Feature: Obscure Series That Should Return on Wii U
Posted by Javier Santana Panero
Baby come back
Whenever a new system is announced, cyberspace is filled with wish lists of games that ought to be released faster than you can say Miyamoto. Very little is known so far about games coming to Wii U, so speculation is rife even though some classic series have already been heavily hinted at (Pikmin 3) or should be an announcement away (come on, F-Zero). Here's a selection of five lesser-known series that have slipped under the mainstream radar and would be excellent additions to the new console’s line-up.
A distant relative of both The Legend of Zelda and Mother series, the first StarTropics game thrusts average teenager-cum-hero Mike Jones into an island-hopping adventure in search of his uncle, which quickly descends into sci-fi territory with a hint of the absurd. The game was released for the NES in 1990 for Western audiences only, even though it was developed by Japanese designers living in the US, which probably accounts for the zany melange of Americana topics like alien abduction with your average Japanese joke about getting bananas stuck in your ears. A sequel, where Mike gets to travel through time and space meeting Cleopatra, da Vinci and other historical figures, was released so late into the life cycle of the NES that it faded into total obscurity.
Resurrecting Pit for Kid Icarus: Uprising on 3DS proved Nintendo hadn’t closed the door to an NES oldie but goodie with uncharted potential. With the Zelda series teetering towards over-exposure and Shigesato Itoi’s refusal to expand the Mother universe, there has never been a better chance for StarTropics’ quirky sense of adventure to shine through.
Why Wii U?
StarTropics is the brainchild of Genyo Takeda, one of the revolutionary fathers of the Wii, and is one of the first and few Nintendo games that require some level of off-screen lateral thinking to proceed in the story — players had to dip a letter included with the original packaging of the game in water to reveal an in-game code. While it's unlikely any hypothetical sequels would ask to do the same — mostly because instruction booklets are seen as an unnecessary evil these days — Takeda must be fully aware of the meta-play possibilities of a controller armed with a gyroscope, an accelerometer, a microphone and a camera.
This strategy RPG series started on the Super NES and has been absent from the gaming landscape for what it feels like an eternity, although a 2010 PSP remake of the second game of the saga (Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together) managed to bring its creator Yasumi Matsuno back from semi-retirement, which gives some hope that licence-holder Square Enix has not forgotten about it. Virtual Console releases of Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen and Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber help, too.
A stats-fixated strategy game where players spend most of their time prepping for battles rather than fighting them is a hard sell in these days of instant gratification and short attention spans, but while other Japanese RPG sagas have descended into self-parody the Ogre Battle series has managed to preserve its mystical pedigree by virtue of its sparsity: only five games have been released in the last 19 years.
Why Wii U?
Iwata has pledged allegiance to the die-hard fans with Nintendo’s new console, so he would be a fool not to realise it doesn’t get any more hardcore than the Shakespearean pathos and anorak numbers of Ogre Battle. Even the hardware seems like a perfect match, with either the Wii Remote or the new touch screen controller being a natural fit for such a cursor-friendly series.
Technically speaking this isn’t a Nintendo property, but Goemon and his motley crew have a special relationship with the Big N — after all, their NES titles put them on the map in Japan while the seminal Super NES classic The Legend of the Mystical Ninja did the trick in the rest of the world, while some of the best entries in the series — the unhinged Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon and its underrated sequel — can be found on the Nintendo 64. At heart, the games are platformers with adventure elements interspersed, but what really sets them apart is their unique feudal Japan setting filled with anachronistic pop culture references and characters one sandwich short of a picnic.
At a time when only the Rhythm Heaven series seems to be flying the flag for Japanese zaniness, a healthy dose of ninja cats, bunny men armies, operatic aliens and cross-dressing nuns is exactly what the current gaming world needs more of. That and an in-game laughing track to mark terribly written puns, of course.
Why Wii U?
Two words: Goemon Impact! If you have ever played the N64 games, you will know that the hilarious Power Ranger-styled mecha boss battles are a definite highlight. Just think of the delirium that motion controls à la Punch Out! could bring to the table. Konami, make it happen.
One of the infamous Capcom Five games developed exclusively for the GameCube, Viewtiful Joe was later ported to the PS2 much to the dismay of Nintendo’s fans, who had elevated it to cult status thanks to a combination of poor sales and a severe thirst for decent beat ’em ups on the system. And Joe was not just decent, but a whirlwind of a brawler, with deceptive retro looks and deep, expertly honed gameplay. It was also 2D before 2D became fashionable again, and so out-there it made an impression before its sequels diluted its inimitable essence.
Although the Capcom studio in charge of the original game is history nowadays, most of its team transferred over to independent developer Platinum Games, headed by gaming royalty Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil) and Hideki Kamiya (Devil May Cry). Judging by Kamiya’s tweets, the relationship with Capcom, who retained all IP rights to the series, is less than cordial these days, making the chances of another Viewtiful Joe pretty slim. Rarer things have happened in the games industry though, and the inclusion of Joe as a playable character in both Tatsunoko VS Capcom: Ultimate All Stars and Marvel VS Capcom 3 suggests that even Capcom knows it has unfinished business with its goofy little superhero.
Why Wii U?
A quick look at Joe will suffice to realise his cartoon excesses are perfect for the Wii U, with saturated colours and cel-shading graphics to entice the younger audience and enough meat on the bone to satisfy more experienced players. Unlike Madworld (Platinum Games’ previous outing on the Wii), which struggled to find a completely satisfactory Wii Remote + Nunchuk control system, a Viewtiful Joe sequel would benefit from a traditional button and pad layout on Wii U’s new controller for a more organic experience.
The first game in this off-beat series, starring a tiny domestic robot committed to helping humans like a good-willed Borrower, was released late into the GameCube’s lifespan to a collective shrug, unjustly sealing its fate with the general public. While it’s fair to say the Chibi-Robo! games are a bit rough around the polygonal edges, there's something strangely compelling in their kitchen sink storylines and slow-burn gameplay.
Although the Chibi series hasn’t been completely consigned to oblivion (the last entry was a Japan-only DS game released in 2009), it's true that it hasn’t been awash with Nintendo’s attention in the way other IPs from the GameCube era have been. Save for a trophy appearance in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, this dutiful house-robot has remained a cult figure, particularly in the West.
Why Wii U?
A New Play Control! Japanese re-release of the original Chibi-Robo! for the Wii a couple of years ago relied heavily on the Wii Remote (hinting at the point-and-click nature of the original concept for the series), a feature that could be taken even further on the Wii U. The Near Field Communication function of the new controller opens a whole world of possibilities, particularly in a game so closely related with everyday surroundings and electronic equipment. Will Chibi-Robo interact with our stereo in its next outing?
Those are some of our picks for lesser-known franchises worthy of a comeback on Wii U. What do you think, and what game series do want to see on Nintendo’s next home console?