Remember that time when Konami's name was synonymous with nearly everything awesome about the 8 and 16-bit eras?
From stellar classics like Contra to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, Konami stood alongside giants like Capcom and Nintendo with an arsenal of memorable games. Fast forward to today and now the publisher feels like a machine that endlessly churns out sequels upon sequels to Castlevania, Pro Evolution Soccer and Metal Gear Solid.
I’m not even kidding about that last part. The only things one could do at Konami’s E3 booth this year was get into a closed doors, hands-off gameplay preview of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain or peer into a sealed-off VIP area that had demo stations for Pro Evolution Soccer 2015. It’s not the kind of showing I would have expected out of a publisher with such an impressive repertoire of games.
What happened to all those varied and interesting beat-em-ups, shoot-em-ups and RPGs that made Konami (and its shell corporation Ultra Games) such a revered name in the 80s and 90s?
That's exactly what we're about to reminisce. Here we have ten Konami series that could use a good jolt from everybody's favorite ten-button input code.
This 1986 Arcade overhead run and gun shooter eventually made its home on the Famicom Disk System and NES in 1988. The game’s premise is fun in its simplicity: you and a fellow player control jeeps armed with an upgradeable machine gun and grenade launcher that shoot and blow up everything in sight while rescuing POWs. Is there anything else one really needs out of a game of its ilk?
Jackal has never seen a re-release on the Wii or Wii U Virtual Console, but Xbox 360 users can grab the Arcade version on XBLA. I can only imagine the kind of madness that would ensue in a new iteration that introduced four player co-op.
The last major release of this iconic shoot-em-up series was on WiiWare in the form of 2008’s Gradius ReBirth. Since then, Gradius’ iconic Vic Viper spacecraft has been destined to a cruel existence on pachislot games and mobile titles, but it doesn't have to be that way.
Gradius pioneered the idea of piloting a ship that could get upgrades via collectible power ups left by enemies. The NES/Famicom port of the arcade original was the harbinger of the Konami code that everyone and their mother knows nowadays. The series clearly deserves more respect than a pachislot game. Konami should take a page out of Nintendo’s Mii Force and craft a 3DS Gradius or Lifeforce/Salamander title that adds a StreetPass feature in which tags become additional weapons on your ship.
#8 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Travel back in time with me to a period where Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles took up a decent chunk of your childhood. You had the bedsheets, the pizza-shooting action figures, the movies on VHS (yes, even that ungodly third entry) and best of all, your favorite Konami-developed TMNT arcade and home console games.
It’s quite telling that taking the heroes in a half shell into the realm of 3D hasn’t been cutting it. One needs to only look at Ubisoft’s Turtles in Time Re-Shelled remake and Activision’s Out of the Shadows to see that. They gel far better as 2D beat-em-ups that don’t expect you to master various button combos. Jump, attack and a two-button special move are all you really need to make a TMNT game fun. And of course, it has to have that fourth wall-breaking move where you hurl a Foot Soldier into the TV screen. The chances of Konami getting ahold of the TMNT license again seems unlikely in the near future, but I’d totally be up for something reminiscent of the Konami era of beat-em-ups that could make us forget that this Michael Bay-produced TMNT movie ever existed.
Remember when Konami teased a new Contra title with a fiery, blazing ‘C’ at the end of its 2011 pre-E3 press conference? Fans were even promised a 3DS Contra the year before, but nothing ever came out of any of it. It's crazy to think that Konami wouldn't soldier on with a sequel to Contra 4, which was amazingly handled by WayForward, mind-numbing difficulty and all.
While 2011's Hard Corps: Uprising for Xbox 360 and PS3 was essentially Contra sans the title or aesthetic, it'd be great to see a return to Contra that mixes the upgrading system from Hard Corps: Uprising with the visual style and verticality of Contra 4. I wholeheartedly hope that they continue Contra 4's and Uprising's trend of creating a more diverse cast, both in gender and race.
#6 Zone of the Enders
Hideo Kojima teased a third entry to this often under-looked series in 2012, but the team behind it has since disbanded. Kojima's entire focus has instead shifted to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and as a result the project was sadly put on hold.
While a majority of Kojima Productions' fanbase is no doubt greatly anticipating The Phantom Pain, I think it'd be the proper course of action to see the company edge itself back onto Zone of the Enders 3 once the new Metal Gear is done. I imagine ZOE3 would run in 60 frames per second and feature more of the high-speed aerial combat of its predecessor while introducing more playable characters and less escort missions. Heck, one can only dream of what an open-world Zone of the Enders game with No Man's Sky-esque planet-to-planet traversal would be like.
Ever since Konami revealed disappointing sales numbers with PS2’s Suikoden V, fans of the RPG series have felt like they've been left in the cold. After the well-received Tierkreis PSP spin-off, fans still dream of a return to form with a full-fledged, console-based sequel.
I'm admittedly behind on the series, having only played the first entry in spurts since its release on PlayStation Network in 2008. Nevertheless, I was entranced by the game's overwhelming amount of recruitable characters, intricate storylines and occasional strategy-based army battles. The original Suikoden team has since disbanded after the fifth game, so there's no telling how a sixth game would play out with a new crew. I'm sure even a re-release of Suikoden II, which the Suikoden Revival Movement has been clamoring about for years, would make for an effective good-will gesture on Konami’s part.
#4 Vandal Hearts
Long before everyone started making a big deal about the politics, red weddings and scandalous love affairs in the TV adaptation of Game of Thrones, tactical turn-based RPGs Vandal Hearts and its improved sequel had it in spades on PlayStation. You can liken Vandal Hearts to what would happen if Final Fantasy Tactics turned up the dial on the violence factor and featured far more politically and religiously motivated back-stabbings, pillage scenes and over-the-top blood geysers.
It really stumps me why Konami hasn’t re-released the first two games on the PlayStation Store. They are brimming with fantastic characterization that’s supplemented by well-written, witty dialogue and marvelously rich orchestral soundtracks. The series could have seen resurgence with its PS3/Xbox 360 prequel, Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment, but the ball was dropped thanks in part to the game’s awkwardly lackluster art direction. A return to form is needed for this oft-forgotten series.
Snatcher may not earn high marks for originality (the game’s titular villains are essentially a cross between Terminator’s endoskeletons and Blade Runner’s replicants), but the 1994 cyberpunk adventure was a rare gem in a massive pile of mediocre Sega CD games. After receiving a bevy of remakes and a radio drama written by Goichi Suda in 2011, I think it’s high time that Konami considers working with Kojima in bringing Junker Gillian Seed and his Metal Gear companion back to the forefront.
We’ve already gotten a taste of what it’s like to detect and take out current-gen Snatchers with the “Jamais Vu” mission in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Adventure games have been making a comeback thanks to Broken Age and The Walking Dead, so I could see a new Snatcher that melds the cyberpunk noir of the original with more in-depth light-gun shooting sequences becoming a big hit on Steam.
#2 Sunset Riders
The gritty seriousness of titles like Red Dead Redemption is great and all, but sometimes I pine for the flamboyant romanticism of the Old West. A return to Konami’s four-player arcade side-scrolling cowboy shoot-em-up would fill that gaping hole in my heart.
Sunset Riders stars four bounty hunters named Steve, Billy, Bob and a pink sombrero and poncho-wearing badass named Cormano. It’s essentially Contra set in the Old West, featuring powerups found in saloons, horse-riding, bull stampedes and an outlawed crime lord whose dying wish is to be buried with his money. The sheer joy of playing this game with four people in the days of the arcade was unrivaled, even considering Konami’s 1991 beat-em-up darling The Simpsons Arcade Game. A sequel or reboot of the series with online co-op is in order.
#1 Mystical Ninja/Ganbare Goemon
Like a few other titles on this list, this quirky, heavily Japanese series has been reduced to mobile entries and Pachislot machines. The last notable title was 2005’s Ganbare Goemon: Tōkai Dōchū Ōedo Tengu ri Kaeshi no Maki for DS. This nine-year dearth of the blue, pineapple-haired hero Goemon, his portly ninja friend Ebisumaru and their wacky exploits needs to end.
Moving past the awkward camera of Nintendo 64’s Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon and the series’ penchant for tricky platforming, the Mystical Ninja series is a humorous amalgamation of Japanese history and culture. It offers a cavalcade of absurd premises and fourth-wall breaking that is topped off by a superb soundtrack that’s more than willing to spoof an anime intro or two. Simply put, Mystical Ninja exudes charm in all the right ways and deserves another chance in the spotlight.