Let’s Pick A Lineup for a Konami Arcade Compilation

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By Thomas Wilde on June 24th, 2021


Konami, as we all know by now, dislikes money.

Founded in 1969 as a jukebox repair company, Konami pivoted to making coin-op video games right at the start of the international arcade scene in 1977. It later became a third-party video game developer, and became known for its multi-platform best-selling franchises such as Gradius, Contra, Castlevania, Metal Gear, Silent Hill, Suikoden, and Dance Dance Revolution.

In 2015, that all came to a surprisingly sudden stop. That year, Konami abruptly canceled the hotly anticipated Guillermo del Toro/Hideo Kojima/Norman Reedus dream project Silent Hills, announced a shift in development priorities from console to mobile gaming, was the subject of a report that accused the company of mistreating its Japanese staff, and spent most of the year in an antagonistic, half-public fight with Kojima that ended with him leaving the company. If you’d told me at the time that everything Konami did in 2015 was part of a get-rich-quick scheme that first required it to tank its own stock price, I’d have had to believe you.

Since then, Konami has been quiet. It still regularly releases updates to its Pro Evolution Soccer franchise, it put out anniversary collections for Contra and Castlevania in 2019, and it tried to exact its dark revenge on an unwary populace by publishing Contra: Rogue Corps that same year, but all in all, it’s a shadow of its former self.

Rogue Corps: Not as bad as you’ve heard. Still pretty bad.

Anecdotally, I’ve found a lot of its former Americans fans have been assuming it went out of business at some point in the last few years, which is a sensible conclusion. Konami’s put out more since 2015 than you might think, but most of it is “pachislot” machines for the Japanese market, mobile games, and promoting an esports league for Pro Evolution Soccer. (And possibly that whole thing with Abandoned.)

Meanwhile, most of the games in Konami’s 43-year-long back catalog have been left to wither on the vine. When Castlevania became one of the most-watched animated shows on Netflix for four out of the last five years, Konami mostly used it to… promote its mobile efforts.

This may be changing, albeit slowly. The news recently leaked via the Australian Classification Board that Konami has at least started the process of making an Advance Collection for Castlevania, which would theoretically include Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow. From a digital preservation perspective, it’s one of the most sensible moves the company’s made in years.

What I’m really interested in, at least for the sake of this article, is Konami’s arcade legacy. While it’s still active in the space, mostly through making sure that every barcade in the world has at least one Dance Dance Revolution machine, Konami has a surprisingly vast number of arcade games that never got ported to console or PC. (Or, in a few cases, got extremely short-lived digital releases.)

In the wake of Capcom’s recent and exhaustive Arcade Stadium collection for the Switch, let’s talk about Konami’s lost arcade legacy, and the games it ought to bring back in a collectible, affordable digital archive, similar to its ’80s-themed Arcade Classics collection from 2019.

While modern Konami has earned most of its audience’s cynicism, it could make a lot of money off of leveraging its past, and for the sake of the history of the medium, that’s some capitalist nonsense that I’d like to encourage.

This list will not include the obvious picks that were already found in 2019’s Arcade Classics, such as Gradius, Lifeforce, and Haunted Castle. I’m also leaving off games that would require a special peripheral, such as Dance Dance Revolution or Fighting Mania. This is mostly for the broad range of Konami arcade games that have never gotten any kind of port, and which would still be fully playable with 2021-era stock controllers.

Crime Fighters (1989) & Vendetta (1991)

“Your reward for violence is more violence!”

For years, I thought I’d imagined playing this game, which had showed up in my local arcade for maybe a week before vanishing again. It feels like an answer to the question that everyone playing Final Fight would ask sooner or later: why doesn’t anyone in this gritty crime-riddled ’80s New York pastiche seem to have a gun?

In Crime Fighters, they do. As one of four identical street-brawling vigilantes, you’re out to rescue a surprisingly large number of kidnapped women from an unidentified “fat toad” crime boss.

Naturally, that calls for a full rampage throughout the streets, subways, and rooftops of a conveniently unlabeled but decaying city. You do most of your fighting with genre-standard knives, pipes, punches, and kicks, but if you take down an enemy gunman, you can use his pistol for a few seconds’ worth of ballistic mayhem.

Crime Fighters is a little generic, to be fair, without much of the personality that defines other contemporaneous brawlers. If it was on the same shelf as Streets of Rage and Double Dragon, it’d look like the store-brand version.

As an early four-player beat-’em-up from Konami, though, Crime Fighters was still an entertaining way to burn all the quarters in your pocket, and it’s never been released on a platform outside the arcades.

Featuring an early appearance by Guy Fieri.

It later got a sequel, Crime Fighters 2 (1991), which was released outside of Japan as Vendetta. Featuring an early soundtrack by Michiru Yamane (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Bloodstained), Vendetta gives the playable characters a little more personality while also strongly suggesting that someone at Konami saw The Warriors at some point in the intervening two years.

Vendetta also makes the list. We all knew that Konami made some great brawlers in the early ’90s, but most of the ones anyone remembers are licensed. It’d be nice to throw a few more original products back into the rotation, even when they’re as goofy as this one.

Dragoon Might (1995)

Not The Last Blade, but an incredible simulation.

Konami actually has a lot of fighting games on its record, but didn’t capitalize on any of them. Granted, most are visibly knockoffs; Dragoon Might in particular looks like World Heroes and Samurai Shodown had a slightly more straight-edge baby.

It’s also a victim of pure bad timing. 1995 was towards the end of the ’90s 2D fighter rush, after Street Fighter II‘s international popularity had led every developer of the period to throw their hat into this particular ring. A year earlier, and Dragoon Might could’ve at least ended up on the SNES.

It’s generally considered a generic but serviceable entry into its genre. This is strictly for the preservationists among us, as otherwise, Dragoon Might is a potentially dead arcade exclusive. Besides, even a dumb 2D fighting game is fun for a while, and we’re about due for the community to abruptly rediscover another lost title from the archives. While we’re at it, throw Martial Champion and Yie Ar Kung-Fu on here, because why not?

Fighting Bujutsu/Fighting Wu-Shu (1997)

Really, I could just tell you this is the obscure crossover Shenmue vs. Mace: The Dark Age and you’d probably have to believe me.

As Dragoon Might is to SNK games, Fighting Bujutsu (Fighting Wu-Shu in Japan) is to the earliest 3D fighters. Playing it now, it feels more like Virtua Fighter 3 than anything else, with solid lighting effects for the period, as well as a focus on more pseudo-realistic, less bombastic action.

Konami’s got a longer history with fighting games than I thought before sitting down to research this piece. Most of the people you talk to these days will hear “Konami fighting game,” immediately think of Castlevania: Judgment, and recoil in terror, but Konami gave the genre the old college try for most of the ’90s and ’00s. Most of them never left the arcades, or even Japan.

Fighting Bojutsu was Konami’s second attempt at making a 3D fighter, after the 1996 Japan-only PlayStation exclusive Lightning Legend. Konami never exactly got the hang of the genre, although it kept trying; Konami followed Bojutsu up with Battle Tryst the next year, another never-ported arcade exclusive, and another strong candidate for this imaginary compilation. The worst you can say about most of them is that they’re unexciting, which isn’t the same thing as bad.

Monster Maulers (1993)

“I don’t need pants to fight evil! Pants would just hold me back!”

Some people call this a fighting game, but it’s more like a beat-’em-up where there’s usually only one enemy onscreen at a time. As one of three superheroes, including one of the only scantily-clad brawler dudes I’ve ever seen in a video game, you’re sent out on missions across the world to stomp various kaiju. Naturally, this includes one of those homicidal Moai heads that are consistently assaulting you throughout the Gradius series.

While the graphics are a little washed-out for a Konami game, it’s been a surprise to me for years that Monster Maulers never got any kind of home port, or at least a hasty “modern update” in the PS3/360 era. You’d think that one-on-one monster fights would be an evergreen genre, particularly in a world where Monster Hunter exists.

Hell, now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t know how Konami got through the 2000s without trying a modern, gritty update of Monster Maulers. They could’ve all been snarling in trenchcoats! There would’ve been blood, screaming, gratuitous cynicism, pre-rendered finishing moves, and a downbeat ending where the bad guy wins! It would’ve been great, and by that, I mean terrible for everyone who doesn’t make YouTube videos about incredible creative misfires. In fact, I think I just accidentally described the Splatterhouse reboot.

Silent Hill: The Arcade (2007)

It’s not a great game, but it does treat amusement park mascots with the violence they deserve.

Again, I feel I should note that the primary point of this is historical preservation. I don’t have to like everything here.

Konami’s decade-long trend of not really understanding what Silent Hill even is, or at least trying to force it into a Resident Evil-shaped hole in its release schedule, hit one of its earlier nadirs with the 2007 release of The Arcade.

As Eric and Tina, two tourists from Portland in Silent Hill on unrelated business, you get to shoot your way through a procession of Silent Hill‘s trademark monsters, while freely ignoring the fact that Silent Hill isn’t supposed to have trademark monsters. You’re unloading six tons of nine-millimeter into a long procession of other people’s inner demons, which is probably therapeutically useful for them but also utterly misses the point of Silent Hill-brand psychological horror.

Like Book of Memories, Konami’s other attempt to actionize Silent Hill, The Arcade has been left to die on its original platform. Ordinarily, I’d suggest that’s not a bad thing, but in a world where Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties is getting a Limited Run, you might as well throw Silent Hill: The Arcade on our theoretical compilation. If nothing else, it’s worth pulling out for your next kusoge stream, and you could play it on Switch via the motion controls in the JoyCons.

G.I. Joe (1992)

“Comin’ again to save the mother-effin’ day, yeah–“

It’s Space Harrier, on foot, with G.I. Joe characters, released right as the original “A Real American Hero” cartoon show was going off the air. Konami cannot be accused of striking while the iron was hot with the G.I. Joe arcade game.

It’s another lost item from the Konami archives, though, and furthers the company’s ’90s arcade trend of making frantic 4-player quarter-munchers. It’s worth preserving, particularly since G.I. Joe as a franchise has this weird habit of never quite ceasing to be relevant in American culture.

The playable cast has issues, though. In a game with Snake-Eyes, Scarlett, and Roadblock, who’s going to want to play as Duke? That’s like going to a salad bar and getting a big plate of plain watercress. It’s a penalty you pay for being slow on the draw at character select. Maybe you could imagine he has a hat on and pretend he’s Flint, because a nominal improvement is still an improvement.

Teraburst (1998)

The best missile defense system is, as ever, another missile.

This is almost genuinely dead. Teraburst is an admittedly rough-looking 2-player rail shooter from 1998 that apparently does not work consistently or well on emulators like MAME. As two members of the “Sentinel Angels,” you’re tasked with repelling a boots-on-the-ground invasion of Earth that owes a little to Mars Attacks and a whole lot to the original Independence Day.

Teraburst is currently ranked at 2 on the Video Arcade Preservation Society‘s 100-point scale, making it one of the least commonly-seen arcade machines in the field. Even its Wikipedia entry is barely a stub. Some sources claim to have cracked the ROM, and gameplay footage exists, but Teraburst is basically one step up from a collective delusion we’re all having. It only sort of exists.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Konami itself doesn’t have an institutional memory of Teraburst, but this is exactly the sort of game that compilations like this exist to protect. It ought to be pulled out, dusted off, and given a new lease on life.

Other Options

1986’s Mr. Goemon, which spawned a franchise in Japan. Just obscure enough to mention, really.

When you’re coming up with a Konami arcade collection, you are not spoiled for choice. When I pitched this, I figured it would just be a cheap excuse to remind the world that Monster Maulers exists, but Konami turned out to have a lot more going on than I thought.

Devastators, Black Panther (some branding issues with that one), the Aliens side-scroller from 1990, Dark Adventure, Time Pilot ’84, Mystic Warriors, Hot Chase, Fast Lane, and City Bomber are yet more examples of “dead” arcade games from Konami, some of which have been rotting on their original boards for over 30 years. While other companies from the Japanese arcade era have all put together increasingly well-curated compilations of their arcade history–Taito, Namco, SNK–Konami’s been dragging its heels on this for decades. When Data East is kicking your ass on historical preservation despite being out of business for 18 years, it should be a clue that things have gone wrong.

Granted, not all of Konami’s arcade games are exactly lost treasures, but they’re currently unavailable outside of pirate websites. It’s way past time for Konami to dust off its archives and put together a solid retro collection, with the titles listed above as a vanguard. Start with the arcades, where Konami itself started, then move up through console generations.

Konami seems to enjoy being irrelevant right now, but despite its best attempts, it’s not. There was a time when it was one of the best developers in the field, and I’m not above encouraging it to exploit its legacy for financial gain if it means saving a few old games from the dustbin of history.


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