Rockstar Games is a business powerhouse at the top of the gaming industry. Producing sales figures some developers could only dream of, with the Grand Theft Auto series reaching over 150 million copies sold, the studio rarely puts a foot wrong. On 7th September it was announced that 1940’s crime title L.A. Noire would be coming to the Switch this Fall / Autumn, nearly a decade after its last release on Nintendo hardware; could this mean the two companies are back on talking terms? Does this open the door for more franchises down the road?
To consider this we’ve gathered all releases that Rockstar Games published / developed under that name (not including various games under the company's previous guises) and subsequently put on Nintendo platforms, to hopefully give us some indication of what this latest announcement could mean for the Switch. It starts way back in 1999 when the company was just the new guy on the block; we've used the 'first' release dates in each case. Shall we begin?
Monster Truck Madness 64 – 30th July 1999 – N64
A port of Monster Truck Madness 2, MTM 64 promised new trucks, new tracks, improved graphics and the introduction of shifting weather conditions (a first for the series). Developed by Edge of Reality with Rockstar taking up publishing duties, the game received a reasonably positive reception. Fun Fact: During the promotional campaign, one advert included WCW wrestler Kevin Nash shouting about his madness for the game, before telling viewers to “Reach out and crush someone”; you can’t imagine Nintendo being keen on that slogan today.
Grand Theft Auto – 15th September 1999 – Game Boy Color
The starting point of arguably the biggest video game series in existence. Initially named “Race’n’Chase”, this top down open world action-adventure was a revelation when launched; the same can’t be said for its port to the Game Boy Color, with controls and repetition often cited as its major flaws. That version of GTA was developed by Tarantula Studios, which would later go on to become Rockstar Lincoln in 2002.
Earthworm Jim 3D – 31st October 1999 – N64
Serving as a sequel to Earthworm Jim and Earthworm Jim 2, Rockstar Games' third endeavour onto Nintendo hardware sees Jim switch up side-scrolling for 3D platforming, with heavy inspiration taken from Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie. Developed by VIS Entertainment, interestingly Rockstar only helped with the US publishing with Interplay supporting other territories. Critically though, the game suffered with an extended development cycle which ended with promoted features being left out, meaning it was anything but groovy.
Evel Knievel – 31st October 1999 – Game Boy Color
Simultaneously released alongside Earthworm Jim, Evel Knievel arrived on the Game Boy Color with four worlds, twenty levels and plenty of hype leading up to launch. Graphically for the time it may have looked slick, yet too many bugs conjured a bad reception along with the high difficulty making it near unplayable at times. Though as the fearless rider himself once said, “A man can fall many times in life, but he’s never a failure until he refuses to get back up” - something Rockstar definitely pursued.
Austin Powers: Welcome to My Underground Lair! / Austin Power: Oh, Behave! – 17th / 18th September 2000 – Game Boy Color
Can you imagine Rockstar releasing an Austin Powers game these days? Yet, back in the year 2000 the company produced not one but two games based off the popular spy comedies. Both are virtually identical in terms of gameplay with the main difference being the protagonist, with Austin in one and Dr. Evil the other - as you’d expect neither reviewed well. Oddly enough the pair enabled players to turn their Game Boy Color into a mini-organiser, view facts about the film on a web browser and included a calculator aptly named the “Shagulator”. Moving on.
Grand Theft Auto 2 – 19th December 2000 – Game Boy Color
Second time around porting GTA to a Nintendo handheld and you’d think it'd go better. Not particularly, as many of the original's flaws carried across with repetition and a bad driver interface. An eight minute short-film was produced and shot in New York City to help promotion, with Scott Maslen (of now Eastenders fame) portraying lead character Claude Speed
Smuggler’s Run: Warzones – 7th August 2002 – Nintendo GameCube
Ever wanted to live out the life of Davos Seaworth? Well you’re in luck as Smuggler’s Run: Warzones has the player deliver international goods across a minefield. Praised for its off-road exploration and large levels, the GameCube version is looked at as the definitive version of Smuggler’s Run 2. Originally intended to be set in Afghanistan, after the invasion of the country following the attacks on the World Trade Center the game's location was moved to Georgia and Soviet Russia.
Smuggler’s Run – 22nd July / 25th September 2002 (Debatable) – Game Boy Advance
Strangely enough the first Smuggler’s Run released on Nintendo hardware after its sequel (though sources disagree on release dates), but this time on the Game Boy Advance. Again the plot is nearly identical to the second, just on a slightly smaller scale that included military vehicles, dune buggies and rally cars to explore terrain. Later down the road GTA Online released DLC named Smugglers Run in tribute to the games.
Max Payne – 18th December 2003 – Game Boy Advance
Though not the longest of titles with only three chapters, Max Payne immediately resonated with fans and scored incredibly well due to its fun action gameplay and fine looking graphics. Starring the man with nothing to lose and featuring plenty of blood to make Mortal Kombat fans uncomfortable, the game still holds up reasonably well to this day. That said, we recommend the console / PC versions for some classic Max Payne action.
Grand Theft Auto Advance – 26th October 2004 – Game Boy Advance
Serving as a prequel to GTA III, the series returned to its top down roots alongside using 3D shifting elements. Achieving a more positive reception, the revenge-driven storyline took place in Liberty City and included over 200 missions. Still published by Rockstar, GTA Advance was actually developed by Digital Eclipse, which has recently ported Mega Man Legacy Collection and The Disney Afternoon Collection to consoles and PC.
Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis – 19th October 2007 – Nintendo Wii
A random yet surprisingly well reviewed release from the company best known for gratuitous violence. Rockstar's use of motion controls was actually praised more than its competitors, purely because of its simplicity to pick up and play. Unexpected for many, the team always had a passion for Table Tennis (referenced in the GTA drama The Gamechangers) where they would often play at the Chateau Marmont whilst scouting for locations in Los Angeles.
Manhunt 2 – 29th October 2007 – Nintendo Wii
A much darker tale than you’d expect on the supposed “kids” console, it follows Daniel Lamb - a mental patient suffering from amnesia who must try to rekindle his memories. Manhunt 2 was extremely violent and was initially rejected by both BBFC and the ESRB for “its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing”. In the same day the ESRB issued the game with an AO (Adults Only) rating which Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft all followed up by saying that they do not allow AO games on their platforms.
Rockstar decided to adjust the game before submitting for re-rating, allowing the ESRB to issue an M rating. Many US senators were unhappy with the M rating and sent a letter to the ESRB pleading for the rating to be changed back, which was refused. The ordeal continued with the BBFC as they still refused to change the video game's rating until the VAC (Video Appeals Committee) overruled them in a four to three vote. One year after the US release Manhunt 2 became available in the UK.
Bully: Scholarship Edition – 4th March 2008 – Nintendo Wii
Any hope for GTA V or RDR to arrive on Switch can take a lesson from Rockstar putting Bully on Wii back in 2008. Seemingly from nowhere, Rockstar remastered the schoolyard adventure of Jimmy Hopkins attending Bullworth Academy, releasing day and date with console rivals (just like L.A. Noire will be); it didn't lead to a new dawn for Rockstar games on Wii, however.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars - 17th March 2009 – Nintendo DS
Nearly nine years have passed since Rockstar and Nintendo were last seen together. At the height of its power the DS received this timed-exclusive that went on to become critically acclaimed on the system. Set after the events of GTA IV we follow the story of Huang Lee, the son of a murdered Triad boss and his escapades with various drug lords in Liberty City. Taking full advantage of the DS’s capabilities, Chinatown Wars blended the top-down camera angle and third-person view for a fully rotatable aerial camera. On top of that it even featured music by Deadmau5.
Nintendo Switch & Beyond
Now that we're caught up-to-date we're left to wonder if Switch will see more Rockstar releases, or if the L.A. Noire port (developed by Virtuos) is a one-off. Depending how L.A. Noire fares the company may look at porting GTA across (perhaps previous entries like GTA V), but are the odds good? Sales are still going incredibly well with recent figures showing GTA V passing 80 million sales, so it's anyone's guess. It did have decent versions on PS3 and Xbox 360, it's worth noting, so it's not outwith the realms of possibility.
Bully, on the other hand, is another debatable title as lately concept art has surfaced for a sequel. If like its predecessor Bully 2 is set in a more constraint environment, it would perhaps have a fighting chance of coming to Switch.
It'll be interesting to see what happens.