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MonkeyPaw Games Interview – Keeping Obscure Japanese Games Alive

by Joey Davidson | January 17, 2014January 17, 2014 8:00 am PDT

MonkeyPaw Games is doing something special. This company works on bringing aging Japanese video games out of obscurity and releasing them on the PlayStation Network as PSOne Classics.

They’re in the middle of one of these campaigns right now. The project is called Retro Rush, and it features six games releasing for the PlayStation 3, PS Vita and PSP over the course of six weeks.

The games in the Retro Rush offering include Double Dragon, Hyper Crazy Climber, Wolf Fang, Lucifer Ring, The Firemen 2: Pete and Danny and the highly desired Tomba! 2.

We had a chance to speak with Ryan Olsen, PR Manager for MonkeyPaw, about the company’s love of gaming history, their process, their decision guidelines and what it takes to port these titles to more modern machines.

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A Love of the Ancients

“History is vital to video games,” Olsen told us.

That’s what MonkeyPaw is doing, as far as we’re concerned. They’re taking titles that are slowly drifting into a realm of forgotten works, and they’re porting them for modern day marketplaces. Yes, there’s money to be made in that pursuit, but they’re also doing it for a love of preservation.

“Games, by nature, are very evolutionary and video games aren’t an exception. So when you are playing a modern shooter or adventure game, elements and DNA of that can be traced back to classic games.” MonkeyPaw is doing its part in keeping that evolutionary chain visible and, perhaps more importantly, playable.

And there’s a big market of gamers who really want a way to play classic Japanese titles for possibly the first time. The 80s and 90s were incredible eras for game development in Japan, and there are a lot of titles from those periods that just plain aren’t accessible for Western audiences.

Olsen offers that MonkeyPaw steps in at that junction. “We see MonkeyPaw as a bridge between Eastern and Western games and part of that is taking those history lessons that were never taught — or forgotten — and giving them a shot in other areas of the world.”

But, how do they decide which games to bring abroad? Olsen explained that the most important factor is fan requests. “We have some of the most passionate fans in the world since they care as deeply about classic games as we do. Things like the Retro Rush wouldn’t be possible without gamers that felt the same way we did. We always say anything is possible with enough fan support and that’s the truth.”

This is a company that actively listens to fan wants and acts on them almost entirely.

Their decision process extends beyond that factor, of course. “Is the game fun?” Olsen proposed. “Do people care about the genre? Is it slightly quirky or crazy?”

“A ‘Yes’ to any of those will mean we’ll take a look at it to release it. The games need to be high quality. We aren’t going to release something just because it is out there in the world.”

Once a title meets those demands, of course, it has to be licensed for international release. Olsen told us this can be “tricky.” Here he is once more: “That is incredibly tricky to navigate in Japan and you need to be persistent and persistent and persistent until you hear a ‘Yes.’”

It’s All About the Fans

Sure, we wouldn’t see these games available without that emulation, but the process would never start if it wasn’t for the fans.

When MonkeyPaw is choosing a game to work on, they look first for fan support. The contracts and emulation come later.

Fan support plays such a primary role for the team that they don’t even have to bother with personal lists.

“The games [the fans] mention are the games we love, too,” Olsen said. “That’s how we’ve been bringing these classics out. Their passion and excitement fuels us when going into licensing meetings where we hear a lot of ‘No’s before a ‘Yes.'”

Once MonkeyPaw has a title in mind, they stick with it until they have it. Before they could release Tomba! back in Oct. 2012, the team had to pursue the deal for a year before they could even start work on emulating the game. Tomba! 2 was no different.

“We have a motto and it is ‘Never give up. Never give up ever,'” Olsen said. “And that’s pretty much how we landed Tomba! 2. We announced we were bringing it back a long time ago, but kept hitting snag after snag.” Finally, after working on the deal for almost as long as they did Tomba!, MonkeyPaw got the all-clear to bring the Japanese import version to the U.S. store.

MonkeyPaw’s biggest job with any of these titles is getting it running on modern hardware.

“We’ve mostly done imports where we don’t touch the game outside of making sure the emulation process is working smoothly,” Olsen said. Aside from matching up fan and developer passions and securing licensing, smooth emulation is the biggest hurdle the team faces.

Focusing on emulating games on Sony hardware, though, has been beneficial.

“Sony has been a fantastic partner to work with, and games like Tomba! releasing digitally wouldn’t be possible without their help,” Olsen said.

For a company focusing on imports, localization is an inescapable part of development. One of MonkeyPaw’s most notable partners is localization studio Gaijinworks, founded by Victor Ireland, formerly of Working Designs.

“We’re getting ready to release Class of Heroes 2G after the Retro Rush is long over. Role Playing Games are some of our best sellers, but the localization on them is the most difficult part,” Olsen says. “But with victor’s help, we’ll be able to bring out some fantastic RPGs.”

And RPGs tend to be homeruns for the company. “The games that have done best for us are the RPGs and the shooters.” Though, it’s not like MonkeyPaw is happy only working on two genres. Olsen said that they’ll “bring back and type or style of game that fans want to see. You name the game, we’ve tried to work on bringing it out as a digital download.”

Really, the whole thing for MonkeyPaw Games can be summed up behind one mantra: with fan support. They seem to exist solely to please gamers looking for more from games.

“Everything we do,” Olsen told us, “the reason we exist is because we want to bring these beloved games back to consoles. We want to be that bridge between East and West and events like the Retro Rush are part of that.”

We can’t wait to see what else they have in store for us. There’s a whole lot of classic gaming goodness left untapped in Japan.

Wolf Fang


Joey Davidson

Joey Davidson leads the gaming department here on TechnoBuffalo. He's been covering games online for more than 10 years, and he's a lover of all...

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