Nintendo’s Lost IP, Part 2.2: Famicomplicated
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!