In this one-off feature, Nintendo Life contributor and retro fanatic Gonçalo Lopes thinks out loud about the greatest SNES games that never were.
I have always been a bit of a dreamer. From as far as I can recall, I was always dreaming within the world of tomorrow. And speaking of dreams, how about that Super Nintendo? Truly, it was a dream home console turned reality; to have such magnificent Nintendo (and third party) franchises in glorious 16-bit graphics and sound...those were good times! However, speaking also as a huge Commodore Amiga fan, there were some games that I would have loved to have seen on the SNES that just never happened, as well as some franchises that remained either at the arcades or on Sega's Mega Drive (in my experience, only the very rich were able to afford both. Billionaires had Neo-Geo, of course).
The reasons for those absences vary from the simple fact that there was no perceived market for them, they were not kid friendly enough or they were just outright ultra-violent and had no place on Nintendo's family-focused machine. So follow me in this exercise of imagination as I visit six of my favourite never made Super Nintendo games. These also include Nintendo's early '90s title conventions (basically put "Super" in front of everything) as well as any real world, released cartridge alternatives.
I was always up for a good slasher horror movie. I blame John Carpenter for that. Enter Namco and its Splatterhouse trilogy that began all the way back in 1988 arcade salons. Looking at it from afar, you will be immediately mistaken to believe it to be some sort of Friday the 13th video game license. But that's not Jason, that's Rick you're playing as and on his face is no ordinary hockey mask, either. The original game's plot - as well as both Mega Drive exclusive sequels - focus on Rick's attempt to rescue his girlfriend Jennifer from a not-so-pleasant supernatural fate. But no ordinary human could survive the goretastic horrors that stand between him and his lady - thus we have The Horror Mask. Thanks to its power Rick can punch, kick, swing a baseball bat and even shotgun blast his way through some pretty unspeakable 16-bit horrors.
Super Splatterhouse would have been a mix between both Mega Drive titles, with the third entry in the series being quite a unique race against the clock that has Rick navigating several houses instead of the steady linear progression of the first two games. Namco could have take advantagen of the SNES' superior visuals and 8 channel SPC audio to bring a truly amazing gorefest to our televisions. Not sure your parents would approve of any of that back in those days, mind...
What Nintendo would say to Namco:
"This is a really fun game! I have to say I quite enjoy blowing up reanimated corpses with that shotgun! Just look at those blood fountains go! However, we believe this game would corrupt our target audience and since you are not making more Pac-Man games on our systems, we will have to simply terminate your game right here. As a professional courtesy, we are giving you a ten minute head start before we call security and have you thrown out of our glorious Kyoto headquarters. But please leave that prototype ROM with us, who knows what might happen to it thirty years from now..."
Real world SNES alternatives:
Fortunately the horror genre has made it across the Super Nintendo a number of times, albeit with some censorship. Well known classics like Super Ghouls'n Ghosts, Super Castlevania IV, Demon's Crest and even Zombies Ate My Neighbors remain well loved, perfectly aged video gaming experiences worth replaying. Dig a little deeper and you might even find Super Famicom exclusives like Clock Tower and the rather awesome Majyuuou which translates as The King of Demons. It's a sort of mix between Resident Evil bio horrors with Castlevania platforming, with Altered Beast transformations thrown in for good measure. If that sounds awesome to you, it's because it really is. Chances of a Virtual Console western release remain as terrifying as Splatterhouse demon babies, though.
Sid Meier's Super Pirates!
Arrrr, mateys! The vast seas be ripe for plundering! Well, except on the Super Nintendo which completely missed out on Sid Meier's fantastic open-ended privateering simulation, decades before Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag made the genre popular. Super Pirates! didn't need to reinvent much of its main formula of creating a captain, getting a boat, recruiting a crew and setting sail for ships of unfriendly countries to hit or forts and ports to conquer and plunder. Alternatively, you could just get a pint and replenish both supplies and crew - that was up to your discretion. Pirates! Gold made it to the Mega Drive and it's a very good interpretation of the game I loved and played on the Commodore Amiga years before. The game was successfully rebooted in 2004 and that version eventually came to Wii, but I am unsure if anyone besides me bought it.
What Nintendo would say to Sid Meier:
"This is a really interesting western game. The freedom to do anything and make your own adventure reminds us of Miyamoto-san's Zelda games which we believe will still be going strong in the next few decades. If you could please replace all alcohol references from the trading goods to 'coffee' and turn all barmaids into generic pirates, we will give you a nice cartridge manufacturing discount."
Real world SNES alternatives:
Only Uncharted comes to mind. No, not the brilliant "Tomb Raider with a guy named Nathan" series on Sony's PlayStation, I am talking about the rather niche but excellent Uncharted Waters series from Koei, known in Japan as Daikoukai Jidai, which lets you pick a character and set sail unto the New World, mixing up both strategy and RPG elements as you manage your fleet. If only the English-translated game made it to the Virtual Console...oh wait, it did!
No mistake on that title, I am not talking about Westwood's fantastic Dune II: Building of a Dynasty - I am talking about the even more brilliant Dune from Cryo Interactive, a French developer with some rather unique titles under its belt. If you're not familiar with Frank Herbert's "Duniverse" I am not sure I am able to convey in words why it's such a fantastic to place to visit in video game form. Cryo managed exactly that feat, mixing up RPG and strategy elements while borrowing both concepts from the book and the divisive David Lynch movie adaptation from 1986. Dune puts you in the shoes of Paul Atreides as his family arrive on the desert planet Arrakis, the only known source of the Spice Melange - the single most important substance in the known Universe which allows Guild Navigators to fold space (which as you might guess is a rather nifty thing to do if you want to have commerce between planets). But Arrakis is far from empty, as its vast deserts might otherwise suggest. House Harkonnen lurks north in Arraken, ever a present and constant danger while the only friends you can find are either the indigenous Fremen population and the odd Smuggler village that is more than willing to trade Spice for weapons and equipment. There are also giant sand worms that present a constant danger to your valuable Spice Harvesters, and a somewhat arrogant Emperor who every week calls out for Spice shipments that need to be met else you will find your stay in Arrakis a rather short one, after he unleashes his Sardaukar Terror Troopers on your family.
That's all you will get from me before I enter heavy spoiler territory - just know that if you like Sci-Fi and have never read the book, you're missing out. And missing out we all did on this brilliant game because it was nowhere to be seen on the Super Nintendo. I believe it would have fit nicely in a cartridge with SNES mouse support, a compromise between the graphic quality from both the Commodore Amiga and MS-DOS versions of the game along with all new SPC powered "Spice Opera" soundtrack by Stéphane Picq and Philip Ulrich. In a somewhat cruel twist of fate, both Dune games ended up on the Sega Mega Drive. Dune 2 become a Mega Drive Cartridge with adequate adaptation of mouse controls on the joypad while the Mega CD saw the CD-ROM enhanced version of Dune released in Europe.
What Nintendo would say to Virgin:
"What an amazing game! Truly a unique and well balanced work of art. However, we are not too sure on this whole Space Jesus, galactic Jihad, religious fanaticism subtext going on here - too close to home if you follow my meaning. Also we understand that this Spice creates powerful visions of the future, much like hallucinogenic drugs. We can't have any of that in here. Tell you what, we will reskin the whole game to take place in the Mario universe, we can keep the Desert theme going, replace the sand worms with mega gigantic Wigglers and we are all set. Have the revised ROM on my desk tomorrow morning."
Real world SNES alternatives:
I am sad to say there is nothing even remotely resembling this game in the whole SNES library. There are quite a few strategy games and oh-so-many wonderful RPGs but not a single one that combines both with the elegance of this game. Time to buy a Mega CD, I guess...
Ian Bell's and David Braben's galactic space trader / shooter / simulator was quite a game-changer when it was first released in 1984. There simply wasn't anything quite like it, both in gameplay and pure scope. You got yourself a nice ship rendered in 3D polygons, 100 credits to your name and everything else after that was up to you. A life of profit and prosperity as a trader of merchant goods between planets? Check. Assassin? Pirate? Drug smuggler? Triple check, but be warned that the intergalactic authorities will not take any of that mischief lightly.
It quickly become one of my all time favourites and since it was released on the NES, I had high hopes for it to be released on the Super Nintendo - even more so after Argonaut's Super FX chip showed exactly what it could do in Star Fox. This is probably the most bitter-sweet game I have on this list because it was really going to happen! At one point, a developer called Hybrid was porting the game to the Super Nintendo, Mega Drive and even the Game Boy. It was assumed the SNES version would use the Super FX chip but this was later dismissed and it would likely significantly increase cartridge manufacturing costs beyond sensible numbers. There are even tech demos of both Game Boy and Mega Drive versions out there. Considering the SNES' capabilities, it could truly have been the definitive version of Elite. Sadly it was overlooked and eventually forgotten altogether. This one hurt me more than when they cancelled Star Fox 2. Seriously.
What Nintendo would say to Mr Braben and Mr Bell:
"Look, you have a winning product in your hands. If you could please replace 'Slaves' with 'Robotic Labourers' and 'Narcotics' with 'Sugar Treats', we will offer to buy you out for exclusivity of Elite on our systems as well as offer any technical help you may require to complete the project. Oh, and please, here is the new version of the Super FX chip with twice the power of the original, it will surely come in handy by allowing more ships on screen at the same time. What do you mean Sega offered you more money?"
Real world SNES alternatives:
Star Fox gave you all the visuals and soundtrack, but for that true space opera feeling you can't go wrong with both Wing Commander and Wing Commander Secret Operations. It's proof that the SNES joypad could handle complicated ship functions with ease thanks to some smart combinations of the L, R, Select and Start buttons. Sadly, for the trading element there is no available alternative... and all it needed was a gutsy publisher to make it real.
Super Speedball 2: Ultra Brutal Deluxe
The Bitmap Brothers had some truly impressive outings on the Commodore Amiga. It is not by accident their titles constantly pop up on 'favourite Amiga games of all time' lists. Console owners where lucky enough to see some of their best games making the jump across formats. The Super Nintendo definitely has the better version of The Chaos Engine as well as Gods, but the Mega Drive was blessed with more of their games - such as shmup sensation Xenon 2 Megablast and dystopic future sport cult classic Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe.
And here lies my biggest problem: There was no Super Nintendo version of Speedball 2! You see, that particular game remains one of my all time, all format favourites ever. Inspired by the 1975 cult classic movie Rollerball, Speedball was deadly combination of handball, hockey, American football and pinball (honest!) where you could score not only by getting the ball into the goal but also by knocking out opponent team members on the pitch. Oh, you could also score points from the pitch itself, which was festooned with multipliers, bumpers and stars that you could highlight.
To make things worse, the original Speedball (which, by the way, started out as an engine for a tennis game) was indeed converted and released on the NES, disguised under the new name Klashball, and there is even a functional version released of Speedball 2 for the original Game Boy. Certainly none of these were on par with the Amiga originals, something that usually happened with games not translating quite so smoothly from computer to console. But if the Mega Drive could handle such a good conversion, surely the Super Nintendo could have not just a port but an enhanced edition of the game? To be honest the game is perfect as is, but why not a slightly augmented offering with more teams, more arenas, robotic players, more options in order to extend the single player value, and maybe even a team editor and kit colour designer, since the original games had only two colours for all the teams (blue and red)? So I was not asking for Speedball 3, but "Speedball 2.5", if you will. Just thinking about it makes me want it to be real. Fortunately, I always carry around the surprisingly decent Game Boy Advance conversion by Crawfish on my GBA Micro in case I have the urge to indulge in some Speedball on the go.
What Nintendo would say to The Bitmap Brothers:
"Thank you changing the name of 'The Preacher' to 'The Scientist' on the SNES version of The Chaos Engine! We really dodged a bullet in America on that one. As for Speedball 2 Ultra Brutal Deluxe, we quite enjoyed the fast paced gameplay and considering its source of inspiration, we found the level of violence to be quite tame. If you could just remove that one pixel of blood in the portrait of injured player, that would be super. Also instead of the 'Injured Player' message, could you replace it with 'Indisposed Player'? I think that's all really, unless you would like to include Super Mario shouting "Ice Cream! Ice Cream!" from the audience during replays?"
Real world SNES alternatives:
I almost wrote Bill Lambert's Combat Basketball before laughing it off on the grounds of how blasphemous it would be to refer to both games in the same breath. Sorry folks, there is no alternative to the brilliance of Speedball 2 on the Super Nintendo, but if you like futuristic sports, I guess Smash T.V. qualifies in the genre.
This is another game on this list that hurts. At the time Capcom was one of the most important players in the third party scene, with very impressive original IPs on both arcade and the 8-bit market. Make no mistake, the reason I did not buy a Mega Drive when it was released in my country was because - thanks to American video game magazines - I knew Capcom was releasing its big CPS-1 arcade hits on the SNES. My patience eventually paid off, with a serviceable single-player version of Final Fight followed by a unique port of U.N Squadron, the stunning exclusive Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts and the all-conquering Street Fighter II: The World Warrior.
Considering the amazing work that went into Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts - which was based on the Ghouls 'n Ghosts coin-op but was, in reality, a totally new game - I was hoping that Super Strider would be the next step, but I waited, waited and waited... and I'm still waiting. Which leaves us wondering how amazing a Super Nintendo adventure featuring Strider Hiryu would be; An expanded arcade port with new music, levels and epic boss fights or perhaps the NES Strider approach with a Mega Man-style level select and branching pathways... they both sounded good to me in 1992 and they still sound good to me in 2015.
While Mega Drive owners could play an extremely faithful conversion by Sega themselves (along with a unique version of MERCS and respectable ports of Ghouls 'n Ghosts and Forgotten Worlds), Capcom never stopped supporting the SNES, all the way up to 1998 with the Japan-only Rockman & Forte and leaving behind lovely CPS-1 memories (Magic Sword, Captain Commando, Knights of the Round, Saturday Night Slammasters, The King of Dragons), original sequels (Final Fight 2 and 3, Demon's Crest), Disney platformers (Aladdin, the Magical Quest trilogy), a few sports games, a couple of Marvel licensed games, a plethora of Mega Man games (including the sadly rushed but still neat Mega Man Soccer), a very nice couple of JRPGs (the first two Breath of Fire games) and even a small miraculous CPS-2 conversion (Street Fighter Alpha 2). Truly the best third party support ever from any company on a Nintendo console, with the possible exception of Konami. At least we can now all enjoy the recent Strider HD reboot on our Wii U... oh. Forgive me, I was spacing out into another alternate reality where that latest game was actually was released for the Wii U. I do that sometimes!
What Nintendo would say to Capcom:
"Now, now, that's a very sharp sword. We can't have Strider cutting people in half with blood flying all over the place! Please consider an all-robot and/or alien type cast re-skinned for the enemies. Hmm... that's it, we can't find anything else to fault on this sure to become yet another million seller on the SNES. What do you mean you're too busy making yearly Street Fighter updates?"
Real world SNES alternatives:
Fortunately, all is not lost on this front thanks to a couple of excellent SNES alternatives. Horisoft developed and Atlus-published, Run Saber is quite literally a Strider rip-off/homage (delete as applicable); despite what you might have been told, it's a rather good one with memorable boss fights (fighting a Mode 7 rotating F-16 never gets old) and a rather brilliant two player cooperative mode which is often missing in this style of game. However, if you have deeper pockets then please consider Red Entertainment's Hudson Soft-published masterpiece Hagane, one of my all-time favourite SNES games that makes Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts feel like a walk in the park. It remains one of the hardest games I have completed to this day (and in case you're wondering, yes I did complete F-Zero GX Story Mode).
Hope you enjoyed my younger self dreaming of an even better SNES game library. Of course, no single console will ever truly be "the one" thanks to many exclusives and intellectual proprieties remaining on one or two machines, so we will never possibly see a truly unified games console that would be all to everyone everywhere. But it was sure fun to dream back in the day and it still remains an entertaining exercise to think of all the "What if?" scenarios that could have happened: Axelay 2 on SNES? The Sony-Nintendo Super CD? Gunstar Heroes on the Super Nintendo? The possibilities are endless... but now it's your turn. Drop in the comments below your favourite games that never happened on your console of choice. Let the dreaming commence!