Nintendo and SEGA. One time bitter rivals for supremacy over the home and portable consoles market; you all probably know the story, what happened and how it impacted the entire industry. Then, after SEGA pulled out of the hardware race and became a publisher and developer of software, who could forget the shocking moment in 2001 when Sonic debuted on Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance in 2001, or when Mario & Sonic joined together in a video game celebration of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games?
But, it may surprise you that during their intense rivalry, there once was a time when SEGA wasn’t exactly against the idea of their games appearing on a Nintendo console. On the contrary, a number of their biggest arcade classics appeared on the Nintendo Entertainment System, as well as other systems, including many of the 8-bit microcomputers of the 80’s like the Spectrum, Commodore and Amstrad. While a few of these ports were handled by licensed parties, the development duties of some of these NES/Famicom ports were handled by SEGA studios themselves and this week, I’m going to tell you all about them – If you’ve played any versions of these games, let me know in the comments and tell me more!
I’m not really going to pretend that I like Altered Beast or at least the original Mega Drive version. I always found that although it looked pretty damn good at the time, it was just so sluggish and repetitive it was just a chore to play and it’s only aged worse. This Famicom version, developed by SEGA and released exclusively in Japan in 1990 under its original Japanese name of Juuouki, arguably looks much worse than the arcade and Mega Drive versions, with the tiniest of sprites and a third of the screen taken up by the in-game display.
However, it actually plays considerably faster than its bigger, more impressive brothers and on top of that, this version adds three extra levels featuring new transformations such as a Shark and a Bird. Honestly, for what it lacks in presentation it makes up for it by actually being pretty playable. I was actually quite impressed by this port, which is something I thought I would never say about Altered Beast.
After Burner and its sequel were two of SEGA’s most impressive arcade cabinets, with the lesser-seen hydraulic cabinets being a real spectacle of the arcade, as the player would sit down in a faux cockpit and be moved around with the in-game action. Obviously, the home ports would be nowhere near as incredible, but boy was there were a lot of ports for pretty much every system and the Nintendo Entertainment System was no exception.
But here’s where it gets weird. There are two After Burner ports – After Burner, and After Burner Two. However, they are both ports of the second After Burner release, After Burner II, made by different publishers for different global markets. You’ve got the Western release in 1989, just titled as After Burner, which is an unlicensed release by Tengen, the infamous American branch of Atari Games that reverse engineered the NES by requesting the technical specification of the system’s lock-out capabilities, by claiming that they would need it for a court matter with Nintendo. They used this info to get around the lock-out chip and distribute their own games without making a licensing deal with Nintendo. In any case, they published this version of After Burner in Western territories, and it’s not great to be honest. The sprites are small, and they flicker so much that it’s barely playable.
But in that same year, Sunsoft released After Burner II exclusively in Japan, and it is pretty much a tidied up version of the exact same game. It’s much more impressive in terms of presentation,, with a great looking intro, sprites that don’t flicker so much, and in true Sunsoft style, much better music and even some digitised speech. It’s arguably much better than Tengen’s version (which, to be honest, is usually the case).
This is Space Harrier, a third-person rail shooter where the action comes at you thick and fast. Despite the original intention of it being a military style shooter where you controlled a fighter jet, during development the whole premise was then changed to a surreal sci-fi fantasy adventure.
Meanwhile, a Japan-exclusive port made its way to the Famicom, courtesy of SEGA’s own AM2 studio, and TAKARA on publishing duties. It, unfortunately, doesn’t look anywhere as good as the original versions, thanks to more weedy-looking sprites, which really makes for an underwhelming port.
However, while those visual sacrifices might have made it look bad in comparison to the Master System port, especially when it comes to flicker, it’s certainly a smoother playing game that this rival version, which contributes somewhat to making this version quite fun. Although, it is lacking the fast pace of the original arcade version. You’d better be good at this game though, as you’re only given 3 lives initially to beat all 18 levels, and you’ll rarely get given more.
Alien Syndrome is next on the list, a sci-fi top-down arcade shooter where up to two players must rescue the crew of various space stations while gunning down some alien nasties. The catch is that you must save all of your colleagues and exit the level before a timer runs down.
And this NES port that was released in both Japan and the West, with Tengen publishing the game over here, is actually a pretty competent port. It’s a relatively simple game, all things considered, and that lack of complexity allows the game to translate very well to the system.
It’s a very playable, if repetitive release – But it’s still one of the better ports on this list.
Shinobi is one of SEGA’s biggest hits of the 80’s and is one of those IPs that really could do with a proper update. After all, ninjas never, ever go out of style. While its sequels went a little wilder with the subject matter, the original game’s modern-day setting was quite unique for a game about ninjas.
Unfortunately, the NES version, released exclusively in the West by Tengen, is not so interesting. It doesn’t do a particularly good job of translating Shinobi’s action, with bad controls and some really awful visuals. Look at that particularly nasty shade of yellow and purple.
It also feels incredibly stiff and really not very fun to play, which is of course somewhat of a problem for any game. The music is particularly bad because it’s all over the place, and what the hell is up with the first level boss throwing what appears to be meatballs?
It’s just another Tengen botch job, unfortunately.
Last up, are three ports of Fantasy Zone. The original Fantasy Zone is a very odd, candy-coloured scrolling shooter where you have to destroy your enemies and collect as much money as possible, to buy better tech for your ship and progress further. It’s basically Capitalism: The Game.
But it also found its way to both NES and Famicom, and in the same way, there were two almost identical versions of After Burner, Sunsoft developed a version of the game for Japanese territories, while Tengen did their own version for the Western market.
Sunsoft’s version came first, in 1987 and visually there’s just too much going on, with incredibly noisy backgrounds that just blend in with everything, although it is relatively accurate to the arcade original. But this versions biggest problem is the very flickery visuals, which make it even more difficult to read what’s on screen.
Meanwhile, Tengen’s port goes the other way and is a little bit simpler in terms of visuals but the bold sprites and less details background mean that at least it’s a lot easier to see what’s going on. However, the status bar at the bottom can be pretty ugly and unreadable at times, as it changes colour for each stage.
Sunsoft also ported the game’s sequel, Fantasy Zone II: The Teardrop of Opa-Opa to the Famicom and the sprite work definitely has a lot more of that bold look from the arcade original. Interestingly enough, this game came to SEGA’s Master System first, before it was ported to the arcade and everywhere else. With that in mind, the NES version doesn’t look as good as the original Master System port, but it’s still pretty fun.
So, that’s a whole heap of SEGA games released on Nintendo’s 8-bit system. Hopefully, you learned something new or at least found this video entertaining enough. After all, you’ve made it this far. How many of these games have you played a version of? Please let me know in the comments!
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