Here’s a fun bit of trivia: this racer / shooter-on-wheels actually has its origins in a plastic toy released by Nintendo in 1972. Other than that, Mach Rider is a pretty average motorcycle racing game which had a lot of limited potential, later realized in the superb RoadBlasters and, to a lesser degree, Road Rash. I imagine most Nintendo fans would much rather have a new F-Zero.
Introduced: 1986, Urban Champion (Famicom / NES)
Latest entry: 2011, 3D Classics: Urban Champion (3DS)
Nintendo briefly visited the idea of resurrecting this franchise; decide for yourself whether the 2011 3DS remake of Urban Champion counts as a new entry in the series. I only own the 3DS version because I got it for free through the (sadly) now-defunct Club Nintendo. Otherwise, I can think of no reason to recommend or resurrect Nintendo’s first attempt at the fighting genre.
Introduced: 1986, Gumshoe (NES)
Never released in Japan, this Light Gun shooter mixes the target practice styling of Wild Gunman and Hogan’s Alley with side-scrolling / platforming. Think of it as a very early escort mission, sort of Time Crisis meets The Last of Us. Except not really.
Nazo no Murasame Jo
Introduced: 1986, Nazo no Murasame Jo (Famicom Disk System)
Translated as “The Mysterious Murasame Castle”, this game was the inspiration for the “Takamaru’s Ninja Castle” game in the Wii U pack-in title Nintendo Land. In that sense, the franchise is not truly dead, but it would be nice to see what Nintendo could do today with its very own Zelda-meets-ninjas franchise. Nazo no Murasame Jo made its Western debut on the 3DS Virtual Console; Nintendo has not announced whether it will come to Wii U as well.
Famicom Tantei Club
Introduced: 1988, Famicom Tantei Club: Kieta Koukeisha (Famicom Disk System)
Latest entry: 1998, Famicom Tantei Club Part II: Ushiro ni Tatsu Shojo (Super Famicom)
If you asked me to guess how a text-based mystery / detective puzzle game would sell today, I would say “not very well”. (Check out this crazy TV ad for the first game!) But Professor Layton and Ace Attorney fall on the fringes of this sort of genre, I guess? At any rate, these oddball “Nintendo Detective Club” video novellas never made their way outside of Japan. Besides the perceived lack of cross-cultural appeal, I imagine text-heavy games of this sort would be arduous to translate and localize.
Introduced: 1989, Mother (Famicom)
Latest entry: 2006, Mother 3 (Game Boy Advance)
Entire volumes were written on this series and the puzzling lack of interest on Nintendo’s part to bring its entirety outside of Japan. Then, suddenly at E3 2015, Nintendo shocked fans worldwide with the surprise Western release of the Famicom original, fully translated and retitled EarthBound: Beginnings. It seemed the tide had finally turned, but despite numerous rumors, the 10th anniversary of Mother 3 came and went, as did E3 2016, without any word from Nintendo on a long-anticipated localization for North America and Europe. Fans haven’t given up hope, but Nintendo is practically defiant in its refusal to acquiesce to fans’ wishes these days, so it may be Mother is truly dead. For his part, series creator and lead writer Shigesato Itoi has said he does not anticipate producing any more games in the franchise.
Introduced: 1990, StarTropics (NES)
Latest Entry: 1994, Zoda’s Revenge: StarTropics II (NES)
On the opposite end of the Nintendo RPG scale is this odd series, which was only given a Western release and never available in Japan. The first game was ambitious and unique with its requirement of using a piece of paper included with the Game Pak that needed to be “translated” in order to get past a certain portion of the main story. Nintendo came up with a clever work-around for this in the Virtual Console releases, though I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t played. Both titles recently joined the Wii U Virtual Console roster, but there’s probably no reason to believe Nintendo has future plans in store.
Introduced: 1991, Time Twist: Rekishi no Katasumi de… (Famicom Disk System)
There was apparently a market as late as the 1990s for text-based adventures on home consoles. Still, there might be some potential to be mined here for a future franchise. I highly recommend this summary of the game’s fascinating plot, which involves the Holocaust, the Bible, and slavery.
Joy Mech Fight
Introduced: 1993, Joy Mech Fight (Famicom)
Another “lost” Nintendo fighting game, largely unknown because of its release limited to Japan. The visuals are something of an eight-bit Ballz 3D or proto-Vectorman, and actually pretty good for the era and technology. I could see one of these guys becoming playable in a future Super Smash Bros. installment; thus far Sukapon has only appeared as a sticker in Brawl.
Next time, we go 16-bit with a look at Nintendo’s forgotten “Super” franchises!
Hi! I’ve been away from the site for a while, due to a combination of illness and business with my day job. In that light, I’m making a few changes to the way I run the site. Most notably, we’re doing away with the Upcoming Game Releases section. Maintaining it grew to be nigh impossible for me amid the raft of game announcements during E3, and frankly it doesn’t make much sense to have a “new releases” chart on a site devoted to retro gaming.
I just love the story of developer Image & Form. After a modestly-selling mobile title and the muted response to a Nintendo DSiWare release, this group of plucky Swedes decided to put everything on the line for one last, everything-or-nothing attempt at a commercially successful game. The result was the brilliant, wonderful, critically-acclaimed, and best-selling SteamWorld Dig. If you haven’t played it, please do — it’s available on just about every platform.
Anticipation was high for a sequel. I was particularly excited, as SteamWorld Dig was (and still is) one of my favorite games of this generation. I wanted more of its procedurally-generated mining / platforming / puzzle goodness! So I was a teeny bit apprehensive when I&F announced its next game would not be a true sequel, but an entirely different genre of game, set in the same universe.
My fears were wholly unfounded. SteamWorld Heist — out today on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and PC — proves Image & Form’s success with Dig was no fluke. It is a phenomenal game in its own right, and an experience made all the richer for its collection to the ever-increasing SteamWorld lore.
Heist is a little bit difficult to fit neatly into any particular genre, and that’s what makes it so great. It’s a turn-based strategy game at its core, but it isn’t an RPG at all. Heist looks and feels a bit like a platformer, but at a much more deliberate pace. It gives the player plenty of time to think and plan ahead, while keeping a tense atmosphere of near-constant danger. SteamWorld Heist does all this while presenting itself in a charming, beautifully-rendered 2D package, wonderfully scored by the beloved indie rock band Steam Powered Giraffe. (I can attest to their popularity — the line to meet them at A-Kon here in Dallas last weekend was two hours long!!!)
In SteamWorld Heist, the player controls Captain Piper, a steam-driven robot space pirate, and her motley crew of renegade automatons, in their fight against diesel-powered robo-punks, a tyrannical robot kingdom, and another mysterious force. Piper’s band boards various enemy spacecraft — most of them randomly-generated — and fights off robotic fiends, while scooping up loot, weapons, and other goodies.
Here’s the hook: instead of the typical run-and-gun action found in many games of this ilk, Heist implements a turn-based system of battle. Each robot has a limited number of spaces they can move per turn, during which they can also aim and fire their various weapons at enemies. A few guns come with helpful laser sights that will show the expected path of the bullet or missile, as well as any subsequent ricochets the ordinance will undertake. Most weapons lack this feature, so careful aim is a must to hit one’s target. Adding to the challenge: these ‘bots don’t have the steadiest of hands, so the player must time shots just as the firearm’s barrel is squarely aimed where desired. On top of that, various ammunition types may arc, spread, bounce, or even cause “friendly fire” damage to allies.
It sounds complicated, but the designers did an excellent job of making it easy to learn without an overbearing tutorial. After a few simple missions early on, the challenge picks up steadily — but it can always be adjusted between missions. Even beginners are accommodated with a “casual” setting. And if you find the going gets too tough later on, you can go back to earlier stages and grind some experience, thanks to a nifty level-up system. I spent many hours happily grinding away, to better prepare my crew for the teeth-gritting final chapter.
I have only one minor criticism of the game; there is no reward for skill shots, trick shots, or any other methods of dispatching enemies. While the animations are lovely and frequently quite funny as bad ‘bots collapse or explode, and we do get some “bullet time” slowdown with particularly tricky shots, no bonus is provided. The game even tells you this in the occasional on-screen hint, reminding players that there is no score given for kills. If nothing else, I would have liked a “instant replay” of great kills that could be uploaded to the internet in some way, but that’s really a luxury and doesn’t detract from the game’s value at all.
Skilled players can probably complete SteamWorld Heist in under ten hours. As you can see in my screen-grab here, I spent considerably more time with it — not just grinding, but working to improve my scores. Each mission has a star-rating system, a little bit like Angry Birds, judging the player on how well they completed objectives while keeping everyone in the crew intact. I’m not often a completionist, but the random nature of missions (most starships have a different layout each time) and the seriously addictive gameplay kept me coming back.
Today’s launch of SteamWorld Heist on PlayStation and PC platforms comes with optional paid DLC, already available on the 3DS. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but I urge you to play through the standard campaign first, as the DLC may be a teensy bit spoiler-y.
Image & Form assures us SteamWorld Heist is also coming to Wii U and Xbox One, so you won’t have any excuse to play it if you don’t have one of the above options. And remember to try SteamWorld Dig, too!
AT A GLANCE
- PLATFORMS: Nintendo 3DS; PC; PlayStation 4; PlayStation Vita
- PUBLISHER: Image & Form
- DEVELOPER: Image & Form
- RELEASED: December 10, 2015 (3DS); June 7, 2016 (PC, PS4, Vita)
- ESRB RATING: E 10+
- FRANCHISE: SteamWorld
- DESCRIPTION: Randomly-generated turn-based strategy action platformer geometry physics shooter with robots
- WHO WILL ENJOY THIS: Fans of strategy, action, humor, well-crafted indie games, and robots
- WHO WON’T ENJOY THIS: Anyone with a short attention span, lack of patience, and fear of robots
- SIMILAR TITLES: Angry Birds; Advance Wars; SteamWorld Dig
Last week, I chronicled some of the abandoned franchises from Nintendo’s arcade era. Today, I’m looking at the games from the Nintendo Entertainment System and its Japanese progenitor, the Family Computer (Famicom). For various reasons, these titles never saw much love from either fans or the Big N — and their characters and settings fell into obscurity.
I’m pursuing this topic as E3 approaches, in response to criticism of Nintendo over the years for “playing it safe” and sticking to established franchises, rather than creating new IP or resurrecting forgotten characters and settings. If Nintendo wants to, they’ve got a pretty wide range of options for bringing out the dead on the mysterious NX next year!
On with the list:
Introduced: 1983, Mahjong (Famicom)
Latest entry: 1984, 4 Nin Uchi Mahjong (Famicom)
One of the very earliest home console titles from Nintendo, Mahjong was also a top seller on the Famicom. Rather than following the “Shanghai” rules most of us are familiar with, it resembles the Chinese tile game with rules similar to the European / American card game rummy. An entry in the Vs. Arcade series was produced, as well as a four-player sequel the following year; possibly making this Nintendo’s very first four-player game. At any rate, given the wealth of mahjong-style offerings out there, I see no reason Nintendo would want to revisit the franchise.
Gomoku Narabe Renju
Introduced: 1983, Gomoku Narabe Renju (Famicom)
Another very early Famicom title based on an “IRL” game. The title translates to “five points in a row” and it would be familiar to players who enjoy board games like Othello, Go, and Connect Four. Nintendo doesn’t own any trademarks or copyrights on the name, which would be equivalent to trying to trademark “checkers” for example, so there’s nothing to be gained here. It was re-released on Japan’s Wii Virtual Console in 2006, and you will likely recognize the sound effects from other early NES / Famicom games!
Introduced: 1984, Family BASIC (Famicom)
Latest entry: 1985, Family Basic V3 (Famicom)
One of Nintendo’s most creative, ambitious periods was 1982 – 1987, which saw the launch of the NES / Famicom era. Only then, and frankly never again, could a company like Nintendo attempt something as bold as a home computer programming kit, complete with peripheral keyboard, to use on an eight-bit video game console. Can you imagine Nintendo launching a “game” for learning Python or C# on Wii U? (Actually, someone else did!)
Introduced: 1984, Devil World (Famicom / NES)
Sort of a Pac-Man clone with religious iconography, Devil World is the only game designed by Shigeru Miyamoto to never see a North American release. Nintendo of America’s infamous puritanical policies regarding religious game content kept it away from these shores as it contains power-ups that resemble Christian crosses. (I don’t know whether Christians would be offended or mystified by a game in which a winged dragon pushes a cross, shoots fireballs and collects ice cream cones in an effort to defeat Satan.) Our European and Japanese friends can enjoy it today on Virtual Console; unlike, say, The Last Story, there hasn’t been an online movement to bring it to America, so I doubt we’ll ever play it here.
Introduced: 1984, F-1 Race (Famicom)
Latest entry: 1990, F-1 Race (Game Boy)
This is a series with a brief but interesting history. The first title was a not-too-bad looking Pole Position clone; its later Game Boy port was an early four-player handheld game, provided everyone had a Game Pak, four Game Link cables and a four-player adapter (included with some SKUs). But rewind a bit and things take a strange turn with 1987’s Famicom Disk System-only Famicom Grand Prix: F1 Race and its 1988 successor Famicom Grand Prix II: 3D Hot Rally. The former features Mario on the cover, standing next to a Formula One-style open-wheel racer; but this is no proto-Mario Kart. Instead, we have a top-down racer similar toR.C. Pro-Am, and Mario’s only appearance is at the end of races in the winner’s circle (at least, I think that’s supposed to be Mario). 3D Hot Rallyreturns to the first title’s camera behind the car, with a stereoscopic 3D twist using the bizarre Famicom 3D System, an attempt to mimic Sega’s Master System 3D glasses kit. While it might not be a bad port for 3DS, I imagine Nintendo just wants to focus its racing efforts on Mario Kart and not deal with any lawsuits from the Formula 1 racing circuit retroactively protecting its trademarks.
Clu Clu Land
Introduced: 1984, Clu Clu Land (Famicom / NES)
Latest entry: 1990, Clu Clu Land D (Famicom Disk System)
A pretty terrible early NES title which you can play on the Wii U Virtual Console if you desire. This odd action / maze / puzzle hybrid’s greatest legacy is that some of its assets were used in creating The Legend of Zeldaf or NES. Bubbles, the spines-free sea urchin heroine, is as one-dimensional a character as they come. Clu Clu Land saw a sort-of spiritual sequel in the Game Boy Advance title DK: King of Swing, but it’s probably safe to say there’s nothing more to be done with the concept.
Introduced: 1984, Pinball (Famicom / NES)
Fun fact: this fun but forgettable early NES title was produced and directed by none other than Satoru Iwata. Since it has a mini-game involving Mario rescuing Pauline, is this technically a Donkey Kong spin-off?
Introduced: 1984, Duck Hunt (Famicom / NES)
A modern sequel might have been a good Wii U title, but we’ll have to settle for the smartly ported Virtual Console edition. That release, of course, was timed to coincide with the return of the iconic dog and duck in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U. As for a lack of sequels over the last 30 years, I suspect the modern Nintendo of America doesn’t want to market a game in which killing animals is the objective. Maybe they could replace them with robot ducks or something. As long as we get to shoot the dog…
Introduced: 1984, Hogan’s Alley (Famicom / NES)
Another early Light Gun Game Pak which I owned and loved. It lives on in a few WarioWare titles as a mini-game, and in the real world as an FBI training facility. That place got its name from an earlier shooting range, which in turn borrowed its name from a setting in the 19th Century comic strip “The Yellow Kid”. So, in a manner of speaking, this is Nintendo’s oldest IP!
Introduced: 1985, Ice Climber (Famicom / NES)
Nana and Popo did not return in the Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, except in trophy form. You can still play this early Nintendo platformer on Virtual Console if you you hate yourself, since it is probably the worst NES / Famicom game Nintendo developed and released on its own. The premise, visuals, music, etc. are fine; the controls, however, are so awful the game is practically unplayable except for those with the knack for learning them.
Also, the Famicom version featured clubbing baby seals as part of the gameplay.
This list is getting pretty long, so I’ll cut it off here and be back next week with even more strange and amusing examples of Nintendo’s lost IP!