Nintendo’s franchises are the world class prize of the video gaming world. Each member of its expansive roster of heroes can be recognized by grandmas at the far corners of the Earth, and their fans are loyal to the point of rabid insanity when it comes to buying absolutely everything connected to them.
This is because Nintendo rarely creates a property that it outright walks away from. Even a failure of a game can be twisted and morphed into a success at Nintendo, and more often than not, entire franchises are built this way!
Today’s games represent the best of this small category of games. The ones Nintendo just walked away from and never explored again. Not that they were bad or unsuccessful. It’s just… Nintendo never followed up on them for whatever reason. As you might notice, these are all games from genres that Nintendo doesn’t particularly specialize in: fighting games, push-block puzzle games, point-and-click adventures, God games, and that could be a reason.
But regardless of why, these poor games were never give a second chance by Nintendo and stand as the company’s very best “one-hit wonders.” And just to elaborate, these are games developed within Nintendo’s halls. Not second-party companies like HAL Laboratory or Intelligent Systems. These are Nintendo games to the very core.
I write about this game every so often, and that’s only because I love it so much. Shigeru Miyamoto produced this unknown puzzle gem after Link’s Awakening hit the Game Boy with a design team at Nintendo EAD. Many of the sprites and background images use the same style of artistry, hinting many of the same people made it, but the main difference is that your character is a mole.
An adorable mole out to save his family from an evil farmer who has kidnapped them for eating his vegetables. Our paternal hero must navigate his way through maze after maze of monster infested gardens, each loaded with switches, puzzles, holes, and other obstacles that block his path.
Mole Mania is a wonderful, little puzzle game with a lovable hero, an excellent retro anime style, and a goofy sense of humor. The push-puzzles will challenge your mind in only the way that the best can. And it even had Game Boy multiplayer functions long before Pokemon made that standard!
Nowadays, it’s best enjoyed through the Nintendo 3DS eShop, where it is a Game Boy select title on the Virtual Console. It’s a pure blast for $2.99. For more, check out my Game Boy 25th anniversary piece on its mysterious Nintendo director, Masayuki Kameyama.
Marvelous: Another Treasure Island
Here’s a lost “Holy Grail” of my gaming childhood! It turned up in my first issue of Nintendo Power, I looked for this game everywhere, drawn in to its beautiful anime art and fun countryside setting. However, only recently was I able to play Marvelous: Another Treasure Island from beginning to end in English thanks to a fan-translation finally being released back in January.
It never appeared in the store because it was never released in North America. Thanks a lot, Nintendo Power!
Marvelous: Another Treasure Island is exactly the game you would expect Nintendo to make if it decided to compete with LucasArts and Sierra during the peak of their dominance of the point-and-click adventure. Players control three friends at an island summer camp, and they must explore the secrets within to unravel ancient mysteries.
Deion, Max, and Jack each have powers that align with their unique personalities, and players will uncover more treasures and powers as they tackle more complicated adventures. Athletic Deion can throw baseballs to knock down items, super-nerd Jack loves to fish, and fatty Max can sink to the bottom of water source and search with goggles.
If this all sounds like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, you’re not far off. Marvelous: Another Treasure Island uses the same graphic engine, but it just puts the focus more on the item-based puzzle elements and less on the combat. After a briefly steep learning curve with the confusing UI, the game opens up to a wonderful adventure that is clearly a Nintendo product. Shigeru Miyamoto was so impressed with this game that he tapped its director, Nintendo R&D 2’s Eiji Aonuma, to direct The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
To this day, Aonuma still produces every Legend of Zelda game, and we have Marvelous to thank for it.
Joy Mech Fight
By 1992, every gamer and developer in the world had their attention turned to the success of Street Fighter II. The fighting game genre had come into its own, and console makers clamored for the game to appear on their home consoles. Nintendo secured the rights for the first home version of the game on Super Nintendo, but in Japan at least, the original Famicom was still a hot console.
However, it was severely underpowered and couldn’t handle the enormous Street Fighter II sprites. So instead of trying a broken port, Nintendo turned to its Game Boy development squad, Nintendo R&D 1, to develop the best fighting game that the NES could handle. Joy Mech Fight was the result.
It’s not the best game in the world, but it is distinctly a Nintendo R&D 1 product. This is the studio Nintendo always turned to when it needed to make something fun, simple, and, most importantly, cheap. You can see why they are the geniuses behind the Game Boy.
And for the most part, Joy Mech Fight achieved just what it needed to. It’s a simple fighting game that stayed within the Famicom’s technical limitation and was still enjoyed by everyone who could handle a video game controller. Mini, disconnected sprites worked together to form abstract characters, meaning the need for huge, elaborate ones was not needed.
And, it both looks and acts like a fighting game, one that’s still worth checking out to this day.
The Mysterious Murasame Castle
Every NES owner knows Super Mario Bros., and likewise, every NES owner knows The Legend of Zelda. The two are arguably the most iconic games for Nintendo’s first home console, but did you know there was a game that attempted to blend the best of what these two games offered?
The Mysterious Murasame Castle, or Nazo no Murasame Jo in Japanese, was released for the Famicom Disk System two months after The Legend of Zelda. As a product of Nintendo EAD, the game obviously had a little inspiration from both games, combining the arcade action of Super Mario Bros. and the overhead combat of The Legend of Zelda.
And just for fun, The Mysterious Murasame Castle uses many of the same fonts and sound effects that Super Mario Bros. uses, making very distinctly a Nintendo EAD game. It’s nothing overly special and exists only as a cult-classic for its “hard to obtain” status. However, those wanting to see Nintendo’s typically traditional EAD studio get experimental, it can be picked up on the Nintendo 3DS eShop as a Famicom import.
Aside from the obvious reasons of it being on a failed Nintendo console that never made it to the States, The Mysterious Murasame Castle also never saw a sequel likely because it is far more “Japanese” than the typical Nintendo games. Samurai, ninja, castles, demons. These are images you expect from other Japanese developers, not Nintendo. It didn’t really jive with the company’s international image of the 1980s and was quickly shelved because of it.