No one starts out making a Call of Duty or Halo. Game developers have to experiment to see what they are good at, and what ideas stick. As a result, the early games of our most renowned studios usually don’t look anything like the games we remember the studios by. These games aren’t necessarily bad. They are just different, not at all what we would expect from the company. Let’s take a look at some of the earlier tries of some of our favorite companies.
Square-Enix: Rad Racer
While Square may be known for its RPGs now, few people remember that it (as Squaresoft at the time) was the developer of one of the most-loved racing games on the NES. Rad Racer was a pretty barebones game, in that your only goal was to get to the next checkpoint before the time ran out. But this wasn’t easy to do as there were a number of hazards and other cars trying to knock you off the road, and any time you went off road you would lose precious time. Also, get this: renowned Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu and designer Hironobu Sakaguchi both worked on this game. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the huge orchestral soundtracks and chocobos until much later.
Capcom these days is known for its flagship franchises like Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Dead Rising, and Mega Man… if they ever did anything with it. But before the blue bomber was a reality, Capcom, was known for shoot 'em ups. Their first game of all time was Vulgus, a top-down space shooter. What was interesting about this game was that it didn’t have levels. Instead, enemies simply kept coming, as the background of the game slowly changed and alternated. It looped, like Pac-Man, always increasing its difficulty until the player lost. Frustrating? Yes, but kind of cool for an arcade classic.
It’s incredibly fun to look into Activision's past. There are a ton of interesting and wacky games that are nothing like the Call of Dutys of today, like Ghostbusters for the NES. But I’ll save the really wacky ones for another time. Instead, I’d like to talk about Boxing, which is largely regarded as one of the world’s first fighting games. Boxing featured two fighters in a ring from a top down view, and their goal was to land clean hits on their opponent. Close punches scored two points while long punches scored one. This was one of the first games to introduce fighting game concepts like spacing, corner pressure, and even rudimentary combos as you could position yourself to land rapid punches in a row.
Bungie: Minotaur: The Labyrinths of Crete
When many people think about Bungie, they think about games like Halo and Destiny. Many people already know about Marathon, the spiritual predecessor to Halo, but few people know that Bungie tried its hand at RPGs and dungeon crawlers. One of the first games they ever created was Minotaur: The Labyrinths of Crete, which was primarily a maze style game. What was interesting about this game was that it was actually a multiplayer dungeon crawler that introduced one of the first instances of PVP gameplay. Not only that, but it was a Mac OS game, which is the platform Bungie developed for before they saw themselves spring to success with Halo on the Xbox.
Atlus: The Karate Kid
Yes, the studio well known for its Shin Megami Tensei series of RPGs created a licensed property game published by LJN. This game was weird, to say the least. It was part fighting game, part platformer, and stages would seem to change for no reason. Sometimes your goal was to defeat a boss while other times your goal was to save your girlfriend without fighting the boss. You’d walk into buildings and do random mini-games involving breaking blocks and catching flies with chopsticks. It was a random but kind of fun mess.
Former Contributing Writer