The Franchise Report: Hudson-Soft
Posted by Kris Randazzo on Oct 19th 2022
Welcome to The Franchise Report, where we take a look at a 3rd party game publisher and see how their biggest franchises are doing these days.
Today we look at Hudson Soft, a once near-titan level publisher that’s now owned (and frequently squandered) by Konami. Their properties are still floating around though, and some of them are even actively in development! So just what has Master Higgins, Bonk, and their friends been up to these days? Let’s find out!
Nuts & Milk
What? What the heck is Nuts & Milk? Well, it’s a game that never turned into a long-lasting franchise. Heck, it never even got an official US home console release. But it has an important part in video game history thanks to it being the very first 3rd party game released for the Famicom. It’s also a neat little game with a lot of character. Originally released on Japanese home computers in 1983, Nuts & Milk has a lot in common with Nintendo’s early arcade output like Donkey Kong and Popeye. It’s a single screen action game where you move these adorable little… cars? I don’t know what they're supposed to be, but you collect fruit, and it’s fun.
Health rating: Basically dead
Nuts & Milk never got any sort of sequels, and has rarely been re-released. It was a moderate success back in its day though, so its lack of legacy is sort of bizarre. It was ported to mobile phones in 2003 and then to Game Boy Advance as part of a retro game compilation in 2005, but outside of that, it’s kind of been a ghost. Which is a shame because it’s a neat concept. Regardless, I seriously doubt Konami has any interest in doing anything with this brand any time soon.
Now Bomberman is a much more well-known name. In fact, if Hudson has a mascot (besides that bee) it’s Bomberman. It’s a multiplayer classic that’s seen countless spinoffs, ports, sequels, and cameos over the years. Bomberman himself even shows up as an assist trophy in the latest Super Smash Bros. game. Bomberman is a genuine gaming icon, and he has the catalog to prove it.
Health rating: Excellent
Bomberman is absolutely still going strong. Of all Hudson’s brands that Konami acquired, Bomberman is the one they’ve seen most fit to keep releasing games from. Just this year, Amazing Bomberman, a music based Bomberman game, released on Apple Arcade, and Super Bomberman R2 is coming to modern consoles next year. Bomberman is a happy and healthy mascot, and the gaming world is all the better for it.
Adventure Island is Wonder Boy. Weirdly enough, Wonder Boy is also Adventure Island, but that’s a whole other story. In terms of actual origin, Adventure Island is literally a port of Sega’s Wonder Boy with Hudson’s own unique character since they had certain home console rights to produce the game, just not to use the actual Wonder Boy character. However, those two brands diverged after the first game. Where Wonder Boy dove into more RPG style mechanics, Adventure Island continued to evolve the original Wonder Boy mechanics. The series became a steady moderate success, and saw a number of sequels.
Health rating: Could be better
The last original Adventure Island game was Adventure Island: The Beginning on WiiWare. Before that there was a 2008 mobile game in Japan, but things have been pretty quiet ever since. Various Adventure Island games were still being ported to modern platforms like Wii U Virtual Console in 2014, but that’s about it. The brand is clearly in a bit of a lull right now, but it seems more than possible that someone will dust off Adventure Island someday.
Similar to how Adventure Island spun out of a port of Sega’s Wonder Boy, Hudson’s Star Soldier exists because Hudson handled the NES port of Tecmo’s Star Force. Star Soldier basically continued where Star Force left off. It’s a vertical shooter series that’s had some pretty decent staying power over the years, and has earned a fairly nice following.
Health rating: Could be better
Also like Adventure Island, the last Star Soldier game was released in 2008 for WiiWare. That was Star Soldier R, which was relatively well received, but since it was a WiiWare game, very few people actually played it. There was also a PSP Star Soldier collection released the same year, but that was it. Again, this is a franchise that has some name recognition, but things have been quiet for way too long.
Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda had a profound effect on the video game world. People are still consistently attempting to clone its success with various homages and such, but back in the late 80s, Zelda clones were a bit more fresh. Hudson’s Neutopia series was basically Zelda for TurboGrafx-16, and they’re pretty memorable. The first game was successful enough to warrant a direct sequel on the same platform, and they’re frequently remembered as some of the best games on the system.
Health rating: Basically dead
After Neutopia II, the series came to a complete stop. As far as I know there hasn’t ever even been a rumor of a Neutopia 3. The series saw a slight resurgence a few years back as it appeared on various Virtual Console and PSN services, but outside of that, things are all too quiet on the Neutopia front. With excellent games like Blossom Tales out there in the world, the lack of new efforts in the Neutopia world is kind of a bummer, and with Konami’s track record of late, I can’t imagine this one is getting dusted off any time soon.
Bomberman may have been the closest thing to a Hudson mascot back in the NES era, but Bonk became the real face of the company when the TurboGrafx-16 came out. Sega had Sonic, Nintendo had Mario, and NEC had Hudson’s Bonk. Of course, Bonk eventually got ported to NES as well, but as far as perception goes, Bonk was the TG16 mascot the same way Crash was PlayStation’s. It was a pretty great little game too that saw a number of excellent sequels over the years. Things have slowed down, but Bonk is still remembered pretty well today.
Health rating: Could be better
Bonk was riding high for a while there. After the TG16 more or less died, Bonk continued to find success on the Super NES with Super Bonk in 1994. Things went quiet after that though until 2006 with the little known release Bonk’s Return for BREW and J2ME mobile formats. Needless to say, that didn’t exactly set the world on fire. There was a canceled attempt to bring Bonk back during the Wii era, but that’s about it for the little caveman that could. There was also a sort of spin off game series called Air Zonk, and I can’t really say I’ve ever understood how these two series are connected, but that game hasn’t done any better either, with its last original release being 1993’s Super Air Zonk. Neither of these brands are exactly going anywhere, but with it being such a long time since either has seen a release, things don’t look so good.
This one’s more of an Eighting thing, but Hudson has been involved in some way in every release in the series, so it definitely belongs in this conversation. Bloody Roar is an awesome fighting game series that started life on PlayStation where different characters transform into animals and beat the snot out of one another. These games are very well loved by fighting fans, and for good reason. Eighting makes some killer fighters. But after they moved on to making various excellent Naruto games, Bloody Roar more or less hit the brakes.
Health rating: Not so good
It’s been almost 20 years since the last new Bloody Roar game, which is crazy to think of considering how much fun these games were. Bloody Roar 3 hit PS2 in 2000, which saw enhanced ports to GameCube and Xbox in the form of 2002’s Bloody Roar: Primal Fury and 2003’s Bloody Roar Extreme. While Extreme was technically the most recent release, the last original game was Bloody Roar 4 for PlayStation 2, also from 2003. The game was moderately successful, but the fighting game market was considerably more crowded back in those days. It’s unfortunate that this brand seems to be mostly dead, but it’s a much more modern game than many of Hudson’s more well known names, so it’s a bit more fresh in people's minds. It’s been quiet, but if Konami ever decided to give this game a new lease on life, I suspect it could make some serious waves.
And that about wraps things up for Hudson. It will never not be weird to me that Konami owns all of these brands, but that’s the nature of this acquisition-happy industry. Konami hasn’t done nearly enough with Hudson’s stuff, but considering how little they’ve done with their own properties, that’s not surprising. It’s still a shame, but that’s the sad reality of things. I’m going to remain cautiously optimistic though that someone is going to take the Hudson torch and run with it. Super Bomberman R was a surprising success for Konami, and seeing a proper followup as well as the game’s various ports and DLC options was nice. So who knows? Maybe there's more Hudson in our future.
Join us next time when The Franchise Report tackles SNK. Basically the counter-Capcom, SNK is in a weird position these days, so it should be interesting to see where their various properties have wound up. Until next time!