Sunday, December 21, 2014

‘90s Coin-Ops That Never Got Home Ports

Five coin-devouring classics that, for some reason, never got the SNES or Genesis treatment.

“Street Fighter II,” “Mortal Kombat,” “NBA Jam” and “Samurai Shodown” were among the finest arcade games of the Flannel Era, and thankfully, we got an opportunity to play them on a litany of platforms, from our tried-and-true Sega Genesises and Super Nintendos to our battery-munching Game Boys and Game Gears. While a ton of coin-up offerings wound up getting home translations -- including subpar offerings such as “Primal Rage” and “Pit Fighter,” -- quite a few beloved arcade titles never got ported to our living rooms. While there is certainly no shortage of arcade originals that we all wished would have made it to our 16-bit units -- Capcom’s “Alien vs. Predator,” Namco’s “The Outfoxies” and Data East’s “Night Slashers,” among them -- there are five coin-ops in particular that, despite being extremely popular, were inconceivably never sent to the SNES or Mega Drive.

Today, let us reflect on the cabinets that filled our childhoods with such wonder and splendor -- and a whole hell of a lot of confusion and frustration as to why we couldn’t play them on our home units.

Number Five:
“Title Fight” (1992)

What was it? A good decade and a half before Nintendo even thought about “Wii Sports,” Sega gave us this aerobic pugilism sim, which allowed arcade jockeys the ability to slug it out with a who’s who of completely made-up boxers. Yeah, its roster of fictitious fighters may not have had the quasi-racist appeal of “Punch-Out!!,” but it did allow two players to engage in virtual slugfests thanks to a side-by-side, dual screen set-up. And playing as virtual wireframe cyber-boxer? Damn, that was a stroke of ingenuity!

Why should it have been ported to the home consoles? LONG before Nintendo trot out their 2006 motion-activated home unit, Sega was betting a buttload on its revolutionary peripheral, the Activator. Basically, it was giant DDR pad that you could plug into your Genesis, and every time you waved your arms like a windmill, it did something or another while you played “Eternal Champions” and “Mortal Kombat.” Granted, the tech really didn’t work they way it was supposed to, and after five minutes of punching air in “Greatest Heavyweights” you’d probably revert back to your six-button pad, but still -- it was hardware designed to get you active in the den. Sega could have easily released a deluxe port of “Title Fight” a’la “Lethal Enforcers,” complete with a pair of gloves you could sock over your hands for their home consoles, and it would’ve been a perfect fit for the ill-fated Activator. Of course, it probably wouldn’t have shifted that many units, nor lead to a great home console game, but for a company hellbent on releasing as many consumer-unfriendly devices as possible at the time, you just have to wonder why the house Sonic built never made an effort on this one.

So, uh, why wasn’t it? Sega was at its business apex in 1992. With the global success of the Genesis/Mega Drive, the relatively recent release of the Game Gear and the upcoming Sega CD add-on, Sega was certainly building quite the formidable holiday season armada. With all of that stuff going on, I suppose it’s reasonable to assume the company never really considered its weird-beard boxing game to be any kind of system-mover, although it most certainly could have been adopted to the Genesis or Sega CD quite easily. I mean, shit … if “Sonic Blast Man” could somehow find its way to the Super Nintendo, there really isn’t a reason in the world why this game never got a home console translation.

Number Four:
“Lucky & Wild” (1993)

What was it? In the early to mid-1990s, there were a lot of gimmick-heavy arcade games on the market. You had light gun games like “Terminator 2,” and you had vehicle themed cabinets like “After Burner.” Well, “Lucky & Wild” was a game that decided to give you two novelties for the price as one, as it was both a driving simulation and a killing people with guns simulation. Specifically designed for two-players, one gamer drove while the other pumped hot lead into various no-goodniks. And it was also a blatant rip-off of a Sylvester Stallone movie that’s sole cultural significance is being a throwaway line in a Tenacious D song, if you can believe it.

Why should it have been ported to the home consoles? While both the SNES and Genesis had their own proprietary light gun peripherals, there really weren’t that many standout games released on either system that took full advantage of the add-ons. As one of the better rail-shooters from the early 1990s, “Lucky & Wild” certainly would have lent itself to a decent-enough Menacer or Super Scope 6 offering, and who the fuck out there wouldn’t have loved plugging a gun and a steering wheel into their home systems to play the same game?

So, uh, why wasn’t it? Honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot of depth to “Lucky & Wild.” Like most arcade games from the era, it was over in about half an hour, and replay incentives were virtually nil. The appeal of the game, then, was the novelty of clicking yourself into a mock-up patrol car and blasting like a retard for a few minutes -- not exactly the kind of gaming experience that would be worth a $65 home cartridge purchase, necessarily. That, and I’m not really sure how many quality steering wheel add-ons were out there in the early ‘90s -- in short, the market appeal of the game just wasn’t strong enough, and the adoption base for the game’s needed peripherals wasn’t there to really justify a home port. Still, a retooled SNES or Genesis game, technologically, would have been possible -- although gunning and driving with a control pad wouldn’t have been anywhere near as fun as the coin-op set-up, obviously.

Number Three:
“WWF WrestleFest” (1991)

What was it? A good old-fashioned 2D slobber knocker featuring all of your favorite WWF rasslers, circa 1990, including the Legion of Doom, Hulk Hogan and that nefarious Iraqi turncoat Sgt. Slaughter. Developed by the same folks that gave us “Double Dragon,” the brawler featured huge sprites, incredible animations and a seriously addictive Royal Rumble mode, not to mention marking the only time fan-favorite tag team Demolition was ever featured in a video game. Up until the release of “No Mercy” on the N64, it was easily the best WWF-branded game ever.

Why should it have been ported to the home consoles? Well, if you ever played a 2D WWF game on the NES, SNES or Genesis, you’d know that they fluctuated in quality from dog shit supreme to just sorta above average. Clearly, there was a need for a great, licensed WWF game, and since that game already existed in the form of “WrestleFest,” you kinda’ figured somebody out there would’ve come up with the bright idea of concocting a console iteration, no?

So, uh, why wasn’t it? I’m not 100 percent sure here, but I’d venture to say it had something to do with licensing agreements. Much to the chagrin of pro wrestling fans the world over, LJN held a tight grip on the WWF home game contract for the better part of the 16-bit era, so I’m not sure if Teknos or any other publisher would have had the legal clearance to put the game on home units. Furthermore, pro wrestling casts change pretty much every three months, so by the time a “WrestleFest” port would’ve made it to the SNES and Genesis, it would have been pretty outdated -- although, that just would’ve meant we would’ve gotten Adobo-sized Papa Shangos and Skinners instead, which would’ve been fucking awesome, too.

Number Two:
“The Simpsons” (1991)

What was it? A Konami cabinet that was more or less “Final Fight,” only instead of playing as a dude that looked like Dan Severn, you commandeered Homer, Bart, Lisa and Marge and ran around slapping zombies and sumo wrestlers with vacuum cleaners and saxophones.

Why should it have been ported to home consoles? Primarily, for the same reason “Turtles in Time” was -- because it was a fun licensed game with a great multiplayer component. Considering how good “Final Fight” looked on the Sega CD and SNES, there really wasn’t any graphical reason why the game couldn’t have made a leap to the home units, either … and did I mention it was a motherfucking beat ‘em up starring the Simpsons?

So, uh, why wasn’t it? As was the case with “WrestleFest,” I’m pretty sure this had something to do with licensing. If I remember correctly, LJN/Acclaim held the home rights to the Simpsons, and most of those games were downright shitty with a capital “S” -- go ahead, try and fucking play “Virtua Bart” sometime. Since Konami held the home rights to both arcade and home TMNT games, I reckon that’s why we saw that one on the 16-bit consoles, while “The Simpsons” remained an arcade exclusive. Strangely enough, though, the game did get a home translation of sorts, as arcade ports made it to both the Commodore 64 and MS-DOS computers.

Number One:
“X-Men” (1992)

What was it? Only the goddamned hugest cabinet ever made, that’s what. The utterly massive coin-op allowed up to six-players to band together on a two-video-screen beat ‘em up odyssey, as friends and families came to death blows over who was going to be forced to play as Dazzler. It was also released as a four-player unit with a couple of characters cut out, but anybody alive in the Clinton years probably chooses to remember this one as the sextet gaming get-togethers to end all sextet-gaming get-togethers.

Why should it have been ported to home consoles? Because it made sense all the way around, that’s why. Console owners would’ve have loved having the game on their units, and Konami would’ve made a shit load of money by creating versions for the SNES and Genesis. Also, I don’t think the “X-Men” license was locked down the way some of the previously mentioned properties were -- how else were we able to get both a Capcom-produced SNES game and a Sega-produced one on the Genesis, after all?

So, uh, why wasn’t it? You know, I have no idea, actually. Yeah, it probably would have been impossible to create a true six-player home console game, but the game definitely could have been released as a solid two-player game. Since graphics and licensing likely wasn’t the reason why the game never made it to the SNES or Genesis, I’m really stumped as to why we never got a chance to play this one in our living rooms. Maybe it had something to do with the Fox cartoon that debuted around the same timeframe? Alas, as outdated as the character sprites may have been (remember, this thing was based on the one-shot “Pryde of the X-Men” pilot, after all), I don’t think any gamer circa 1993 would’ve complained about staring down the Blob, Pyro and the White Queen with their Super Nintendo pads in hand. I reckon this one will just have to be one of those old-school mysteries that will plague gamers for eons, I am afraid…


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