In 1997, the video game Frogger was released on multiple platforms for the day for the first time since 1981. While high end graphical versions, at the time at least, were given a lukewarm reception on both the PC and the Sony Playstation, one version of the game was released quietly to little fanfare. Released on October 6th, 1998, this version of Frogger would be the final game released on a now outdated system, the Super Nintendo.
It is strange to think that the final game ever hitting American shores was an updated remake of a game from 1981, but history is sometimes funny like that. With the Super Nintendo, one of the most popular video game consoles of all time, ceasing production earlier that year, it was only a matter of time that the final game released for the system would come to pass. We see that happen constantly; often the final game released for consoles receives recognition for being the last of it's kind, whether it is Wario's Woods for the original NES, to Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 for the Playstation 2, the final game released often has a dubious distinction of being the end of a generation for console players.
I doubt, however, anyone would believe that, in 2013, the Super Nintendo would be graced with one more new release, in the hands of a non-licensed Nintendo product. That game is called Nightmare Busters.
Now before we get into Nightmare Busters itself, we first need to address something regarding the classic game market. In the past decade, second-hand gaming has become a whole sub-genre of the gaming industry in and of itself, with the trading and collecting of classic games and consoles being a common practice found in most hardcore collector circles. Many have become savvy to the fluctuating prices of video games and systems, making the hobby of game collecting and restoration expensive, but worthwhile due to the interactivity one has with their product.
So popular is game collecting, we see many YouTube personalities tout their collections online, or produce video series about bargain hunting and game collecting tips. Famous collectors such as Pat the Nes Punk, the GameSack crew, and Game Chasers have not only shared their tips and thoughts with players, but have become major staples of entertainment and advice regarding video game collecting. Through all of this, rare games, imports, and reproduction carts have become big business, and gaming enthusiasts have been paying top dollar for a piece of nostalgia they can call their own.
This also includes the robust homebrew markets out there. Gaming platforms, from the Sega Dreamcast to the Sony PSP, are often notorious for being bastions of homebrewed titles, some often released wide by small-time developers. Redspotgames, a homebrew developer from Germany, is famous for releasing titles on the Sega Dreamcast since 2007, such as Rush Rush Rally and Last Hope. The subculture of homebrewed titles has slowly grown into a niche, independent market for game collectors—one that is often ignored by the AAA gaming public.
This trend is also crossing over into the mainstream. This year, a game titled Sydney Hunter and the Caverns of Death was kickstarted, being touted as an independent NES and SNES game. While we see homebrew titles and classic game hacks floating the internet all the time, Sydney Hunter is among, if not the first, to push for a commercial release. It is possible that the trend of homebrew or independent games may flood the secondary market of retro-styled consoles, which in turn would change game development further, making new Nintendo titles a possibility.
Reproduction cartridges are also rather common now a days, often creating new experiences for the gaming public, from translated Famicon cartridges to non-region locked NES and SNES titles. Beta games have been also recreated, often thrown into cartridges with several other betas that can balloon to prices as high as $150.00 for their creation. Nightmare Busters, however, is a bit different than the average independent reproduction cartridge.
Nightmare Busters, for one, is an actual unreleased game from the SNES days. Often found in emulators across the Internet, this devilishly dark shoot em up was originally developed by a small European studio, Arcade Zone, who had previously worked on the game Legend for the SNES. The title was to be published by the Japanese company Nichibustu, for a 1995 release, but the game was cancelled. The only known evidence of its existence includes a lone screenshot of the game in an issue of Nintendo Power, Vol. 68, as a part of the 1995 preview of upcoming games.
Unlike most abandoned titles, Nightmare Busters was reworked into a game called Flynn’s Adventures, a phone game in 2004 by the company In-Fusio. A review of the game was actually done by Gamespot in 2004, giving it a fairly high grade for a phone game at the time. Then, in 2007, a rom of the SNES title was discovered and subsequently released to the Internet for emulation. The rom was mostly complete, with the game's levels intact and co-op play possible. For the next few years, two of the original designers of Nightmare Busters, Christope Gayraud and Jean-Christophe Alessandri, have worked with the independent development studio at Super Fighter Team to refine the game even further, finish the title, and subsequently give the game a full release.
Super Fighter Team is well known to many gaming aficionados for the developers behind Beggar Prince, a Sega Genesis RPG released back in 2006. Since then, Super Fighter Team has done several reworks of classic games and released many of them back into the market as full-fledged, non licensed, titles for their respected systems. Nightmare Busters is just the latest of several games now released by Super Fighter Team, and in all likelihood, not the last either.
The history of Nightmare Busters is truthfully one of the most interesting aspects about the game, which in and of itself is a stylish run-and-gun shoot'em up in the vein of Ristar. Controlling the Leprechauns Flynn and Floyd, you basically shoot everything that moves, avoid obstacles, and use your hand-eye coordination to maximum effect. What helps the game stand out is the very “European animation” the graphics have, which were high end, even back in 1994 when the game was first revealed.
It helps that the gameplay is simple and straightforward as well. Most run and gun games have mechanics designed to challenge the player, usually through various enemies weak to certain projectiles, and Nightmare Busters is no exception. Instead of opting for super weapons and homing missiles, you have playing cards and magic at your disposal, which you can cycle through to tackle the game's many obstacles in your path. You also get a "super charge" attack that makes you invincible from harm for a moment, but limited charges prevent you from spamming the ability.
There really is little else to say about the title other than its presentation is solid, the gameplay addictive, and the challenge fun. If one didn’t know the rather unique history behind Nightmare Busters, it probably would just be seen as one of now two non-licensed Super Nintendo games for the SNES library out in the wild. Thankfully, the care and crafting done by Super Fighter Team have distinguished Nightmare Busters onto a different level; one that is certainly worth a look if you have the money to burn for something unique for your SNES library.
A platforming challenge with solid run and gun gameplay is certainly a hallmark of the era. While many may see the simplicity and the length of Nightmare Busters as a step back from more modern conventions, the game wears its classic roots proudly as a badge of honor. For classic game players, it is definitely worth some space on your shelf, although getting a hold of a copy will be difficult. While Super Fighter Team has printed a second (and likely final) wave of the game, with pre-orders now unavailable, it will still be difficult to get a copy.
Still, Nightmare Busters represents something more in gaming than just a collector's piece now; it represents how lost titles can be made new again. If Nightmare Busters is any indication, it proves that even with a console being long past its prime, good games can still be published for them years later. The passion and dedication put forth to release, or in some cases re-release, these titles is a part of gaming culture rarely covered, but one that those looking for it never forget.
I hope you enjoyed Games You Never Heard of This Week. We are back on schedule now, so if you have any questions, comments, or requests, please leave them below! You can also shoot me a message on twitter @LinksOcarina. See you next time.