These days, Japanese firm Konami is probably best known across the world for such franchises as Metal Gear, Silent Hill, and Pro Evolution Soccer. But it only takes a brief scan through the company’s lengthy history to see that there’s far more to Konami than those three jewels in its crown. Castlevania is a hugely popular series among its dedicated core, while music series Dance Dance Revolutionhas remained phenomenally successful in Japan since it first appeared in 1998.
The past few years, however, have seen Konami move away from the high-risk, low-margin world of console development, with its recently-appointed CEO Hideki Hayakawa stating in May that “Mobile is where the future of gaming lies.”
While the company backpedalled slightly on that statement, the fact remains that its recently-announced surge in profits was largely as a result of its success in the mobile gaming sector. This, coupled with the gradual loss of some of the company’s most respected developers – including Castlevania‘s Koji Igarashi and Metal Gear‘s Hideo Kojima – and the announcement that the next Silent Hilland Castlevania games will be Japan-only pachinko machines, all point to just how much Konami has changed in recent years.
For more evidence, look again at the once popular game franchises that Konami, quite mystifyingly, hasn’t returned to in recent years. Who knows, with Konami recently putting out a survey about its back catalog, maybe we’ll be seeing the return of one or two of these in the not-too-distant future…
When Konami bought (and subsequently liquidated) Hudson Soft in 2011, the company wound up owning the latter’s expansive back catalog of franchises and games. Adventure Island isn’t necessarily the most famous of those franchises, but it was nevertheless quite popular in Japan in its day. (Adventure Island also has links to the Wonder Boy series, which is far too complicated to delve into in detail here.)
A series of platformers starring Takahashi Meijin, a Hudson executive who became the company’s unofficial mascot in the 80s, Adventure Island first appeared on the NES in 1986, and made occasional appearances over the next 20 years or so. The series culminated in Adventure Island: The Beginninglaunched as a download-only title for the Wii in 2007.
That latter entry – a somewhat shaky 2.5D affair – wasn’t entirely convincing, but it still contained much of the breezy side-scrolling action of its predecessors.
Could it be revived? Given the franchise’s increasingly obscure status, particularly in the west, it’s looking less likely with each passing year.
Known by the less embarrassing title of BC Genjin or BC Kid outside America, Bonk was a surprisingly excellent series of caveman-themed platformers created by Hudson Soft. In terms of character and imaginative design, the Bonk games even managed to give Nintendo’s all-conquering Mario games a run for their money.
Their pace and spirit might explain why the Bonk games survived the death of the PC Engine – the 80s console Hudson developed in conjunction with tech giant NEC – and clung on well into the 21st century. Shortly before Hudson went the way of the dinosaur in 2011, it had outsourced a game called Bonk: Brink of Extinction to a U.S. studio called Pi. That game was sadly canceled before its release.
Could it be revived? The platform genre’s enjoyed a real resurgence over the past few years, so a well-handled game starring the titular plucky caveman could bring the Bonk franchise to a new audience. We’re not holding our breath, though.
Of all the titles Konami acquired after its absorption of Hudson, Bomberman is the most criminally overlooked.
From its launch in 1983, Bomberman gradually grew into one of the most consistently entertaining multiplayer games on the planet, with its Battle Mode coaxing a generation of gamers to shout furiously at their screens after being trapped in a corner and blown to smithereens for the umpteenth time.
Okay, so the various Bomberman spin-offs released over the years haven’t always been convincing, and the core game changed little in its transition from the 8-bit era to the likes of the Sega Saturn to the Xbox 360. But if something isn’t broken, why tinker with it?
An iPhone and Android port edition aside, Konami doesn’t appear to have done anything with Bomberman since it acquired its rights in 2011. A version for the Nintendo 3DS was in development at one point, but this was later cancelled.
Could it be revived? We sincerely hope so. For an example of what form a modern Bomberman could take, it’s worth looking into Hudson’s 1990s past. Back when HD televisions were almost unheard of, it showed off a game called Bomberman Hi-Ten, which used a high-def display to create a huge single-screen battle arena for 10 players. Here’s one of the few glimpses of it in action:
The game was never released, but if Konami could somehow revive that game with modern comforts like online play, it could have a new generation of players screaming profanities at their televisions.
Failing that, we at least have Bombermine.
Konami’s Contra games are rooted in the decade which brought us Aliens, Predator, and profoundly muscular action stars. But beneath the swagger lurked a series of run-and-gun games that garnered a fiercely loyal following of hardcore players. The original Contra, released in 1987, 1992‘s Contra III: The Alien Wars, and 1994‘s Contra: The Hard Corps were, for this writer, among the best games Konami ever made.
It’s strange to think that this once proud series, which frequently pushed the technical boundaries of the systems on which it ran, now has a relatively low profile compared to Metal Gear. The last entries we saw in the series were both download only – the surprisingly decent Hard Corps: Uprising, released in 2011, and Contra: Evolution, a pay-to-play entry for mobile phones. Oh, and there was a Contra slot machine released solely in Japan back in 2013.
Could it be revived? Contra certainly deserves some renewed attention, whether it’s in 2D form (like the brilliant Bionic Commando Re-Armed, for example), or as a 3D reworking like Castelvania: Lords of Shadow. But Konami already has one hit military sci-fi series with Metal Gear, so it’s possible that company doesn’t want to confuse its audience by developing such a thematically similar game.
With 1985‘s Gradius, Konami defined a genre that dominated arcades for almost a decade. The side-scrolling shooter arrived with a rush of catchy music, superbly designed graphics, and relentless action that still managed to work in a hint of strategy. After Gradius, every shooting game had to have its own interesting weapons system and its own screen-filling area bosses. But while Gradius may have ushered in an age of imitators, Gradius survived the slow death of western arcades, inspiring various spin-offs (see later) and no fewer than four full sequels.
The last of them was 2004’s stunning Gradius V, a game which, far from providing crusty shooting fans a shot of nostalgia, seemed to point to where the increasingly obscure genre could go next. Its action was intense, its graphics stunning, and its music – courtesy of Hitoshi Sakimoto – truly cinematic.
Yet far from breathing new life into the series, Gradius V appeared to mark its end. It seems that sales for the game fell below Konami’s expectations, which might explain why the only entry we’ve seen since was the download-only Gradius Rebirth – a pleasant but low-key remix of the early games’ pixel graphics.
Could it be revived? Konami’s change of focus to mobile gaming suggests we’ll never see a Gradius game of the budget and sheer polish of V, but we live in hope. That Gradius V recently made an appearance on the PlayStation 4 could suggest that Konami’s bosses haven’t forgotten about their classic shooter series entirely.
Konami Wai Wai World
Now here’s a really obscure little series. Unlike most major Japanese firms, Konami never really bothered to create a major platformer to rival the likes of Super Mario or even Taito’s Bubble Bobble. The closest it came was Konami Wai Wai World, a pair of NES games that only came out in Japan. A kind of team-up game where all kinds of characters from Konami’s back catalog had to be rescued and controlled, its surreal roster included Simon Belmont from Castlevania, the Vic Viper ship from Gradius, Mikey from The Goonies, and cinema’s angriest ape, King Kong. The platforming action didn’t break any new ground, but both games, released in 1988 and 1991, were as solidly put together as the rest of Konami’s console output.
Could it be revived? The use of licensed characters owned by major film studios is likely to be a sticking point. And given that the number of people who remember playing the original games could probably fill a minibus, it’s unlikely that Konami will be keen to bring it back.
In 2007, Hudson released Star Soldier R as a download-only Wii title, and it provided a short, solid glimpse of what a 2.5D version of the shooter series could look like. But once again, Konami’s barely touched the series since 2011 – one port for iOS aside.
Could it be revived? If Konami’s reluctant to bring back Gradius after 10 years in the doldrums, the even more niche Star Soldier probably doesn’t stand a chance. We hope we’re wrong, though.
This unbearably cute line of vertically-scrolling shooters was popular enough to spark an anime series and a radio play in Japan, but it never quite broke through into mainstream consciousness elsewhere in the world. Nevertheless, the Twinbee franchise, which first appeared in 1985, offered a consistently pleasing mix of cutesy graphics and deceptively tough shooting action. The series even made a foray into platformer territory (see the charming yet often overlooked Rainbow Bell Adventures on the Super Nintendo).
Could it be revived? As with seemingly all of Konami’s 80s shooters, Twinbee may be doomed to languish in the shadows.
Mystical Ninja/Ganbare Goemon
A long-running series of action adventures that appeared on the NES, SNES, and PlayStation, the Goemon games were steeped in Japanese history and folklore. Released in the west as Mystical Ninja, the Goemon games were colorful, fun, and consistently challenging. The last proper Goemon console game appeared a decade ago for the Nintendo DS.
Could it be revived? The need for games to be huge hits all over the world might make a series as quintessentially Japanese an unlikely choice for Konami, but the Goemon games were well received all over the world in their 90s heyday. It’s surely about time they were given a second chance.
The success of the Gradius series was such that Konami even saw fit to poke some fun at its expense with Parodius. It’s essentially another side-scrolling shooter series but with the sci-fi theme undercut with cute animals (most prominently cats, penguins, and octopodes) and copious references to Japanese folklore. There were five main Parodius games in total, and they were all excellent in their own way. As the Gradius series became increasingly tough and inward-looking as the 90s dawned, the Parodius games’ imagination and unpredictable level design actually made it the more entertaining of the two.
Could it be revived? If there were any justice, Parodius would make some kind of return. The closest we’ve had is Otomodius, another Gradius spin-off where Konami’s penguin army is joined by lots of scantily-clad ladies and other fanservice. Unfortunately, cost-cutting could be seen everywhere, and Otomodius was poorly received by most critics. Our suggestion? Do a Gradius V and hand the franchise to Japanese dev team Treasure for a top-notch revival.
Between Gradius and Gradius II, Konami released a spin-off shooter that looked almost the same as the main series at first glance, but introduced a few new ideas of its own – not least a simplified weapons system and alternating horizontal and vertically scrolling stages. The U.S. version was distinguished by its pulsating, organic graphics, which were later ported back to Japan. Inevitably, Salamander didn’t make as much of a splash as Gradius, but it did get a really lavish sequel in 1996, which was among the most handsome-looking 2D shooters of its era.
Could it be revived? Probably not, but a current-gen Salamander along the lines of that 1996 sequel would be more than welcome.
The ultimate sniper-on-the-rooftop simulator, Silent Scope was a familiar sight in the arcades of the late 90s and early 2000s. But somehow, the thrill of peering down a rifle scope didn’t translate too well to consoles (perhaps because the home version didn’t come with a gigantic replica gun), and the franchise has gradually slid into obscurity over the last decade.
Could it be revived? Maybe as a more conventional shooter with a sniping angle, akin to Rebellion’s Sniper Elite series. Either that or Konami needs to start manufacturing a rifle peripheral for a straight retread of the old rail shooter games.
More rail gun action, this time with brightly-colored plastic handguns and 90s-era digitized graphics. Mildly controversial for their violence, the first two Lethal Enforcers games were ported to 16-bit consoles and the PlayStation, though the third game (which wasn’t originally programmed as a Lethal Enforcers sequel, curiously) remained arcade only.
Could it be revived? The popularity of the rail gun genre’s faded quite a bit over the past decade. So short of a complete reinvention, it seems inevitable that, like Silent Scope, Lethal Enforcers will remain firmly in the past.
Now here’s a properly obscure series. Momotaro Dentetsu was Hudson Soft’s quirky mix of Japanese folklore (Momotaro, or Peach Boy, is a familiar character in Japan), board game, and train simulator. Like much of Hudson’s old stuff, Momotaro Dentetsu has lingered on the shelf since 2011 – a frustrating state of affairs which ultimately led creator Akira Sakuma to tweet in May that the series was “officially done.”
Could it be revived? Believe it or not, this is where there’s a bit of a silver lining. Because, while Konami’s shown little interest in Momotaro Dentetsu, Nintendo has reportedly bought up its rights. While this won’t mean much to anyone who isn’t interested in board game train driving simulator mash-ups, but Nintendo’s acquisition sets a promising precedent.
Imagine if Nintendo decided to buy some of the other games in Hudson’s old catalogue. Bomberman and the house ofMario? The two would, surely, make a perfect fit.