The Franchise Report: Sunsoft
Posted by Kris Randazzo on Aug 31st 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.
The Power of the Sun
Well, here we are. Sunsoft released their comeback video and it was… a thing. But for as weird as it was, it sort of filled me with some hope. It looks like things might turn out differently this time. Sunsoft tried this about a decade ago when they revamped their website, tossed Aero the Acrobat on Virtual Console, and shadow dropped Blaster Master Overdrive on the Wii Shop Channel to die. Their video only covered announcements for three Sunsoft properties, but there are a whole lot more in the wind. So what’s going on with these guys? Let’s find out.
That’s right! Arcade Classic Kangaroo is actually a Sunsoft joint. Atari published it on their various home consoles back in the old days, but as far as I can tell, Kangaroo is a Sunsoft property. It’s still fairly well beloved too. It doesn’t hold the same luster as some of its contemporaries, but whenever Kangaroo is mentioned, there’s a pretty good chance someone is going to say “Oh! I loved that game!”
Health rating: Not great
Kangaroo found a place in the CBS Saturday Supercade alongside Space Ace in the show’s later seasons, and was an obviously popular coin-op game in its day, but things on the Kangaroo front have been almost completely silent since 1984. The game was ported to PS4 and Switch in 2020 as part of HAMSTER’s Arcade Archives line, but that’s it. With all the arcade style revivals floating around these days, I don’t think we should count Kangaroo out, though. Maybe Mama Roo will hop again someday soon.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing this game if you live outside of Japan, but it’s actually got a pretty decent cult following outside of the US. Ikki is a fun little action shooter about a farmer trying to overthrow the local government. That premise alone makes it seem like a good time.
Health Rating: Great
Ikki is one of the three games Sunsoft included in their recent comeback presentation where they announced a new game in the series called Ikki Unite. Before that though, it was included on occasional classic game collections, got re-released as part of HAMSTER’s Arcade Archives line, and had a moderately successful mobile version in Japan called Ikki Mobile. It’s never managed to set the world on fire, but it’s a solid player in the world of Sunsoft games, and that doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon.
Mystery of Atlantis
Atlantis no Nazo, or Mystery of Atlantis, isn’t a great game. It was ambitious as heck when it released though, claiming to be even better than Super Mario Bros. It wasn’t. But it was kind of an interesting game, which isn’t nothing.
Health Rating: Hanging in there
Mystery of Atlantis never made it to the US back in the NES days, though Activision supposedly was working on a port of the game under the Pitfall banner. That never happened either, and so it’s largely been a complete mystery outside of Japan. Recently it was included in Nintendo Switch Online for the Famicom, which gave folks a chance to try this weird little game out, but it didn’t make a ton of waves. Still, there’s promise there, and with Sunsoft back on the map, maybe we’ll see some sort of revival in some form?
This was the game that put Sunsoft on the map here in the US. Blaster Master is an absolute classic, and it became a much more successful game outside of Japan than its Famicom counterpart Metafight. It’s one of the earliest examples of the new classic “Metroidvania” style of gameplay done right, and it stands as an all-time classic to this day.
Health Rating: Very good
Blaster Master got a bunch of sequels of varying quality, but none of them ever managed to live up to the standard set by the original. That is until Inti Creates got their hands on the license and created the excellent Blaster Master Zero Trilogy. These games took what worked about the originals, reinvented them, and expanded on them in spectacular fashion. The trilogy has concluded, but they were pretty decently successful for Inti Creates, so more Blaster Master in the future seems like a given. They’re currently available on all major modern consoles.
Journey to Silius
This was a somewhat late NES gem by Sunsoft when they were still operating at the top of their game. It started life as a Terminator game, but when Sunsofrt couldn’t get the license, they just used their own characters and created one heck of an awesome action platformer. It's a fairly well sought after item in the NES collectors market, and its soundtrack is legendary among fans.
Health rating: Could be better
Journey to Silius never saw a follow up, but there has been a bit of a recent resurgence in its popularity. It showed up as a part of Nintendo Switch Online, and it was mentioned during the recent Sunsoft presentation as one of the games that’s getting a vinyl printing of its soundtrack. It never got any sequels, but it seems to be a name that carries some weight still, and I believe Sunsoft knows that.
Ufouria is a great example of one of those late NES games that never got the attention it deserves. Especially since it never saw release in North America until the Wii Virtual Console, and even then it was the PAL version playing through a NTSC emulator so the sound was all screwed up. It’s actually part of a series of games called Hebereke though, and the series has created a bit of a legacy for itself. Ufouria is a platformer, but there’s a puzzle game, a weird sports style game, and more.
Health rating: Good
Ufouria hitting Virtual Console was pretty great for the series. One of the later Hebereke games even came to Nintendo Switch Online in Japan too. But what makes this series truly alive is the fact that at the Sunsoft stream they announced that Ufouria is getting its first worldwide release by being ported to modern consoles next year. This is particularly great because while the Hebereke follow ups are neat, the original game is a real gem. Its soundtrack is also being released on vinyl, which is pretty cool.
If there’s one Sunsoft property that has attained true cult classic status, it’s Gimmick. Games like this are usually super expensive on the North American market, but still pretty affordable in their original Japanese form, but not Gimmick. Thanks to the Famicom version featuring a special sound chip, Gimmick is crazy expensive in all of its forms. Well, both of its forms. It only released in Scandinavia and Japan, and a planned North American release never came to fruition.
Health rating: Good
Gimmick is the only other game announced to be making a comeback by Sunsoft. It’s being ported to modern platforms and releasing later in 2022. It’s a truly wonderful game and it’s great to know it’s going to finally be played by more people. It never got any sequels, though in 2020 there was a remastered port made for the exA-Arcadia, a platform I know nothing about. The original Famicom one seems to be the version getting ported to consoles, and its soundtrack is being pressed onto vinyl, which is particularly great as it’s a spectacular set of songs. If things go well with this re-release, Gimmick could finally see a proper followup someday.
Trip World is one of those Game Boy games nobody’s ever heard of, but the few who do know it are always happy to tell of its greatness. Trip World is a rarity in all territories because it was only released in Japan and Europe, and even then only in limited quantities. It was a 1992 release for the original Game Boy, and while it was limited to black and white, it featured some truly impressive visuals. It’s a pacifictic little game, and it stands as one of the most unique and wonderful Game Boy games in existence.
Health rating: all but dead
Trip World never saw an official followup, but it has been referenced a couple of times. There was a Sunsoft fighting game in Japan where the main character appears as a boss for some reason, and there are a couple references to the game in Blaster Master Zero 2 as recently as 2019. However, nothing has been announced as far as the game itself getting any sort of remaster, re-release, or anything else of the sort. As one of the Game Boy’s more technically impressive games, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see it back in the spotlight in the not too distant future, but that’s all going to hinge on how successful Sunsoft’s comeback is, and even then, who knows what the game’s chances are.
Aero the Acrobat
At the height of the 16-bit generation, mascot platformers were all the rage, and Sunsoft wanted in on the action. They created Aero the Acrobat, a bat who is also an acrobat, and they plastered his face on just about every game they released. Aero was meant to be the face of the company, but his success only lasted so long.
Health rating: Not so good
Aero stuck around for the rest of the 16-bit generation. He got a direct sequel and a spinoff called Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel. Then things went silent until his first adventure got ported to Game Boy Advance in 2002. 2 and Zero didn’t get the same love though, and things went silent again until 2010 when the first game came to the Wii Virtual Console. This was part of an effort to revitalize the Sunsoft brand, but it didn’t stick, and everything on the Aero front has been quiet since. The lack of any sort of mention of the character in Sunsoft’s recent presentation doesn’t paint a pretty picture for their once beloved mascot, but time will tell. He isn’t dead, but things don’t look so good right now.
And that just about wraps things up for Sunsoft. A few of their newer properties like Albert Odyssey and TRAG could also make appearances somewhere, but by and large Sunsoft earned its reputation from the 8 and 16-bit eras, and if they’re going to make thor way back into the video game industry, it seems like that’s their best bet to focus on. For a company that’s been pretty small comparatively speaking, they’ve done a pretty remarkable job of keeping their stuff alive and appreciated. That’s not nothing!
And that about wraps it up for this iteration of The Franchise Report. Join us next time when we take a look at a publisher with a rocky reputation for quality. Jaleco might not be anybody’s favorite name in games, but they were responsible for bringing some real classics to the eyes of millions. Until then, go listen to some Sunsoft NES music. It’s great!