As Anthony John Agnello wrote about yesterday, there are a few types of games that tend to show up during a console’s dying days, the time after the system’s successor has been released and most potential players have stopped paying attention. Sometimes they’re unlikely imports. Sometimes they’re ambitious projects that require the experience with a console’s idiosyncrasies that a studio can only get after years of practice. Sometimes they’re cash-ins whose very existence seems illogical. But no matter the case, these last dregs are almost always weird, unexpected parting gifts from an old friend. We’ve assembled 14 games from across history to look back at this phenomenon that, with the current crop of consoles, might itself be in its final throes.
The Atari 2600 was a crazy success when it came out in 1977. The flood of games published for it, including those famously over-printed by Atari itself, led to an almost complete collapse of the U.S. console market in 1983. Yet Atari and the 2600 survived. Those damn things are still being made today—even though Atari stopped manufacturing them in 1992, two years after it stopped publishing games for the system. The last trickle of Atari-published 2600 games included a number of ports from the arcade, but also the return of Atari’s pappy, Nolan Bushnell, via his new company Axlon. It was Axlon that made the very last Atari-published game in 1990, Klax, alongside stray originals, like MotoRodeo, a monster-truck racing game. Bushnell himself designed Axlon’s Secret Quest alongside Klax/MotoRodeo programmer Steve DeFrisco. A sort of sci-fi action role-playing game, Secret Quest plays a lot like Bushnell’s version of The Legend Of Zelda—more active than Adventure, but still as abstract as most other Atari 2600 games. [Anthony John Agnello]
There is no logical reason why Mighty Final Fight should exist. Final Fight, the original arcade game, had already been ported to the SNES, and its real sequel would come to the SNES—not the arcade—only a month after Mighty’s release. Side-scrolling brawlers were clearly a product for the 16-bit generation, with its myriad colors for glistening sweat and detailed urban decay. Yet, here it was, a chibi-sized recreation of Final Fight with super-deformed characters on the nearly-forgotten NES. The audio-visual deconstruction made for a curiously entertaining presentation, but the sheer number of moving sprites on-screen was too much for the wee little NES, causing a tremendous amount of flickering. Mighty Final Fight stands as one of gaming’s best demonstrations that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, or possibly vice versa. [Derrick Sanskrit]
The first StarTropics was already a weird game. What starts as a modern day island-hopping adventure to find your missing uncle ends with collecting magic cubes on a spaceship and rescuing the last survivors of an expired planet. Zoda’s Revenge, released on the NES two-and-a-half years after the SNES hit store shelves, forgets all about that sense of westernized modernity in favor of time travel. Leonardo Da Vinci paints the “Mona Lisa” with a punk-rock hairdo, Cleopatra asks for a pizza with no anchovies, and our hero collects Tetris blocks in a half-hearted attempt to make the popular puzzle game an embedded part of Nintendo mythology. They also got rid of the original’s trademark yo-yo. It’s sort of like the shift between the first two Zelda games, only instead of changing the style of play but keeping the atmosphere and charm, the developers did the exact opposite. [Derrick Sanskrit]
Super Asteroids & Missile Command is the last game to be released under the Atari imprimatur for its Lynx handheld system. While the Lynx survived six years in third place behind Sega’s Game Gear and Nintendo’s Game Boy, Atari chose to cease support of the aging handheld in order to focus on the company’s new home console, the Jaguar. A system’s final games often include technical marvels, since years of experience enable developers to squeeze the most out of a piece of hardware. The two arcade games included in Super Asteroids & Missile Command received a slight graphical tweak for the Lynx but otherwise, remain largely unchanged. Releasing a collection from Atari’s halcyon days as the Lynx’s last game feels like a bid to maintain a sense of the company’s importance in light of its failing ventures.
“Remember me as I was when I was young,” Atari seems to say, “a giant!”
“I will,” you promise. But it’s too late. The Lynx is gone. And the Game Boy and Game Gear are downstairs, already arguing over who gets the silver. [Nick Wanserski]
In an era where every one-on-one fighting game was still copying either Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat’s 2-D formula, Sega’s Virtua Fighter burst onto the arcade scene in 1994 with 3-D combatants and brawls. The revolutionary game was also the perfect showcase for Sega’s next big console, the Saturn, and was the crown jewel of its launch lineup in both Japan (1994) and America (1995). Sega even managed to bring it to the 32X, an external Genesis upgrade that souped-up the old console, with the 3-D largely intact. Virtua Fighter 2 was even more advanced, and by the time of its release in 1995, the 32X was on its way out and the Genesis had been killed off in Japan. But someone somewhere inside Sega really wanted to capitalize on the Virtua Fighter hype because the decision was made to partner with an outside developer to bring something called Virtua Fighter 2 to the Genesis in the twilight of its life. Instead of the gorgeous 3-D characters and animation, the Genesis VF2 was a slow 2-D fighter completely devoid of the personality that kept the series’ technologically inferior peers alive for so many years after Virtua Fighter’s revolution. [Matt Gerardi]
Of the nearly 5,000 games released for the Super Famicom (Japan’s version of the SNES), just 48 were released in 1998. That makes sense, as the PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and Sega Saturn had all been on shelves for years at that point, and Nintendo’s beloved gray box was positively ancient (by that era’s standards) at seven years old. Most of the heavyweight game publishers had moved their signature series to the contemporary boxes. Capcom, for example, took Mega Man (known as Rockman in his home country) to the PlayStation, putting out Mega Man 8, Mega Man X4, and even the new 3-D spinoff, Mega Man Legends, on Sony’s new console by the end of 1997. Yet Capcom mysteriously went back to the aging Super Famicom for a bizarre sequel that let you play as either Mega Man or his evil rival Bass (Forte) fighting not against Dr. Wily but a crazy ax-wielding robot named King. Keiji Inafune, the series’ creator, said in the Mega Man: The Official Complete Works anniversary book that the game was made for younger players that might not have moved on to newer consoles. That doesn’t explain why it’s also one of the hardest games in the series, or why it launched on an older console but used a downgraded version of Mega Man 8’s PlayStation graphics, or why they decided to change up one of gaming’s oldest formulas on a box so far past its prime. [Anthony John Agnello]
That One Piece Mansion maintains no level of cult status seems purely a consequence of timing. It was released for the original PlayStation in late 2001, while the PlayStation 2 was experiencing a medium-defining season that culminated in Grand Theft Auto III. So nobody was there to notice this weird, delightful puzzle game about managing tenant stress levels. The game’s menagerie of strange renters either causes or alleviates the stress of their neighbors, with some characters doing both, like the charismatic hairdresser who charms his floor-mates but also periodically stabs his scissors through the ceiling of the apartment below. Too much stress would cause tenants to vacate their apartment with explosives. Finding the sustainable ecosystem within each building gave this game a unique hook, but the world had already moved on. [Joe Keiser]
It’s difficult to remember what a comedic and cultural presence Austin Powers held when first released, before the catchphrases became unbearable and the franchise was relegated to a purgatory of local car dealership parodies and a lingering presence in Halloween outlet stores as false teeth and flammable velour suits. A marker on this downward path is Austin Powers Pinball for the PlayStation. Released two years after the PlayStation 2 made its debut, the game is, if not incompetent, certainly lackluster. It has only two pinball tables (neither of which so much as reference Goldmember, also released in 2002, or the real-life Austin Powers pinball table from 2001) and no features to speak of. It’s video game knockwurst, assembled from the gristle and scraps left over after a retiring system’s choicest cuts have long been portioned out. [Nick Wanserski]
Guillotined just 18 months after its American release, the Sega Dreamcast’s death was so sudden that the game-making apparatus behind it could not stop in time. The result: dozens of games born orphans, long after their parent console had passed away. Here is where poor Floigan Bros.: Episode 1 rests. It committed just three sins:
- It assumed a two-year-old system would make it to year three, and so split itself up into hour-long episodes to be released months apart. This was a bold idea in 2001, and it ensured there would never be more than an hour of Floigan Bros.
- It assumed a robust online audience would accept the filling of the months between episodes with free downloadable content. This forward-thinking idea introduced the world to pretend hats being delivered over the Internet—a huge market today, but back then, the world wasn’t ready.
- It’s a laugh-less vaudevillian comedy about two brothers who physically and emotionally abuse each other in order to build… something. Unfortunately, by 2001 there weren’t enough Dreamcast-owning, estranged 1940s-radio-show enthusiasts to give Floigan Bros. the audience it deserved. [Joe Keiser]
Time waits for no game. While WayForward’s awesome little game about a genie that transforms into animals by belly dancing and whips pirates with her hair was conceived in the mid-’90s, it didn’t go into development until 2000. Nintendo’s Game Boy Color was only two years old at that point, and while it had seen some interesting remakes of big games, like Dragon Warrior III, it wasn’t home to many ambitious originals like Shantae. The game was finished and WayForward found a publisher in Capcom, but the company delayed the release of the game and Nintendo launched its more powerful Game Boy Advance in the interim. By the time Shantae finally came out, Game Boy Advance had been on shelves for a year, and even though it could play Game Boy Color games, Capcom allegedly printed as few as 15,000 copies. Shantae was not the last Game Boy Color game, but it was the last great stab at something wholly original, a risky move even at the peak of a gaming machine’s life. [Anthony John Agnello]
The third entry in Shigesato Itoi’s Mother series of Nintendo role-playing games was nearly a “last lick” for two other Nintendo consoles. This installment, about family, feudalism, and the rhythms of nature, was in development for both the Super Famicom and the 64DD (an ill-fated Nintendo 64 add-on) before being canceled and re-tooled for the Game Boy Advance in April 2006, 16 months after the Nintendo DS was released. It was a huge commercial and critical success in Japan, but even if Americans hadn’t already moved on to dual-screen pastures, it’s unlikely Mother 3 would have been released overseas, given Nintendo Of America’s mishandling of EarthBound and its dismal sales. The free-to-download fan translation remains the single best reason to keep any device that runs ROM files around. [Derrick Sanskrit]
Nintendo’s WarioWare development team joined up with one of Japan’s most prolific pop musicians for this 2006 rhythm game to brilliant effect. Tsunku’s effervescent tunes tethered perfectly with the bold, colorful presentation and simplicity of WarioWare, and the game’s call-and-response musical action made it easy for newcomers to get swept up in the beat. It was Nintendo’s very last release for the Game Boy Advance, and by this point, Americans had already moved on to playing Star Fox Command on the redesigned DS Lite. As such, a localization was completely out of consideration, but the DS and Wii sequels saw worldwide release, and a 3DS installment with remastered versions of the games from all three past titles was recently announced for Japan. [Derrick Sanskrit]
Sakura Wars would always be a hard sell in America. A universally adored series in Japan and born on the Sega Saturn, its blend of tactical role-playing and a steampunk revision of 20th-century history seemed like the kind of thing that could make it out to the wider world. The part where it’s a drawn-out dating simulation with a harem of mech pilots, however, marked it as the sort of thing Sega would keep at home in perpetuity. The fifth game, So Long, My Love, hit Japanese PS2s in 2005 and looked like it would stay there with the rest of the series. Then, NIS America decided to bring it out in the spring of 2010, a full decade after the PS2 came out and almost four years into the PS3’s lifespan. You play as a young Japanese soldier assigned to work with a pilot harem based in an all-female cabaret whose 1920s New York theater turns into a flying airship. That’s not exactly a hot ticket for the PS2 at the peak of its popularity—circa 2005—but perfect for the end of its days. [Anthony John Agnello]
Unceremoniously booted out of its parents’ basement and onto the PlayStation 3 last year, Magus is the sort of puerile entertainment that can only appear when everyone has their back turned, power fantasy at its most juvenile. Magus is literally a god whose only goal is to conquer a kingdom. Those who would seek to stop him swarm harmlessly around beige landscapes, waiting for death; the few who monotonically beg for mercy are often tortured before they are killed. Periodically, Magus’ scantily clad female companion will tell him how wonderful and lordly he is, letting the player respond from a menu of caustic one-liners. Because Magus should not exist, it could only exist here, in the purgatory between console generations, where the great god Magus can rule over his one put-upon lady friend and his pile of unicorn corpses. Hoo boy, does Magus kill a lot of unicorns. [Joe Keiser]