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!