One of the fun aspects of this series is the ability to talk about the games outside of the standard review format. This allows a bit of historical context to be a main part of the story, since no game is created in a vacuum. Many tend to only give a cursory view of games as they come out, others are much more cynical, ignoring the history and circumstances of a game simply due to system, genre or even the time it is released. Perspective is often the key to understanding the history of video games, even if it means analyzing games that are overtly visible to the public.
Today’s example is one of those titles, a quirky game made by an obscure company, published on an obscure Nintendo system, titled Doshin the Giant. It is a game, that for anyone growing up in the late 1990’s may attest to, was actually fairly visible as a title from Nintendo. At least, visible for those who own Nintendo Power Magazine. Doshin the Giant was very prolific as a “coming soon” attraction for Nintendo, being teased at the end of almost every Nintendo Power for nearly two years, but it never came to the United States. The question now is why?
The story behind Doshin the Giant is directly tied to the history of the Nintendo 64, specifically the 64DD add on. The 64DD was essentially a floppy disk drive, first conceived back in 1994 as part of the design of a new Nintendo system, then known as the Ultra 64. However, changes were made in the final design by the time the console was playable at the Software Exhibition in Japan in November 1995. Nintendo saw the 64DD as a sort of add-on to compete with the ongoing demand of CD-based games, in particular the Sony Playstation and the SEGA Saturn, which were controlling the lions share of the market.
After the launch of the Nintendo 64, sales of the system boosted Nintendo into a solid second place, controlling roughly 40% of the market share during the late 1990s and leading to the erosion of Sega’s entire market lead, to a point where they would never recover. The 64DD add-on was still being discussed in the background of the Nintendo 64, with insiders such as Shigeru Miyamoto and Shigesato Itoi speculating more on what will be released first than a release date for the hardware. It soon became something of a running joke regarding the system itself, with Nintendo executives poking fun at the constant delays of the system. Itoi once stated that “It would have been easier to understand if the DD was already included when the N64 first came out. It’s getting harder to explain after the fact.”
In truth, the 64DD was delayed primarily due to the technology itself. Nintendo, ever ambitious, tried to create a disk system that, while it won’t match the CD-rom numbers of capacity or graphical prowess, could go toe to toe with features and storage capabilities. The dream, however, would never be realized as it would take five years of development for the technology to finally catch up with their goals. The system itself was designed to help alleviate the shortcomings of the Nintendo 64 in terms of graphics and storage capacity, as well as provide a real time clock, expansion packs for already made cartridge games, such as Ocarina of Time and internet connectivity with a brand called Randnet.
However, Nintendo, believing the system would end in failure, sold only small quantities of the system through mail orders in Japan, with a majority of the games in development for the system being cancelled, getting a cartridge release, or becoming a project for the upcoming Gamecube, codenamed Project Dolphin. Some games intended for the 64DD system included Zelda Gaiden, or The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Twelve Tales: Conker 64, later Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Dōbutsu no Mori, or Animal Forest, which later became Animal Crossing for the Nintendo Gamecube. Many other games would never see the light of day, including a rumored Pokemon RPG for the consoles, Fire Emblem 64, and even a port of the computer game Diablo.
Doshin the Giant was one of the nine games released for the 64DD, and one of two launch titles for the system, the other being Mario Artists: Paint Studio. What sets Doshin the Giant apart is that the game was the only new I.P for the 64DD, as well as one of only three games to receive expansion packs for the main game. Lastly, it was one of three games to be developed as a third party title, by a company called Param, which has since been folded into Nintendo itself.
Doshin the Giant would never be released outside of Japan during the Nintendo 64’s lifetime, but screenshots from Nintendo Power showcased the game after it was revealed at Spaceworld 1999, making it among the most anticipated games for the system, as stated before, for nearly two years. The only official English port of Doshin the Giant was made in 2003, when it was released in Europe for the Nintendo Gamecube, four years after it was released on the 64DD. The European port of Doshin cleaned up the graphics considerably, adding new textures and models for the titular giant, while the gameplay was unchanged completely.
The game itself is a god game, having you control the yellow giant that helps or hinders the villagers on an island. Doshin grows in size when the villagers express love, and his evil alter ego, Jashin, who grows stronger by receiving the villagers hate. Much like the god game Black and White, the actions taken in Doshin the Giant will lead to harmonized, or demoralized villagers that worship or fear you depending on your actions.
Unlike Black and White, Doshin the Giant is done through visual cues and limited dialogue, and also features a clear ending if you are able to unite the four tribes on the island. Doshin the Giant has a clear goal in mind, to see these tribes either live in harmony or discord depending upon your playstyle. In fact, despite being predominantly Japanese only, with the exception of the European port, much of the iconography and minimal use of text or voiceover shown in Doshin the Giant makes the game fully playable in any language, without the need of exposition. This gives Doshin the Giant a unique charm that, in the words of developer Kazutoshi Iida, “The sheer simplicity of the user-interface, as the game can be played without numbers or letters.
For many, the sole effort by the now defunct Param Studios has proven that fact ten times over. For those lucky enough to own a 64DD, Doshin the Giant was, along with SimCity 64, the highlights on the ill-fated system. The game was so popular an expansion pack was released for the 64DD (that is often mistaken as Doshin the Giant 2) before the system was discontinued in 2001. In the end, the Nintendo 64DD would only release nine games, including two expansion packs and four Mario Artist kits.
I admit, the history behind Doshin the Giant is much more interesting to talk about than Doshin the Giant itself. This is mostly due to there being nothing special to discuss about the gameplay. It’s a god game with few twists to the genre, and nothing truly unique since all god games follow the same formula. That said, don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a bad game at all. Doshin the Giant has a lot of charm to it that has allowed it to endure with a cult following over the years. Numerous lets plays and videos on the internet showcase tons of gameplay of all versions of Doshin the Giant.
It is a shame that Doshin the Giant never became a household name like many of Nintendo‘s projects. In the end, that is due to the curious history it is attached to regarding the 64DD more than anything else. Still, there is enough love for the love giant out there, even if it is a distant memory that has been buried in the back of one’s brain for years. A game that despite the misfortune of being on a failure of a system, is still worth noting because of it’s potential, and it’s gameplay experience being one that is universal by being both simple and to the point for everyone to enjoy.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Please, leave your comments or questions below, and make sure to check out the next episode of Games You Never Heard of!