There have been many voices recently questioning Nintendo’s seemingly constant returning to the well of established franchises at the perceived expense of boldly introducing entirely-new characters, universes and gameplay. I was among them in the immediate aftermath of their E3 presentation.
But as Shigeru Miyamoto protested in his interview with this website’s EIC, Nintendo has plenty of new ideas. Likewise, corporate mascot Reggie Fils-Aime repeated an “over 30 franchises” mantra to interviewers during and after E3.
Mr. Fils-Aime is incorrect. Nintendo has far, FAR more than just over 30 franchises. It’s possible they have more IP than any other major video game publisher.
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. I’ll begin with Nintendo’s early arcade days, littered with now-extinct franchises.
Introduced: 1974, Wild Gunman (arcade)
Latest entry: 1984, Wild Gunman (Famicom / NES)
Okay, so 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 WarioWare game, 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.
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 the Donkey 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 recently told Kotaku 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 an unpopular submarine combat game, and it has a sequel on the way, so a Heli Fire remake is probably unnecessary.
Introduced: 1981, Sky Skipper (arcade)
I have absolutely no idea what is going on here. Let us never speak of this again.
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. One final note: the arcade title was recently re-made for iOS by Namco Bandai, 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.