Greetings to all my chums of Nintendo Enthusiast! It’s been a while, but I’m back to dispense with my invaluable musings.
I’ve been thinking lately about Nintendo’s eShop and how we’ve been treated to some of the best games to have ever come from the Kyoto-based firm. With the burgeoning (and ballooning) digital service of the Wii U and 3DS getting better every day, I’ve been thinking of some of the retro games I’d personally like to see revived in glorious HD. With the Wii’s Virtual Console, we saw previously niche titles like Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels and Sin & Punishment finally make it to the West and I’d like Nintendo to continue this trend by exporting more of its Japan-only software. With recent games like Earthbound, The Mysterious Murasame Castle, and Tomodachi Life making a splash, it’s clear that Iwata is now more willing to bestow more of Nintendo’s Japanese-flavoured games upon us — but I say, why restrict us to the new stuff?
So as such, this feature takes a look at some of Nintendo’s more obscure titles that deserve a revival on the eShop. Enjoy!
This ties in to the famous account of archaeologists finding and ancient giant metal ball dating back to the Meiji Restoration, a true story. Yoot Saito is an odd one; not content with freaking us out with the Dreamcast oddity Seaman, he then teamed with Nintendo to design Odama — possibly the most bizarre game to be released on the GameCube. It was released outside of Japan, but for all the attention it received, it may as well have remained on Saito’s PC.
Odama essentially is a pinball/RTS game set in feudal Japan and you play as a general named Yamanouchi Kagetora, who follows the mantra of ‘The Way of Ninten-do’ – which means “the way of heavenly duty.” Using this spiritual belief, Kagetora and his army band together to overcome all odds on their road to the villain, Karasuma Genshin. Luckily for them, they also have a secret weapon – the Odama. Basically, this is a giant pinball. Which they use to squash everyone. With giant flippers.
If this hasn’t piqued your interest, get out of my sight. You sicken me.
In addition to this craziness, the game came packed with the GameCube Microphone peripheral, which could be slotted onto the controller itself. Using this underutilised accessory, gamers were able to issue eleven different commands to their army — and these ranged from simple directions all the way to special moves. One could see this function being emulated with the GamePad’s microphone, which means one of Odama’s most quirky gimmicks doesn’t need to be lost to the annals of time. Additionally, early builds of the game even used the DK Bongo attachment — and a GameCube adapter is coming to Wii U.
I’ll let you do the math.
Doshin the Giant
When one thinks of god games, classics such as Populous and Black & White, as well as newer titles like Spore, From Dust, and Godus, come to mind. However, did you know that Nintendo also dabbled in the genre of omnipotence? It could be argued that titles like Animal Crossing and Pikmin could be classed as ‘god games,’ but there was a more literal example in the Big N’s resume: Doshin the Giant.
Described by designer Kazutoshi Iida as “Populous meets Mario,” it was first released on the ill-fated N64DD in 1999 before being ported to the GameCube in 2002. Doshin the Giant was a peculiar experiment by Nintendo and defunct developer Param, which saw you taking control of the eponymous yellow giant. Narrated by an islander named Sodoru, the game takes place on the atoll of Barudo, as Doshin rises majestically out of the sea. From then, he helps the locals with their requests, with the ultimate goal being the unification of the four tribes. As he wins the hearts of his subjects, Doshin absorbs their ‘love’ and becomes even more powerful. However, he can also exhibit a darker side by tormenting the poor people, which turns him into the devilish ‘Jashin’ instead. Under this crimson guise, Jashin can spew fire across the land and cause the locals to erect ‘hate’ monuments (as opposed to Doshin’s ‘love’ ones).
Like Odama, Doshin the Giant was actually released outside of Japan — but as usual, not nearly enough people played it, despite being a relative commercial success compared to the other digital peculiarities in this feature.
Skip Ltd. is one of Nintendo’s more quirky development houses; perhaps best known for its Chibi-Robo series, the small crew of talented game makers have shown their impressive repertoire with games like GBA’s bit Generations series, the DSi/Wii Ware range of art style digital software, and the Wii game Captain Rainbow. More on the last one in a bit.
Perhaps the biggest tragedy in the firm’s fourteen-year history is that of GiFTPiA. This has nothing to do with the game’s quality; rather, the tears welling up in me are due to the fact that GiFTPiA was fully translated into English, ready to be unleashed upon the western shoes — only for Nintendo to pull the plug because the game was deemed ‘too weird.’
Heaven knows why, because any game that makes paying off a debt sound fun is a game I want to partake in. It places you in the small shoes of Pockle, a young boy who oversleeps and misses his own coming-of-age ceremony. The mayor of Nanashi Island — imaginatively named ‘Mayer’ — arrests the poor kid before slamming him with a 5 million ‘mane’ debt.
Skip’s peculiar sense of humour manifests itself in the way Pockle is treated like some sort of horrible vagrant. In the early stages, the kid wakes up in the ‘Crowbar Hotel,’ his face pixelated and his ankle clamped to a ball and chain. Pockle is additionally shadowed by a police bot named Mappo, who is there to make sure the boy adheres to his curfew. Failure to get indoors before then and he will faint on the spot before being visited by the Sleep Fairy, who will steal all of your belongings.
These restrictions are slowly lifted as Pockle performs tasks for Nanashi’s various inhabitants and you progress through the game. These first begin with menial jobs like fishing, fruit-picking, frog-catching, and repair work — but progress eventually to outright wish fulfillment. Really, the game is fairly simple but no less endearing because of its fantastic cast of characters.
There’s even a full radio to listen to as you complete Pockle’s tasks, with over a dozen stations and ninteen artists that emulates one of the best features of Grand Theft Auto. Every morning, GiFTPiA’s resident DJ, DEEJ (work that will announce the show whilst Nanashi’s people go about their daily business, each with their own dynamic schedule. It really makes the world feel alive and the simple, albeit stylish, visuals would lend themselves very well to an HD eShop remake. Get on it, Nintendo!
Skip was not content with slapping ankle bracelets on poor children in GiFTPiA; the motley crew of Chibi-Robo fame then decided to question Birdo’s sexuality.
Welcome to Captain Rainbow, the best Wii game to never see a release in the English-speaking world — well, aside from Zangeki no Reginleiv, but that’s a story for another day. Captain★Rainbow, to give it its appropriate styling, is a kaleidoscopic, yo-yo-wielding superhero who just so happens to be the alter ego of a nerd named Nick. Once upon a time, Mr. Rainbow was once the star of a mega-popular TV show in the ‘Land of the Free’ Mameruca; however, this TV show has since waned in popularity. Desperate to reclaim his former glory, Nick travels to Minmin Island, where dreams can supposedly come true, on a raft.
Much like GiFTPiA, Captain Rainbow is a game about making others happy, but what sets this game apart from its GCN predecessor is its supporting cast.
You see, Minmin Island is home to Nintendo characters down on their luck. Those coming in to this expecting Mario or Samus will be sorely disappointed, though, as Captain Rainbow instead shines the spotlight on the obscure and forgotten. Remember Crazy Tracy, the potion-brewing witch from Link’s Awakening? Or Lip from Panel de Pon? Even Mappo, the robot cop from GiFTPiA, makes an appearance! Perhaps the best known of this band of misfits are the aforementioned Birdo and Little Mac, the latter who is anything but little when you first meet him.
Upon helping NPCs with the more mundane tasks, Mr. Rainbow is rewarded with crystals called ‘Kirarin.’ A wish-granting meteor will fall on Minmin when he earns twenty of these, which must be brought to an altar. It’s at this stage that Nick must choose: either grant the wish of one of his pals or use the opportunity to make himself famous once more. It’s one of those binary ‘good or evil’ things, but when you think about it, do you really owe those Kyoto rejects anything?
For the Frog the Bell Tolls
Before The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Nintendo released this Game Boy oddity. Known in its native tongue as Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru, For the Frog the Bell Tolls is a quirky RPG developed by Intelligent Systems and was released exclusively in Japan in 1992. A play on the title of Ernest Hemmingway’s novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, FTFTBT follows the exploits of the prince of the Sabure Kingdom and his lifelong rival, Richard of the Custard Kingdom. A messenger arrives one day, proclaiming that the evil King Delarin has kidnapped Princess Tiramasu of the Mille-Feuille Kingdom. Being the cocky git that he is, Richard darts off to rescue the damsel in distress, leaving our poor hero lagging behind.
It’s a fun twist on the usual ‘save the princess’ premise that Nintendo had long ago perfected with Super Mario Bros. and it is emblematic of the unconventional, anarchic spirit that runs throughout the game. FTFTBT is generally seen as the spiritual predecessor to Link’s Awakening and it’s easy to see why. The top-down view, the quirky setting, the side-scrolling sections — even Richard himself!
It was clear that Nintendo didn’t want these design decisions to go to waste in a Japan-only obscuro-game and as such, ripped out this frog’s beating heart and transplanted it into Link’s monochromatic adventure. The animal influences in Link’s Awakening, too, originated in For the Frog the Bell Tolls. The main character can transform into a frog — surprise! — and a snake, which affects his stats whilst granting him special abilities. The former lets him swim, eat insects, and even converse with other amphibians whilst the latter allows him to squeeze through tight spaces, turn enemies into blocks by biting them, and chase frogs away.
The battle system is quite unique as well. Though turn-based, you don’t actually do anything; instead, wins and losses are purely determined by the effectiveness of your armour and weapons, as well as the amount of health you have. Enemy scuffles are visually represented as cartoon-esque clouds, with victory earning the nameless hero hearts, cash, and items. Defeat, however, sends him to the nearest hospital. GTA, eat your heart out.
For the Frog the Bell Tolls has frustratingly already been released on the 3DS eShop in Japan. Hopefully, Nintendo will one day see fit to translate this twenty-one-year-old (!) game into the Queen’s English.
Marvelous: Another Treasure Island
You may know Eiji Aonuma as Mr. Zelda these days, but did you know that he made other games? It’s true! Marvelous: Another Treasure Island is a Super Famicom title that is heavily influenced by The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The basic plot revolves around the ‘marvelous’ treasure, a legendary bastion of wealth that was long ago left by a figure known as Captain Maverick. Now guarded by a host of brain-bending conundrums and fearsome creatures, a group of three kids set off on a journey in search of this elusive reward. However, it turns out that a band of pirates have the same idea!
Released in 1996, Nintendo was by then far too preoccupied with the N64 to worry about localising Marvelous for the western market, which is a damn shame because Aonuma’s directorial debut really echoed the adventurous spirit of Link’s own quests. Each of the three boys have their own unique abilities, with the playable lad possessing the ‘Leader Hat.’ Dion is small and, as such, can fit into tight spaces; Max is the fatty of the group, which naturally means he’s the strong one; and finally, Jack is the tall, nerdy one who is good at building things. It was genuinely refreshing to see protagonists who weren’t able-bodied swordsmen or spiky-haired ‘chosen ones,’ but are instead kids. Kids who were simply going on an adventure — a G-rated Stand by Me, as it were.
Like For the Frog the Bell Tolls, Marvelous: Another Treasure Island was re-released in Japan — in February, in fact. Maybe, like with The Mysterious Murasame Castle, we shall finally sample the delights of this overlooked gem.