One of my absolute favorite times in all of video game history was the transition from 8 to 16-bit. I was at the perfect age to be experiencing the evolution of gaming, and having already been blown away by the leap between my Atari 2600 to my NES, seeing the games I fell in love with become more beautiful than ever before was a thrill that can’t really be recreated today. Mega Man, Zelda, Mario, Castlevania, Metroid, Contra, Blaster Master, Final Fantasy, so many of the greats got fancy 16-bit upgrades, and each and every time it was a thrill to see. But it wasn’t all the greats. No, for one reason or another, some of the most popular games of the 8-bit era just stayed there, sometimes for several generations before being seen again, if at all. For the next 2 weeks, I’m going to focus on some of the biggest 16-bit oversights, and what I think/wish a 16-bit version could have been (in no particular order).
Let’s kick this off with something that’s super-obvious once you think about it. Ice Climber is one of those games Nintendo loves to keep trotting out, which is weird because it’s functionally terrible. There is very little that resembles “fun” about playing this game, but on paper it’s actually a great idea. Nana and Popo are fun-looking characters, especially their Smash Bros. incarnations. The premise of the game is sound, use your giant hammers to break ice blocks and climb a mountain, then get a bunch of fruit and fly away on a pterodactyl. The world itself is great, too. That polar bear in the sunglasses and hot pants alone gives it a ton of character. So if you just fixed the mechanics, beefed up the graphics to something on par with say Kirby Super Star, you’d have a game that could have been a classic. Ice Climber has never had a sequel of any flavor, so a modern remake would still work, but this has been a good idea since the 90s, and I have no idea why it didn’t happen.
16 bit Image: by jmatchead
This one here, to me, is probably the biggest 16-bit oversight there is. The Kid Icarus franchise was right there with Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Donkey Kong from the get-go. Pit was a main character in Captain N, Kid Icarus was featured in Nintendo’s calendars and promo posters, and the franchise saw a second instalment on the Game Boy, just like Metroid. But where A Link to the Past, Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, and Super Metroid took Nintendo’s biggest names to unbelievably amazing new heights, Kid Icarus 3 never happened, and that has always baffled me to no end. The world of Kid Icarus is goofy, fun, and at least at the time, theoretically beautiful. (Thanks to Uprising, that’s no longer a theory. That game is gorgeous.) I’ve tried to imagine what a Kid Icarus 3 would have looked like for years, but I don’t think my mind could do the real potential here justice. I mean, I never could have imagined Super Metroid being as good as it was, and if that same level of care was put into a proper Kid Icarus sequel at the time, it would have been beyond amazing. Now I just have to hope someone makes a proper Uprising sequel one of these days.
This one was such a bummer for me. StarTropics and its sequel Zoda’s Revenge were brilliant. They were Zelda-like, but they had plenty of their own flair. They were fun, challenging, creative, and absolutely awesome NES games, and we haven’t heard from them since. They’ve been re-released on the Virtual Console services over the years, but the SNES era was the perfect time for a StarTropics 3. Thinking of games like Link to the Past and Illusion of Gaia, they could have done some truly amazing stuff with the StarTropics franchise. Had they kept making installments, I have no doubt the game would have found a large enough audience to still have games coming out today. It’s not too late for a modern reinvention here either, but it should have been on SNES.
Talk about your complete mysteries. Where the heck did this franchise go? Seriously, it was one of THE names on the NES, spawning a legendarily awesome and well-regarded trilogy (I personally think 3 is hot garbage, but whatever) and then it just vanished for years. There was a Game Boy sequel (sort of), an excellent (mostly unrelated) Master System game, and an ultra rare and ultra shoddy 16 bit trilogy on the SNES, but an actual follow up never happened. Nothing but silence from the brand until the reboot on the original Xbox, and no offense to that first game, but that rebooted series went downhill in quality fast. The NES games still hold up today, and considering that at the time they were known for being some of the most visually impressive games on the platform, especially in the realm of cinematics, it’s baffling that a proper Ninja Gaiden never hit 16-bit platforms. Not much would need to change, except maybe fixing the jumping physics after the 3rd game screwed them up, but a fresh set of sprites, some fancy effects providing bigger and badder bosses, and boom. 16-bit Ninja Gaiden in all its glory. Of course, if Ninja Gaiden Trilogy was any indication of the talent working at Tecmo at the time, perhaps it’s better off we never saw Ninja Gaiden IV.
The original Bubble Bobble on NES is one of those games that everyone played at some point back in the day. Bubble Bobble 2, on the other hand, almost no one played, and is one of the most expensive NES carts out there. Bubble Bobble 2 made some big mistakes, namely not having nearly as catchy music as the first game, and most importantly, not featuring 2 player simultaneous play. But the graphics! Oh, the graphics! The big, beautiful animations and brightly colored backgrounds were wonderful. After the first game’s flat black backgrounds and barely animated sprites, Bubble Bobble 2 gave us a taste of just how much more wonderful things could be if they just looked cooler. A 16-bit Bubble Bobble could have been exactly that. Keep the tight gameplay of the original, include some of the cool powerup and boss ideas they introduced in part 2, and gussy up the graphics even further. Instant classic. Can you imagine how well this game would have done on SNES and Genesis? I can. And technically, someone went ahead and more or less made it themselves. There's a bootleg Genesis game called Super Bubble Bobble MD that features some anime characters in it too, and it comes really close to being exactly what a Bubble Bobble Part 3 should have been, but there never should have been a need for that in the first place. Taito should have continued to try and evolve this wonderful brand. Saturn sequels and modern remakes are nice, but there should have been a real, real deal.
So, Nintendo went ahead and laid the groundwork for a super-cool post-apocalyptic motorcycle racing shooter on the NES. Made a cool-looking character with a cool-sounding name and everything. Included a track creation tool, some kick-ass music, and then… nothing? Really, we’re just going to leave this here? The Road Rash games saw great success on the Sega Genesis, and Nintendo had their answer sitting in the palm of their hands the whole time. Mach Rider running on the F-Zero engine? Mode 7 Mach Rider? How the heck didn’t that happen? They loved Mode 7, and F-Zero and Super Mario Kart were huge for them. Why not continue that trend? Why not give ol’ Mach Rider a fresh coat of paint and make an awesome SNES version? Keep that franchise alive, and use it to fill an obvious gap in your lineup. Now, I know Nintendo can’t possibly make every game at all times, but they have a ton of great IP just sitting around collecting dust. Mach Rider is one of them, and that game not getting a well thought out sequel with new kinds of stages, power ups, and maybe even cool story elements, is absurd. #MachRiderforSmash
Truth be told, I don’t like this game very much. Dan and I tried it in our Summer Series and after years of people telling me it’s a better game than the original Zelda, I was expecting to fall in love right away. And honestly, it almost had me. I liked the setting, I liked the protagonist, I liked the basic idea of the game. But it didn’t feel very fun to me. It was a little awkward. But the groundwork was there, and the game was popular enough to still be regarded as a classic today. SNK, this is what sequels are for! SNK knew how to make cool-looking games on 16-bit hardware. Why in the world didn’t someone over there make a proper sequel to Crystalis? Heck, they could have made it for the Neo Geo is they wanted to! Think of how cool Crystalis would have looked in 16-bit form. It’s nuts, right? Some gameplay refinements, the use of the extra buttons of modern controllers, all its problems would have been solved. A proper 16-bit evolution could have been beyond stellar.
Here’s another one that completely blows my mind. Yes, technically there was a 16-bit follow up to Excitebike in the form of Excitebike: Bun Bun Mario Battle Stadium for the BSX Satelliview. But really, all that does is make me want an actual 16-bit sequel to Excitebike even more! One that isn’t tethered to a Japan-only satellite service enabled peripheral. What Mario Excitebike did though, isn’t too far off from the kind of stuff I’d want to see in a SNES sequel. More varied bikers, powerups, colorful graphics, the game has such a great framework it basically makes itself! But the biggest thing the tech of the time could have brought was a much more in-depth save system for user-created tracks. The track editor in the original game is one of its most memorable features, but saving and loading was a little cumbersome and pretty limited as well. Easily identifiable save slots with the ability to save multiple courses would have been huge. Super Excitebike should have happened.
The Guardian Legend
Oh, The Guardian Legend. This magnificent gem of a game was so cool. I can’t say I’m any more surprised at this than any of Broderbund’s other NES games not getting the 16-bit sequel treatment. Battle of Olympus, Raid on Bungeling Bay, and Spelunker would have made some pretty great SNES/Genesis games back in the day too, but Guardian Legend was really special. Blending scrolling shooter stages with Zelda-style action/adventure was brilliant, and imagining what they could have done with that world in 16-bit is inspiring. It was already a pretty nice-looking game at the time, and with a little more horsepower, a better map system, and some natural gameplay evolution, it would have been something.
The jump from RC Pro-Am to RC Pro-Am 2 was a pretty impressive one. Championship Pro Am, the Sega Genesis port of RC Pro-Am was also a really nice-looking game that brought the car count up to 6. If they simply combined the improved visuals of that game with the new terrains and hills they added in RC Pro-Am 2, the game would have been ridiculous. But honestly, they could have done even more. Rare was doing some really excellent work during the 16-bit generation, and I would have absolutely loved it if they had turned their attention to an RC Pro-Am 3. Mode 7 racers were all the rage at this time, but a good isometric racer would have been so nice to have on my SNES. I still regularly go back to the original RC Pro-Am games, and every time I do I can’t help but wonder what could have been.
That wraps up round 1. Check back in 7 days for another batch of games that were suspiciously absent from the 16-bit generation. In the meantime, what games would you have liked to see 16-bit iterations of?