Nintendo’s Lost IP, Part 1: Arcade Classified
As I write this shortly before E3 2016, Nintendo is having a rough year. Production of major upcoming titles for the Wii U has all but ceased. The 3DS is in a downturn of its own. And Nintendo is unwilling to tell its clamoring fan base anything at all about its next platform, code named NX. The gaming world essentially has no idea what Nintendo is doing — and, some might say, neither does Nintendo.
With the NX on the horizon, there is hope Nintendo can right its ship and start bringing more great games to the fray. If there’s one thing Nintendo has always done right, it’s create and grow fantastic franchises and universes, based on its own ideas. Many of the all-time best-selling series live in the Nintendo fold, from Super Mario to Pokémon and The Legend of Zelda.
That said, there are plenty of other Nintendo franchises that seem to have fallen by the wayside — a gold mine of gaming history just waiting to be exploited. I thought it might be fun to look at some of their lesser-known and long-dormant IP, to see if there’s anything worth resurrecting. We begin with Nintendo’s early arcade days, littered with now-extinct franchises.
Introduced: 1974, Wild Gunman (arcade)
Latest entry: 1984, Wild Gunman (Famicom / NES)
The original was technically not really a video game as much as it was an electronic light gun target practice amusement device. But the NES adaptation was a legitimate NES Zapper game, limited as it was. The title made a cameo appearance of sorts in a Game Boy Advance WarioWaregame, but this doesn’t count. The Wii seemed like an ideal platform for a revival of target shooters like Wild Gunman’s spiritual descendants such as Time Crisis and Virtua Cop, but in spite of the Wii Zapper accessory, that genre never really took off again. That said, you can now play the NES version of Wild Gunman with a Wii Remote via the Wii U Virtual Console.
Introduced: 1979, Space Fever (arcade)
A shameless rip-off of Space Invaders and totally not worth revisiting. Apparently there was a “sequel” built into the Game Boy Camera, but we all know how popular that was.
Introduced: 1979, Sheriff (arcade)
Latest entry: 1979, Sheriff 2 (arcade)
One of Miyamoto’s early projects as an artist, and mostly forgotten; basically a Robotron 2084 clone. Like many of the games listed here, it was featured as a mini-game in the WarioWare series decades later.
Introduced: 1979, Monkey Magic (arcade)
A Breakout clone. For all the accusations against Sony and Microsoft of stealing Nintendo’s ideas, in its early days as a video game developer and publisher, the Big N was releasing plenty of unoriginal titles itself. Not really much more to say about this game; maybe it was folded into theDonkey Kong series?
Introduced: 1980, Space Firebird (arcade)
Latest entry: 1981, Space Demon (arcade)
Another game designed by Miyamoto before he was famous, and highly derivative of Gaplus. I’m uncertain whether it was related in any way to the anime Space Firebird 2772, which released at around the same time, but the arcade title’s hard-to-find sequel would suggest otherwise. It seems like an open-ended space shooter could be fertile ground for a Nintendo revival, but Star Fox sort of fills that void and it probably needs a new title before any other spacey shooters come back.
Introduced: 1979, Radar Scope (arcade)
Ahh yes, the failure that saved Nintendo. Miyamoto told Kotaku in 2013 that he was unsatisfied with Zelda II: The Adventure of Link when asked whether he’d ever made any “bad games”. However, by all accounts, Miyamoto’s much earlier arcade title Radar Scope was poorly received by American arcade gamers and it nearly led to financial ruin for Nintendo, or so the story goes. At any rate, Miyamoto’s great failure essentially launched his career; legend has it he was tasked with coming up with a new game to repurpose 2,000 or so unwanted Radar Scope cabinets, using the same hardware. The result: Donkey Kong. But what of the original game? Well, it’s nothing special — basically a Galaxian / Galaga clone, but given its unusual display angle, it seems ripe for a return on the 3DS.
Introduced: 1980, Heli Fire (arcade)
Yet another clone, similar to the early arcade classic Sea Wolf, this is said to be an especially rare arcade cabinet. We already have Steel Diver as a decent submarine combat game, and it has a sequel, so a Heli Fire remake is probably unnecessary.
…the game sees the player controlling a bi-plane as ‘Mr. You’, on a mission to rescue various members of a royal family scattered around four levels, whilst avoiding gorillas (sound familiar?) along the way. The bi-plane has limited fuel, so tactics need to be at the forefront of the player’s mind. Think Robotron meets Time Pilot and you’re in the ballpark.
Sky Skipper happens to be of the most rare and valuable arcade games in the world. If you ever come across a functioning cabinet, consider yourself lucky!
Introduced: 1982, Popeye (arcade)
Latest entry: 1983, Popeye (NES)
Nintendo doesn’t really do licensed character games any more, and while this one isn’t terrible, neither the arcade game nor later NES port were especially memorable; nor do I reckon kids these days have any idea who Popeye is / was. It’s said King Features Syndicate rejected Nintendo’s original proposal for a Popeye arcade title, so Nintendo replaced the characters with its own: Popeye became Jumpman (later Mario); Olive Oyl became Pauline; Bluto, Donkey Kong. It lives on in our pockets; the arcade title was re-made for iOS by Bandai Namco, though Nintendo was not involved.
Next week, I’ll take a look back at the forgotten franchises we saw first on the Nintendo Entertainment System / Famicom platform.