Or, “How in the hell did a notoriously awful P.C. shooter get turned into one of the greatest 8-bit action-adventure games of all-time?”
The long, tragic back story behind “Daikatana” is one of video gaming’s greatest cautionary tales. For those of you unfamiliar with the grade-A train wreck that was Ion Storm’s 2000 first person shooter, here’s the abridged yarn: back in 1997, John Romero, a dude that had become rich as hell off all of that “Doom II” money, decided to build the FPS game to end all FPS games, an insanely ambitious, content-loaded title using an already obsolete engine, with an understaffed crew, in a comically brief amount of time. Originally scheduled for a Christmas 1997 release, the entire game had to be scrapped and rebuilt, once the Ion Storm team realized that everything they had been working on for the last year was utter shit. Spring 1999 rolls around, and the only thing the developers have to show off is a crappy deathmatch demo. By the way, the company promised the game would be on store shelves just a few months before that. In an absolute snafu of biblical proportions, the developers then decided to show off the software at E3 later that year, running at a molasses-slow 12 frames per second. The demonstration was so embarrassingly awful that it led to the founders of Ion Storm getting shit canned and Eidos buying up the company, to make sure the guys calling the shots there wouldn’t set fire to the ashes of what was left of the game. To make matters worse, once the game finally was released - almost three years late - it was promoted via a downright disastrous marketing campaign, in which oblique ads that didn’t even state the NAME of the game were released, stating that “John Romero’s about to make you his bitch.” The reception of the gaming masses, unsurprisingly, wasn’t all that positive.
Alas, I would like to turn your attention towards an entirely different “Daikatana” - and not that shitty Nintendo 64 port, either. Believe it or not, there was a Game Boy Color version of the ill-fated PC game released - albeit, only in PAL countries - and the truly shocking thing here is that not only is it NOT a bad little handheld game, it’s actually one of the most awesome GBC games to never make it stateside. So, how did a notoriously underwhelming, ego-fueled FPS disaster turn into a super-awesome Game Boy Color offering? Well, primarily, by changing the entire genre and format of the source material.
Released the same year as the PC iteration, “Daikatana” on the GBC was published by Kemco, the guys that are probably known best for the “Top Gear” series - and a whole slew of crappy GameCube games, like “Universal Studios Theme Parks Adventure” and “Batman: Dark Tomorrow.” After spending the better part of a month playing through it, I’ve pretty much determined that it’s one of the best 8-bit action-adventure games I’ve ever played - a game that’s probably even on par with such GBC titans as “Metal Gear Solid” and the two Capcom “Zelda” games. It’s a lofty claim, and one that sounds bat-kaka insane on the surface, but trust me; once you play through this one, you’ll be hard-pressed to disagree with my assertions.
Granted, it’s a pretty hard game to track down, but as a bonus, since the Game Boy Color is region-free, if you do so happen to encounter a copy, your North American GBC should have no problems converting all of that Euro-only fun into 8-bit ecstasy. And yeah, you can ROM this one, but the purist I am, I STRONGLY suggest you try to play this one the way the gaming gods originally intended.
So, why is this hyper-obscure title worth going out of your way to experience? Well, I’ve come up with four distinct, concise reasons as to why the Game Boy Color version of "Daikatana" is something every retro gaming fan worth his “Sonic the Hedgehog” cartridges should play, at least once…
Reason Number One:
It’s Pretty Much Everything You Love About Old School, 8-Bit Gaming Crammed into One Cartridge
|A subtle allusion to the discography of Otis Redding?|
Reason Number Two
The Atmosphere is Just Awesome
|Fun fact: the game actually began life as a VERY loose adaptation of "Onibaba."|
“Daikatana” shows us just how much life 8-bit gaming had in it, even as recently as the year 2000. The visuals are crisp and detailed, and the music is just downright tremendous. A lot of times, we tend to discount just how much influence sound design has on a game’s overall feel, and the audio-philes at Kemco went out of their way to bring the aural awesome in this title. From the ambient, droning hum that picks up while you’re navigating dungeons to that awesome, Optimus Prime-meets-Knight Rider chime that tunes up when you solve a puzzle, there’s just so much to love about the game - and that’s not even taking into account the game’s exquisite chip-tune score, which sounds sort of like an 8-bit mash-up of Danny Elfman’s “Batman” soundtrack as performed by The Prodigy. I don’t want to say that the aesthetics of the game are minimalist, but the game is also refreshing devoid of clutter. Everything in the game is detailed, but none of the sprites are too elaborate; it’s just a smooth looking game, sans any gimmicks that would slow down the game play. In other words? It’s NES-era gaming, the way it ought to be.
Reason Number Three
|What the? An adventure game, with dungeons that aren't populated with red stalactites and killer bats?|
Reason Number Four:
The Story is Surprisingly Enjoyable and Nuanced
|Racial profiling, Game Boy-style. (Note the gigantic prescription pills and naked dude just casually chatting it up with you.)|
|And also: it has some of the coolest-looking rugs in video game history.|
I really can’t think of a reason why you shouldn’t at least make an effort to hunt this one down. Granted, it may not be worth a trip to a PAL country to find, but if you’re ever just hanging out in Wolverhampton, it may be worth your time to scour the Mom and Pop’s, you know, just in case. A game like “Daikatana” is really the kind of title that old school purists like me are absolutely enchanted by: a no-frills, straight-up, hyper-fun game that seemingly NO ONE is aware of. It’s “Zelda” meets “Metal Gear,” with shades of Kurosawa and “Logan’s Run” thrown in there, just because; in short, it’s pretty freaking amazing, and you need to experience such awesomeness with your own two thumbs and eyes, folks.