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Lost in the Arcade: Namco Games

Namco was one of the first third party companies to publish for the Genesis, until it had its leash yanked fiercely by Nintendo. During its run, many great arcade ports were released, like Phelios and Marvel Land, along with some great original games like the two Splatterhouse sequels and Rolling Thunder 3. Despite this wide portfolio of titles, there were almost a dozen quality games that were left in the arcade (many more were only released in Japan for the PC-Engine, like the awesome Shadow Land and Valkyrie no Densetsu). We’ve compiled a small listing of some of the more noteworthy Namco coin-ops that never made it home, and just looking at this list makes us feel all the worse for our poor Sega CD and 32X.

 

Assault

I love tank games. The very first installment of this series included a much-ignored Sega game called Aurail, and playing Assault just convinces me all the more that there’s some hidden bias against armor! SNK’s Iron Tank rocked the house, but a true fan of large cannons on treads needs more! Though it was released before the Genesis, Assault could have found its way home, sans the mode 7-like scaling (not a big deal for the Sega CD though). Perhaps the biggest obstacle for a port would have been maintaining the twin stick controls, which might not have translated well to a control pad (especially a three-button one). The screen would have to remained static, but that wouldn’t have taken too much away from the gameplay, and as an early Genesis release, this would have been forgiven.

Even so, I would have liked another tank game. Granada gets lonely sometimes, and I’m finding it increasingly harder to cheer it up. Assault could have offered it some great conversation! At least we finally got to play it at home on the Playstation, thanks to the Namco Museum Vol. 4.

 

Finest Hour

Playing like a simpler version of Target Earth (there’s no awesome weapons customization), Finest Hour is a straight forward run-‘n-gun that features lots of big mechs and tons of explosions. If you’re like me, that’s all you needed to go scrounging around in your pockets for quarters. Had this game come home, we could have enjoyed some great mech action without the need to break the piggy bank.

To be honest, there’s nothing particularly awesome about Finest Hour, and it lacks the great weapons and storyline of Dreamworks’ seminal Genesis mech game, but there’s plenty of fun to be had nonetheless. The graphics are bright and colorful, the environments are detailed and full of scaling, and the gameplay is truly pick-up-and-play. If Namco had given us a Genesis port, it would have had little competition, and it might have actually done quite well. Think of it this way: how many quality mech games does the Genesis have? Target Earth… Battletech… um, next question please!

 

Lucky & Wild

This is a game that literally screams “32X!” to me. The scaling would have been too much for the stock Genesis to handle, and those explosions would probably have melted the console completely. With the added power of the magic mushroom, however, Lucky & Wild could have really shone. Perhaps even using the power of the Sega CD to finally show us more than just cleaner FMV would have been a great idea. The fast paced action and gunplay (oh my poor Menacer, how they have forsaken you!), along with the hilarious banter and expressions, would have been a major attraction for the underperforming add-on. It’s too bad that Namco had moved on by the time the 32X arrived, otherwise we might have gotten a port of this arcade hit.

 

Metal Hawk

Now here’s a shooter I can get behind. The graphical style reminds me of Konami’s excellent Ajax, and the scaling in this System 2 blaster does a great job of making the action intense without making the player nauseous. This is as simple a helicopter shooter as you’re bound to find, and my only concern for a conversion would be the dual-stick control scheme. Unlike Assault, Metal Hawk has a standard stick on the right for shooting and a lever on the left for moving the helicopter up and down.

Apparently though, Namco was willing to give it a shot. An unreleased prototype for the Sega CD is still out there somewhere, supposedly waiting to be dumped. We’re not sure how much truth there is to this, but we’d definitely love to see that prototype if it indeed exists. Metal Hawk’s scaling makes it a perfect fit (and a perfect showcase) for what the CD hardware can do, and it sadly give us yet another game to ponder. Why would so many companies that decided to release for the Sega CD not try and make their games use the hardware? The power of cash runs, I guess…

 

Mirai Ninja

I love ninja games. Give me a katana and some metal stars, and I’m happy. Mirai Ninja does a great job of giving ninja fans what they want, though it doesn’t exactly set the world on fire in the process. Think Legend of Kage and NES Ninja Gaiden rolled into one frantic package, and you’ll have a decent idea of what to expect. The visuals and gameplay aren’t anything the Genesis couldn’t handle, and the few rotation effects to be found wouldn’t really be missed if they had to be axed for a port. The color palate would take a hit, to be sure, but everything I’ve played points to this having the potential to be a solid port of a great action game. Namco wasn’t exactly overflowing with ninja love on the Genesis, and Mirai Ninja could have filled a niche otherwise occupied by only Joe Musashi.

 

Numan Athletics Series

Two games were released under this banner, two! Neither of them made it home, which is a shame. Numan Athletics plays like a cross between Konami’s Track & Field and some comic book super heroes, with some of the wackiest gameplay you’re likely to find in a sports game. All the contestants have super powers, and the eight events in which they participate are tailor-made just for them. Triple jump across waterfalls, skeet shoot missiles, and stop a speeding train with your bare hands – all of it is presented here with some wonderful visuals and great gameplay. The sequel ups the ante with better visuals and different events.

Namco would have been forced to tone this one down for the stock Genesis, but the 32X could have easily handled it, I think. Both Numan Athletics and its sequel Mach Breakers, with their multi-player action, could have been two feathers in Namco’s cap for the struggling 32X, and it, along with The Outfoxies could have helped the system greatly during the holidays.

 

The Outfoxies

Playing this gives me a strange Smash Bros. vibe, and the basic dynamic does bear some similarity. As one of seven hired killers, players are tasked with assassinating famous art dealers… and the other six killers. The range of characters is hilarious, and Namco’s included everything from a suit-wearing monkey to siamese twins who were separated in a train crash (seriously!). Gameplay consists of the two killers running around the stage, using weapons and items to take out their opponents. One stage lets players unleash a wave of water that sweeps their opponent down each level until crashing into a power station, complete with fatal shock. That stage also lets you destroy the floor beneath a helicopter, sending it crashing down on whoever is unfortunate enough to be on the level below it. Other stages include a circus big top (complete with trapeze!), a plane, and even a moving train.

Namco could have easily ported The Outfoxies to the Genesis without sacrificing much more than the cool scaling feature, and a Sega CD or 32X port could have even kept that in. Hell, this could probably been a decent app for moving hardware, as two-player games on the mushroom are few and far between. As it is, The Outfoxies is a great multi-player game that would have most likely enjoyed success had it been brought home.

 

Rompers

Ah, maze chase games. Once a reliable staple of the arcade scene, they all but disappeared by the early nineties. Rompers reminds me a lot of Hudson’s Crater Maze with its colorful graphical style. The gameplay is about as simplistic too, with the primary attack being the ability to tumble the maze walls on unsuspecting foes. Doing this buys the player some time for collecting keys scattered throughout the stage.

There’s nothing spectacular here, and the action gets kind of old after a while, but Rompers is a fun game in a genre that isn’t all the well-represented on the Genesis (in the U.S., at least). Given the simplicity of its visuals and gameplay, Namco probably felt that its resources were better spent on other, more high profile titles. A pity for those who love maze chases, especially since it would have been so easy to port. I could easily see Rompers on the Genesis or perhaps even the Sega CD. Nothing would tax the hardware, and we’d have gotten more use out of those poor and neglected multi-taps!

 

Steel Gunner Series

It often seems like every time I find a title that would have been wonderful to port to the Genesis, it’s a light gun game. The list goes on and on, and I don’t think I’ve yet to write an installment of Lost in the Arcade without at least one of them making the list. The Steel Gunner series is action-packed and not all that advanced for a Sega CD release. In fact, I get a very Body Count-like vibe from the series. In fact, t wouldn’t surprise me if Sega was “inspired” by Steel Gunner, being that the two companies seemed to draw off each other’s work during their arcade rivalry.

Aside from some color loss, I’m sure it would have worked well, and the Sega CD could have handled Steel Gunner easily. The sequel has some impressive scaling that might have required the 32X, but it’s nothing that’s beyond the reach of the combined hardware’s power. It’s a shame we never saw this series come home, since its great action and visuals would undoubtedly have sold among Genesis owners.

Wow, it almost looks like Namco could have supported the 32X with its arcade releases alone. While it’s too bad that such support never materialized, I can’t fault the company. It gave us so many great games, many of them arcade conversions, that there was simply no way for it to port its whole catalog from the era. Still, we can speculate and discuss, no? And Namco’s list of arcade-only titles give us plenty to talk about.

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3 Comments

  1. m310 says:

    Nice list of games.

    • m310 says:

      However, Metal Hawk and Assault could never work on a Genesis or Sega CD without heavy compromises that would remove the core feel of the gameplay. Maybe 32x ( although audio and color are still not great).
      Mach Breakers and Outfoxies would be better as PS1/Sat or DC ports due to the powerful 2d effects of that board.
      The other ones are possible ( rompers being the closest), but would require a 32x at min. to get a closer representation to the arcade original, since the sega cd scaling is not that great.

  2. m310 says:

    Nice article. However, I think you may be overestimating the capabilities of the Genesis here.

    I’ve been playing through Assault, and for it to work on the Genesis, it would probably need a reduction in fps, a big loss in music quality, removal of any sprite scaling/rotation, reduction in number of enemies and attack patterns, and a severe loss of color, since the System 2 is way more powerful compared to the Genesis. That would be too big of a compromise to make, which is probably why most of the Namco System 2 arcade games never got good home ports( except for Marvel Land, and the Namco Museum series). It defenitely needed at least a 32x port, along with Metal Hawk, to give an somewhat accurate home port( although the color and sound would still be compromised).

    Mach Breakers and the Outfoxies wouldn’t have been done on a 32x, it more likely would get a PS1/Sat or Dreamcast port, but both were pretty niche even in the arcade scene.
    Most of the other games ( besides rompers) would probably require some decent sized cutbacks still, and most of this relies on the assumption if the 32x were successful.

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