The History of Sunsoft – Part V: The Golden Age Part 3

This article is subject to change. Please report any errors, typos etc. Updated: February 10, 2018

This fifth part focuses on the years 1990 and 1991. We are nearing the end of Sunsoft’s golden Famicom/NES era. This article will probably be added to and changed in the near future. I have an interview to do that will most likely add to it. Each article has had multiple additions after first publication; all changes can be seen at the end of the articles. Please follow VGArc on Twitter for updates on new articles and all changes. I hope you enjoy this fifth part, and please look for my interview with Kenji Sada which will be published soon.

 

–THE GOLDEN AGE PART 3–
–1990–

In early 1990 Rita Zimmerer hired David Siller, who had previously been a consultant to the company’s Development Manager Jay Moon. She suggested to company president Joe Robbins that Siller would be an asset for the company.

Siller had to go to the Japanese parent company in Konan, Japan. There he had a meeting with Sunsoft manager Kiharu Yoshida and the founder Masami Maeda. He was appointed the role of Director of Product Development.

“I had in years past been a consultant for Sunsoft’s previous Development Manager J. Moon. Rita Zimmerer called me up as she knew what I could do and suggested to President Joe Robbins that I could help them with World Domination! I met Mr. Yoshida and Mr. Maeda on my first trip to Sunsoft’s parent operations in Konan City outside of Nagoya. I was hired as Director of Product Development, which is important to ensure that great ideas are properly implemented into great-playing video games. My Sunsoft time of four years was the best of my whole career, that is until new President Tad Shimimoto channeled that whole investment into a golf course in Palm Springs called ‘Desert Wells.’ It went belly up after some years and never opened.” – David Siller

I will go into detail about the Desert Wells fiasco in a later part.

Siller had begun his career in the game industry designing a hybrid of Irem’s arcade game Uniwars S. The game would have been called Spy Alien but was canceled as Irem was changing their direction.

He then went on to design for Nichibutsu. But nothing really happened at Nichibutsu and Siller went to Tehkan instead. Tehkan would later become Tecmo in 1986. There he mostly worked on developing different concepts. Among other things he worked on level planning and adjustment of the arcade game Rygar.

After that, he joined his brother Ron’s new company Ameri Corporation. Together with brothers Frank and Joey Bundra they developed a digital darts game called Ameri Darts. The game used a trackball controller. First you position the hand and then roll the ball to throw–the faster the roll, the harder the throw. Ameri Darts became the company’s only game. They couldn’t agree on which direction the company should take and split up. Ron continued working with the Bundra brothers at newly formed Bundra Games, while Siller went his own way.

At Sunsoft he helped develop games and was the single mind behind Aero the Acro-Bat. But more about that later.

Batman: The Video Game (バットマン)
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: April 13, 1990(JP), June, 1990(US), 1990(GER/SWE) | Format: Game Boy

1990 birthed Sunsoft’s first game for Nintendo’s handheld system Game Boy. It was another Batman game based on the license of the 1989 movie. A few of the staff that had made the NES game had moved over to developing the Game Boy game. Yuichi Ueda (who you might remember as the cutscene programmer for the NES game) tells me there were never any plans of porting the NES game. They made it an original game.

Famicom and Gameboy were being worked on by different teams, and each team designed their own games and developed them.” – Yuichi Ueda

The game features music by Naoki Kodaka, programmed by Nobuyuki Hara. Just as with the NES, Kodaka and Hara showed the world that Sunsoft had some of the greatest people doing sound for games, no matter what system they worked on.

The Game Boy Batman, like its NES counterpart, was a straight-on platform action game. Batman uses an upgradeable gun to dispose of his enemies, that much like the gun in Fester’s Quest can be powered up and down by picking up black or white gun icons. One thing that makes the game a bit more varied is the shoot-em-up stages where the player get to pilot Batman’s Batwing aircraft.

“After creating the Famicom version of Batman, I was put into the development team for the Game Boy version of Batman. It had some of the most incredible shooting scenes. – Yuichi Ueda

–Game Boy & Game Gear accessories–

Sunsoft started making not only Game Boy games in 1990, but also some accessories for the Game Boy and Sega’s handheld Game Gear, including the Sunsoft Sound Boy, an attachable speaker to enhance the sound of the system, and the Sunsoft Wide Boy, a magnification accessory that is placed in front of the Game Boy screen to magnify it. Both these types of accessories were probably the most common for the Game Boy and were made by both Nintendo and other manufacturers. For Game Gear they released Wide Gear, a magnification add-on just like the Wide Boy. It seems to have been released by Sega in the US.

“When we developed games for Famicom, we also manufactured the cartridge for it at SUNCORPORATION. Therefore, there is a mark ‘SUNSOFT’ on the cartridge. We also manufactured some peripheral equipment with our technique of hardware.” – Shigeki Shimitzu, Chief Director of SUNSOFT

City Hunter (シティー ハンター)
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: March 2, 1990(JP) | Format: PC Engine

City Hunter is an action game based on Tsukasa Hojo’s manga of the same name published in Weekly Shōnen Jump between 1985 and 1991. The main character, Ryo Saeba, has formed the Tokyo-based detective agency City Hunter, and in the game the player takes on the role of Ryo. The game lets the player choose among three stages, each representing a separate mission for the agency. The game concludes with a fourth stage.

 

Tel-Tel Mahjong (TEL・TELまあじゃん)
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: June 8, 1990(JP) | Format: Mega Drive

On June 8, 1990 Sunsoft released its first Mega Drive game, Tel-Tel Mahjong, a digital version of the classic Chinese game licensed from Chatnoir. There already were lots of digital mahjong games out there, but what set Tel-Tel Mahjong apart was its use of the Mega Drive accessory Mega Modem, which allowed players to play online games. Most online-based console gaming at the time was used for turn-based gaming, since connecting to other players via telephone services was slow and real-time gaming would have been enormously laggy.

Batman: The Video Game (バットマン)

Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: July 27, 1990(JP), 1991(US/CAN), 1991(FIN,FR,GER,IT,ESP,SWE,UK) | Format: Mega Drive/Genesis

Sunsoft’s second Mega Drive game was yet another Batman game. This one was also different from the NES game, and it added even more varied gameplay than the Game Boy game. Most parts of the game are side-scrolling beat-em-up action, mixed with shoot-em-up parts with the Batwing and driving with the Batmobile. In this version, Batman also makes use of the Bat-rope to propel himself up to higher platforms, a feature not present in any of Sunsoft’s other games based on the 1989 film.

It’s far from the faster pace of the NES and Game Boy games and more of a generic brawler with vehicle segments. Something that all the Batman games share is music composed by Naoki Kodaka, but only some tunes are used in all games.

*Screenshots from VGMuseum.com

ラフ World / Journey to Silius
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: August 10, 1990(JP), September, 1990(US), February 21, 1990(SWE) | Format: Famicom/NES

Sunsoft had moved into 16-bit territory with two Mega Drives games, but they continued developing games for the NES. Next up was Journey to Silius released on August 10, 1990.

The game began development as a licensed title based on the 1984 blockbuster The Terminator, with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the titular Terminator. US-based game magazine Nintendo Power showed off an early version of the game with the Terminator logo and a digitized image of Arnold’s classic character T-800 on the title screen. The game’s protagonist was probably John Connor fighting off terminators in a robot-dominated future with the goal to stop the machines rampage.

The game was not released as The Terminator though. I asked David Siller why the game dropped the Terminator license.

From what I was told they, the licensor, didn’t like the game’s graphics, as Sunsoft depicted them (not dark and edgy enough), so there was a mutual dissolution of the agreement, and Mr. Yoshida decided instead to sell it as an original product. Sunsoft got tired of paying large license deals that were too one-sided in favor of the licensor. Also, the IP licensor was difficult to work with and did not understand or appreciate the limitations of 8-bit hardware at that time.” – David Siller

The Terminator fell victim to licencors that was difficult to work with. As with later licensed games, licencors don’t always seem to understand what a console is capable off and expect unrealistic results.

The new Japanese title was Rough World (stylized RAF World). The American title was Operation S.S.S. for a while, as seen in this list of games that Sunsoft of America promoted at CES in January 1990. But in the end, the American title ended up being Journey to Silius.

The versions have differing stories, and the main character looks different in the US version of the game from how he looks in the Japanese and European releases.

When playing the game it isn’t hard to see that it was meant to be a Terminator game. Even though most of the game’s robotic enemies are original designs, the end boss is more or less a Terminator. However, the game would not have followed the plot of the movie; it seems to take place in a robot-infested future instead of the present (as in 1984 when the movie was released). It was also weird that a game was made in 1989-90 of a movie from 1984. The sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released in theaters in 1992, so it didn’t have any tie-ins to that either. The Batman games weren’t released exactly when the movie came out, but in a window of 6 to 18 months following it, when Batman still was very popular. And Sunsoft needed to use the license they had bought.

Batman (バットマン)
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: October 12, 1990(JP) | Format: PC Engine

Sunsoft’s fourth and last game based on the 1989 Batman movie was released for the PC Engine. Even though the first three games had been different from each other, none was as different as the PC Engine Batman. It is a maze game where Batman walks around collecting items and throwing batarangs at The Joker’s henchmen. Although the graphics, music, and overall presentation are excellent, it doesn’t feel much like a Batman game, rather like a maze game with a Batman theme slapped on to it.

And that might not be far from the truth. There was another Batman game in development for the PC Engine, which was even shown in the Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu on September 15, 1989.

This canceled Batman was an action platformer like its NES, Game Boy, and Mega Drive counterparts. The screenshots and the text from Famitsu are basically all we know about it. The game would have featured four stages. The player would be able to choose freely among the first three stages, Gotham City, the Chemical Plant, and the Art Gallery. On the way, Batman would have found power-ups that would help him on his mission to stop the Joker.

Batman looking at screens showing the stage he is about to embark.

After the three stages’ bosses had been defeated, and thus the stages cleared, the final stage would appear. This most certainly would have been the Cathedral, and in the end Batman would have faced off with the Joker.

Why this game was canceled is a mystery. The game seems to have been playable and Sunsoft was comfortable enough to send pictures of it to Famitsu. Or maybe Famitsu got an early build of the game. It goes without saying that this at least seems to have had the potential to become a more interesting game than the maze game that was released.

The maze game was released on October 12, 1990, more than a year after the unreleased version was previewed in Famitsu. If the action game was running in September 1989 and a game wasn’t shipped until over a year later, it seems strange that the first game in development would not have had time to be finished. Either the game was not coming along as they had hoped or they simply changed direction.

*Screenshots from VGMuseum.com

Tel-Tel Stadium (TEL・TELスタジアム)
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: October 21, 1990(JP) | Format: Mega Drive

About a week later Sunsoft released the second Tel-Tel game, Tel-Tel Stadium for the Mega Drive. It is a baseball game where the player takes the role of team coach. Just like Tel-Tel Mahjong the game could connect to online matches with the Mega Modem accessory. In online matches the game is all text-based though, probably a way to get around latency issues.

*Screenshots from VGMuseum.com

Nantettatte!! Baseball (なんてったって!!ベースボール)
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: October 26, 1990(JP) | Format: Famicom

The week after, Sunsoft released another baseball game, this one for the Famicom. And it had an even more unique feature than Tel-Tel Stadium’s  online play. With a mini-cartridge (kogame) that is inserted in the larger game cartridge (oyagame), you can update the team rosters without paying for a new full-price game, a benefit for both players and Sunsoft. Players could get updated rosters for cheap, and Sunsoft could make money on basically selling stats and name changes. The game project was started by Atsushi Sakai, but before it was finished he was transferred to the new Tokyo team to work on Out Live.

“Other developers had already released baseball games, but with a new one getting released every year to keep up with the changing team rosters and players’ batting averages, I figured it was becoming a burden to the customers. To that end, we were able to offer new data every year by adopting a device called kogame cartridges, making it so you’d be able to play the same game for longer.” – Atsushi Sakai (source: GlitterBerri)

The game was left to programmer and Blaster Master creator Kenji Sada to finish. But he wasn’t really into baseball.

“The other team members continued working on it without me knowing, and by the time I realized, it was already finished. I heard that the programmer in charge didn’t know anything about baseball, and for a while during development, once your character hit the ball he’d run to 3rd base.” – Atsushi Sakai (source: GlitterBerri)

Kenji Sada tells me this was not the case.

“Certainly I didn’t know the details of the rules of baseball, but I never ran my runners to 3rd base at first.
Mr. Atsushi Sakai mixed up his joke and the real.” – Kenji Sada

“My last product, Nantettatte Baseball, was delayed and I was tired of making games. So I didn’t intend to make new games.

(I asked if the game was delayed due to the special cartridges)

No, it was mainly from my lack of knowledge of baseball and lack of motivation. I don’t like baseball very much.” – Kenji Sada

Nantettatte!! Baseball got two add-on cartridges. Nantettatte!! Baseball Kogame Cassette OB Allstar Hen (なんてったって!!ベースボール 子ガメカセットOBオールスター編) on February 28, 1991, and Nantettatte!! Baseball Kogame Cassette ’91 Kaimakuban (なんてったって!!ベースボール 子ガメカセット’91開幕編) on May 31, 1991.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (グレムリン2 新種誕生)
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: October, 1990(US), December 14, 1990(JP), February 21, 1991(SWE) | Format: NES/Famicom

After the success with Batman, the team that made Batman started developing a new game based on another Warner Bros IP. The movie Gremlins 2: The New Batch was released in theaters on June 15, 1990. It was another hit for Warner Bros and the follow up to the 1984 hit Gremlins.

Sunsoft’s game was released only four months later in October 1990. For the time, the game did a good effort of following the plot of the movie. Many of the movie’s settings and characters showed up as the cute Gizmo made his way through the Clamp building. According to artist Yoshiaki Iwata they only got some pictures at first and only later did they get to see more so that they could clearly finish the visual style.

“At that time Gremlins 2 was still being filmed, so we only had some stories and photos in our hands. This is common. After that, we got the opportunity to take a tour of the movie set and prepare for the preview and reflected it in the final game’s story.” -Yoshiaki Iwata

The game is played in a diagonal view and Gizmo can move in any direction. For each stage he gets a new weapon, starting out with throwing tomatoes and ending up with a bow and arrows. A shop can be found on each stage where Gizmo can spend orbs dropped by enemies to buy power-ups from Gizmo’s previous owner Mr Wing (who actually dies in the beginning of the movie). This makes for a varied experience and, together with the game’s impressive visuals and great soundtrack, one of the best licensed games on the NES.

After having success with the commercial for Batman, Sunsoft of America produced one for Gremlins 2.

“I did a commercial with Gremlins. And used Rick Baker. Did you know that? Do you know who Rick Baker is?

He’s won probably ten academy awards for animation and graphics. He was the originator of the Gremlin puppets. I have pictures I can send them, actually of this shoot. So we did one of the hottest commercials at that point in time in Hollywood. We had to stage it five feet higher because of the puppets in the bottom. We blew up TVs, we shook the, the whole set was shaking, because the Gremlins were going crazy. And it won all kinds of awards. I had the pleasure of working with Rick Baker. And at that point in time Karen Janusz was with us, I think Luana Chambers from Warner Brothers was with us. My advertising company was with us. And I had great support. I used an advertising company called Cato Johnson. They really were my magic.” – Rita Zimmerer

Richard A. Baker in front middle with Rita Zimmerer behind him. Also seen in the photo are Sunsoft staff Karen Janusz, Steve Gehrke, Al Artus and Warner Brothers Luana Chambers.

Pri Pri Primitive Princess! (プリプリ PRIMITIVE PRINCESS!)
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: December 12, 1990(JP) | Format: Game Boy

Pri Pri Primitive Princess is a puzzle game where a caveman is on a mission to rescue the titular princess. To do this he needs to clear 50 stages. He can break floor tiles to create new paths, and also fill the holes. Broken tiles fall down and can be used to take out enemies.

This Game Boy game was only released in Japan, the reason can be everything from not being very fun to play to just not appealing to a Western audience (which would make it not fun to play for that audience).

 

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (グレムリン2 新種誕生)
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: December 21, 1990(JP), January, 1991(US), April 23, 1992(SWE) | Format: Game Boy

Parts of the team that had made Batman for Game Boy had went on to make a Game Boy game on the Gremlins 2 license. Just as with the Batman game they did not try to recreate the NES game and went for an original design more fitting for the Game Boy.

This version is a side-scrolling action game where Gizmo needs to find weapons on the stages to make his way past the Gremlins. But where the NES game really hits its mark, the Game Boy game is more of a miss. You need to use the weapons very precisely to progress and using up an item can mean that you won’t be able to finish the stage.

–Sunsoft of America moves–

By the end of 1990 Sunsoft of America moved their office from Illinois to California. I asked Rita Zimmerer why.

“It really was simple. Mr Homma’s family lived in the Palisades. He wanted to be with his family. And Maeda and Yoshida wanted instead of going to Chicago they would rather go to L.A. And they had a lot of business in L.A. It made so much sense because of all the businesses and different companies they were running at that point in time. So that was really why. It was convenience of location.” – Rita Zimmerer

And it really makes sense. Sunsoft of America had been located in Illinois since this was where Joe Robbins lived and founded Kitkorp there. And that became Sunsoft of America. Now when Yoshinori Homma was president he wanted to bring the company to where his family was. Most of the staff came along for the ride.

“I had originally Karen Shadley, in Chicago, right out of collage. And I asked her to come to California with us because I felt like you know we could work together and get things going. And I needed help at that point because they kept throwing responsibilities at me. No pay, just responsibilities. So my husband was convinced, we moved to California. He got a job. I put my daughter into a wonderful Baptist church and I was right just up the street from Sunsoft pretty much. We’re at Huntington Beach, we’re near the beach. Sunsoft I think where were at Garden Grove I think. So I just went up the street and went to work.” – Rita Zimmerer

 

 

–1991–

“I think it was January 91 or just before 91. They called a meeting and basically. Yoshida came in and said ‘We are not doing any more development from in Japan’. Now, we had moved everybody and it was like ‘Oh my God, what am I gonna do?’. And he[Homma] was ‘Well we are just gonna have to do nothing right now’. And I said ‘Well what if I get some outside development going?’. And this was unheard of. But I had no choice. I had moved people and hired people. And you know. Homma is looking at me and he’s saying ‘What are we gonna do’. And I’m like ‘Hey, this is your company. What do you want me to do? I’ll do anything you want’. And so I started looking around in the United States for developers. And that’s how I got into development. Now at that point I was not involved in licensing. Bob Bernstein was still with us. Jay Moon was still with us. They were all still with us. I was building out at that point in time, I was building out the marketing department, the sales department, the credit department and the customers service. Because those were my responsibilities.” – Rita Zimmerer

I haven’t been able to find anything on why staff would have left Sunsoft at the time. What can be said is that by 1992 many of the people who had worked on the Famicom games did leave. The Sunsoft sound team of Naohisa Morota, Shinichi Seya, and Nobuyuki Hara had all left. And a group of Sunsofters had joined former Sunsoft producer Kōichi Kitazumi who had founded  Prism Kikaku (today know as Nippon Ichi Software(NIS)).

And except games in development it seems that Sunsoft now started focusing only on games for the Japanese market. The type of action games they had made a name for themselves with on the Famicom was nowhere to be found.

And the walking out could just have been staff not wanting to do the types of game that was now the focus. So they left to pursue new ventures.

The Manhole
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Activision, Inc. | Release: March 22, 1991(JP) | Format: PC Engine

Sunsoft’s first release for 1991 was a PC Engine port of Cyan Incorporated’s Macintosh educational adventure The Manhole. The Manhole was created by Cyan’s founders, brothers Robyn and Rand Miller. It was more of a world to explore than a game to play and finish. I asked Robyn Miller how the port came about.

“When The Manhole came out, it was new. There had been plenty of adventure games, and even graphic adventures, but a point-and-click graphic ‘world’ hadn’t really been done before and, as sophomoric as The Manhole now seems, it introduced a new way of playing games. A lot of people say that Myst was our big revolutionary game when in fact we were following an evolution started with The Manhole. It was our genesis. Sunsoft saw that it was something different and new and wanted to be involved. But we really didn’t get to know them during the Manhole port. We didn’t meet them until much later.” – Robyn Miller

Sunsoft’s port adds color graphics to the game among other minor enhancements. The game scenes are displayed in a Macintosh-like window and do not take advantage of the full screen. This can probably be due to Sunsoft moving the original 512×342 resolution from Macintosh to the PC Engine’s max resolution of 565×242, but this is only a guess. The Manhole would serve as a precursor to Cyan’s future mega hit MYST. A game that Sunsoft also would have a bigger part in.

Forbidden City/Shi-Kin-Joh (紫禁城)
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: April 26, 1991(JP) | Format: PC Engine

Forbidden City/Shi-Kin-Joh (紫禁城)
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: April 27, 1991(JP) | Format: Mega Drive

In April they released two ports of Scap Trust’s mahjong-themed box puzzle game Shi-kin-joh, for Sega Game Gear and Mega Drive. They would later port it for Playstation in 2000 as well. There isn’t really much to say about another mahjong game.

Blaster Master Boy / Blaster Master Jr. / Bomber King: Senario 2 (ボンバーキング シナリオ2)
Developer: Aicom | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: 1991(US), August 23, 1991(JP) | Format: Game Boy

In August Sunsoft published Bomber King: Scenario 2 for the Game Boy in Japan. The game was developed by Aicom Corporation. It was the sequel to Hudson Soft’s 1987 Famicom game Bomber King, known as RoboWarrior on the NES. Aicom had co-developed Bomber King with Hudson. Sunsoft also released a version of Bomber King: Scenario 2 in the US, but they made some changes to it. The game’s name was changed to Blaster Master Boy, even though the game has little in common with Blaster Master besides the point of view. It’s not hard to see that the Blaster Master name was more known than the RoboWarrior name, so changing the title makes sense if you want to sell more games. But gameplay-wise it is not anything else but a sequel to Robowarrior.

Some Sunsoft staff are credited on the the game. The sound programming was done by Shinichi Seya and Yūichi Ueda and Yoshiaki Iwata advised and the game was produced by Sunsoft manager Kiharu Yoshida.

Ufouria: The Saga/Hebereke (へべれけ)
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: September 20, 1991(JP), November 19, 1992(SWE), | Format: Famicom/NES

Then came Sunsoft’s next Famicom game. Hebereke was released on September 20, 1991. It was never released in the US but was released in Scandinavia and Australia in 1992.

The game wasn’t a very late NES game by any standard; the last game released in the US came out in 1994. But according to David Siller who himself believed in the game (along with Gimmick that also was not released in the US), the management felt that the NES was on its way out and it was time to focus on the next generation. While the business side saw the NES as old, the development staff had another view on the console.

“I strongly recommended that this game get released but management does not listen to development over sales and marketing.” – David Siller

Siller says this was a big problem. What the management ignored was that there were millions of owners of the old consoles and that fewer would buy the new consoles right away. Sega had released its Mega Drive as the Genesis in the US in the fall of 1989. Nintendo’s new Super Nintendo, however, was released in fall of 1991. Hebereke would have been a great game to have in the transition between generations. But Sunsoft of America missed out on that one.

The game was released as Ufouria: The Saga in Sweden and Australia. Besides the title change some minor graphical alterations were made. All four playable characters’ sprites were changed to appeal to a western audience.

Ufouria is a cartoony Metroid-like exploration platformer. The players needs to find and then switch between four characters with different abilities to progress. It was truly a great late NES game. Siller’s opinion that it would have been worth investing in a third generation of NES game and releasing Ufouria and Gimmick proved true during the holiday shopping season, when they suddenly realized that they did not sell many games for the new 16-bit consoles. The SNES had a small user base and the NES owners who wanted a new game for Christmas only got the rubbish publishers could get out at the last second. The 16-bit generation would truly break through in 1992.

At Sun Corporation of America, the people in charge thought that the characters in Ufouria and Gimmick were strange and not nearly as appealing as the well-known Disney and Warner Bros. characters. The game was prototyped in the US though. It was there the name and graphics changes were made. The prototype was the version of the game later released in Sweden and Australia.

Super Spy Hunter / Battle Formula (バトルフォーミュラ)
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Tokai Engeneering/Sunsoft | Release: September 27, 1991(JP), February, 1992(US), September, 1995(BRZ) | Format: Famicom/NES

It had now been four years since Sunsoft had ported Bally Midway’s arcade game Spy Hunter to the NES. Now they set out to make a new game based on the Spy Hunter formula and expand on it. The port of Spy Hunter had sold well but was buggy and in all fairness not very fun. The new game, titled Battle Formula in Japan, was much better. For the US release it was renamed Super Spy Hunter.

Super Spy Hunter was very much based on the original game: A car driving upward in a top-down view battling other cars and vehicles by shooting. A new feature is the car’s guns can be repositioned to shoot in different directions. The game also has some advanced graphical effects, roads that turn and it almost looks like the tiles are rotated, something not commonly done until the SNES. Exactly how this visual effect was a achieved is unknown. Super Spy Hunter may not be one of Sunsoft’s more well-known games but it is one of their most technically impressive ones.

Batman: Return of the Joker (ダイナマイトバットマン)
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: December, 1991(US), December 20, 1991(JP), 1992 (GER/ESP), November 19, 1992(FRA/UK/SWE) | Format: Famicom/NES

On December 20, 1991, the sequel to Batman: The Video Game, Batman: Return of the Joker was released for the Famicom. The game was one of the few to use Sunsoft’s new FME-7 chip. The game’s development began as a “tech demo” for the chip. According to David Siller the Japanese team in Konan developed a demo with a big character sprites, a few different action moves, and a horizontal flight mode.

Then the US marketing department thought they should use the Batman license for the game, since they already had good contact with Warner Brothers. They chose to give it somewhat of a Neo Batman feel and based it a little on the Dark Knight with an older and rougher Batman. They managed to persuade Warner that Batman would use weapons; it was after all a more Dark Knighty Batman.

David Siller describes how frustrating it was to deal with licensees. They were constantly forced to get different parts of the games approved by people who did not have a clue about how games are developed.

We were able to convince WB to allow Batman to have a weapon in ‘Dynamite Batman,’ also known as ‘Return of the Joker.’ Batman was at that time entering a creative phase where he would be older and known as the Dark Knight. It was imagined that Batman would then resort to the use of weapons as criminal elements were getting armed more heavily themselves. It was always a fight when dealing with ‘licenses,’ something that frustrated both Japan R&D and myself, but that was the direction that we were heading due to the zealous nature of Sunsoft of America’s marketing director.” – David Siller (source:famicomworld.com)

Versions of the game were developed for the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive; however, only the Mega Drive game was released, titled Batman: Revenge of the Joker. I will tell more about the 16-bit versions in the next part.

Return of the Joker was Sunsoft’s last Batman game, so I asked Rita why they didn’t make more.

“We were at a June CES, we were launching the second Batman. Return of the Joker. And there was the second movie license. And I’ll tell you because this really is important. Second movie license. I was on the plane with Homma-san. And I loved that man, he was a good man. And Warner Brothers was there, Luana Chambers was on the plane. And she had been throughout the show you know basically saying ‘Look, we have to sign the contract for the movie.’ And for some reason Homma was sitting on the fence on it. And they wanted more money. And we had built status building the franchise. We were developing great games, the second Batman was enormous. You know, the numbers were enormous. Because everything we did was programmed into, we were projecting out through all our retailers what it was going to do.
And he kept saying no to me. On the Batman franchise. And I was like ‘No.’ I mean we were all tired after CES, we’re always exhausted. But I’m like ‘Mr Homma,’ I’m sitting in the aisle, I’m  really in the aisle, I’m begging in the aisle. And he’s ‘No, I don’t want it’ and I said ‘OK. You don’t want it.'” – Rita Zimmerer

Lemmings (レミングス)
Developer: Sunsoft | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: December, December 18, 1991(JP), March, 1992(US), April, 1994(BRZ) | Format: Super Famicom/SNES

On December 15, Sunsoft released their last game for 1991. It was a port of DMA Design’s popular puzzle game Lemmings. Sunsoft also ported the Mega Drive version that was released in 1992. The NES port of Lemmings was done by Ocean Software but published by Sunsoft.

Pescatore
Developer: Sunsoft/Tierheit | Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: Cancelled | Format: Famicom/NES

In 1991 a puzzle game was developed by Tierhiet and Sunsoft. In the early 90s, block puzzle games like Tetris, Columns, and Puyo Puyo were popular, and Pescatore seem to have been made to surf on the puzzle wave. Like many other puzzle games, Pescatore has the player piece together falling blocks in different colors.

It’s fully possible that the work that went into Pescatore later was used as a template for Sunsoft’s Super Famicom puzzle games starring Hebereke. The only information about Prescatore is what can be played in the early version of the game that has found its way onto the internet.

It is a typical puzzle game where blocks in different configurations and colors drop from above. It’s the player’s job to rotate and place these blocks to align them in specific combinations. The main task is to clear blocks off the screen to make room for more blocks. This is done by sandwiching two or more blocks of one color between two blocks of another color, in horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines.

I don’t know why the game never got further than this early version. But if I were to speculate it is because the unique way the game clears blocks is really not as direct and clear as in Tetris or even Dr. Mario. And there is very little information on the developer Tierheit. They ported Nihon Falcom’s Sorcerian for the MSX in 1991 and co-developed AIZA: New Generation for the PC-98 with Lawins in 1991. 1991 seems to be the only year they were active.

Dino-Hockey
Developer: Sunsoft| Publisher: Sunsoft | Release: Cancelled | Format: NES

The second canceled game for 1991 was Dino-Hockey. The game is currently available on the internet in the form of a early prototype. The basic idea of the game is that dinosaurs are playing hockey. It almost has a Flintstones-like feel to it.

I will be adding more about this game after conducting an interview. So please check back in the future or follow VGArc on Twitter to be updated when I add to the articles. Enjoy this video of it found on Youtube until I can write more about it.


 

Coming up after this is the last part of Sunsoft’s golden age, the period of time when Sunsoft went from being known for their great 8-bit games to being know for licensed 16-bit games. We will cover the reason why this happened and how Sunsoft landed a great deal with Warner Brothers for making Looney Tunes games.

 


Updates:
January 24, 2018: Added a comment from Kenji Sada to the qoute from Atsushi Sakai on his work with Nantettatte Baseball.

February 10, 2018: Added a photo to the Gremlins 2 part taken at the shoot of the Gremlins 2 commercial.

Special thanks to:

  • E.C Myers for proofreading and corrections.
  • Everyone who let me interview them for this.
  • My Patreons.

If you see anything that is incorrect please e-mail me at vgarc.org@gmail.com so it can be considered for correction.

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