Over the holiday season we’ll be republishing a series of Nintendo Life articles, interviews and other features from the previous twelve months that we consider to be our Best of 2020. Hopefully, this will give you a chance to catch up on the pieces you missed, or simply enjoy looking back on a year which did have some highlights — honest!
This feature was originally published in February 2020.
These days there are very few first-party or Nintendo-published titles that don’t get an international release, but back in the day it was common for games to remain in their Japanese homeland for months or even years, if they ever came overseas at all. No, we’re not just talking about the countless Famicom/Super Famicom Mahjong or horse-betting titles which never left Japanese shores. In the dim and distant past we gamers in the West caught wind of foreign treasures via grainy screenshots in gaming mags; a whole other world of gaming which existed, hidden on the other side of the planet.
The more industrious among us began sourcing import hardware to get our greasy mitts on these ‘forbidden’ games. Nowadays we’re lucky enough to have access to so much more than before, with previously unavailable games receiving official remakes and restorations galore. Last year’s Collection of Mana, for example, was the first time that Seiken Densetsu 3 was officially available in the West, and there’s a 3D remake coming soon, too.
And even when a game isn’t scheduled for the West, if it’s available on the Japanese Switch eShop we can download it easily enough anywhere in the world. This is true of the upcoming Famicom Tantei Club remake on Switch, although our pitiful knowledge of Japanese could present a sizeable problem with that one. Nothing’s been announced with regards to a localised version, which is a shame. Despite excellent fan translations of various Japan-only titles, there are some games we wish Nintendo itself would bring to the West.
With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at ten Nintendo (or Nintendo-published) games we’d like to see spread their wings and fly overseas. They span consoles from the NES to the Wii and none of them have ever been released in an official capacity outside their homeland, so it’s about time they made the trip.
Famicom Wars (1988) / Game Boy Wars (1991) / Super Famicom Wars (1998)
As you may guessed from the cunning naming convention adopted by Intelligent Systems, all three of the above games belonged to the strategy series that would make its first appearance in the West with the sublime Advance Wars on — you guessed it — Game Boy Advance. We’ve seen fan translations and maps from these games turn up in Advance Wars games, but we’d love to see these get the full remake treatment.
And if you’re thinking 1998 seems a bit late for a Super Famicom game, it was a download-only title for the Nintendo Power cartridge, a Japan-only flash cart you could download games to from special kiosks. That being said, Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 (more of which later) got a full retail SFC release in 2000 long after Super Nintendo games dried up in the West.
Famicom Tantei Club (1988/89)
Famicom Tantei Club (or Famicom Detective Club) is a series of Nintendo-developed text adventure games that began life on the Famicom Disk System before being ported variously to Game Boy Advance and Super Famicom with the last of three games releasing on Satellaview in 1997. Several Nintendo luminaries worked on the series including Gunpei Yokoi, Satoru Okada and Yoshio Sakamoto of Metroid fame.
The games involve solving murder cases by examining evidence and interrogating suspects via a text command interface. Given its grisly subject, it’s rather unique in Nintendo’s first-party lineup, although given its absolute reliance on text, we can see why Nintendo of the late ’80s wouldn’t bother localising it. Still, with developer Mages at the helm of a Switch remake of the first two games (Famicom Tantei Club: Kieta Kōkeisha and Famicom Tantei Club Part II: Ushiro ni Tatsu Shōjo), there’s hope yet that we might eventually see these officially localised. You can see some comparison shots of the remake on Nintendo Japan’s official announcement page, or watch last year’s Japan-only Nintendo Direct reveal introduced by Yoshio Sakamoto himself:
Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru (1992)
Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru is a delightful Zelda-esque adventure for the original Game Boy that roughly translates as ‘For The Frog The Bell Tolls’. We’ve looked at this game before on Nintendo Life and it’s a continuing shame that there’s no official version available in the West. Perhaps Grezzo — the team responsible for the lovely Switch remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening — could have a little look at this Game Boy gem next?
Marvelous: Mōhitotsu No Takarajima (1996)
Marvelous: Another Treasure Island is a fully first-party game directed by the man who now heads up one of Nintendo’s flagship franchises, Mr. Zelda himself, Eiji Aonuma. He intentionally gave top-down adventure game Marvelous a Link to the Past flavour, as you’ll appreciate if you watch a video of the game in action. Controlling three boys on a treasure hunt, Marvelous released very late in the Super Famicom’s cycle and with all resources diverted to the N64 and its polygonal graphics, Marvelous wasn’t considered for release overseas. Sterling fan translations exist, but what we’d give to see Nintendo Treehouse have a go a this one!
Custom Robo (1999)
There are plenty of unlocalised games in the N64 catalogue, and while we’ve been lucky enough to sample games like Treasure’s Sin And Punishment via Virtual Console, there are still a trove of titles which never came to our shores. The Nintendo-published Custom Robo is an action RPG developed by Noise in which you pilot little customisable robots that battle each other in an arena called the Holosseum. The GameCube iteration in 2004 was the first to make it outside Japan, but we’d love the chance to build our own Custom Robos in the original.
Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem (2010) / Genealogy of the Holy War (1996) / Thracia 776 (2000) / The Binding Blade (2002)
It took us a while to get into the Fire Emblem groove here in the West, but now we’re cooking with gas and we’re wondering what we’ve missed over the years. While we have seen a plethora of remakes and remasters over the years such as Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, there are still several games which we never got.
Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem was a 2010 DS remake of the 1994 Super Famicom original that even incorporated some story chapters from BS Fire Emblem on the Satellaview, too, but it never left Japan. Genealogy of the Holy War was the second SFC game in the series followed by the rock-hard sequel Thracia 776 and The Binding Blade on GBA in 2002, but none of them have been officially localised for the West.
With the success of Fire Emblem: Three Houses on Switch indicating there’s a massive audience for these games, there are rumours that a planned 3DS remake might be retooled for Switch, so we’re hoping it’s one of the above. In the meantime, anyone starved of Fire Emblem content should check out Nintendo’s latest title in the series, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Eh?!
We amuse ourselves, at least. Onwards!
Captain Rainbow (2008)
Coming from the developer behind Chibi-Robo, Skip Ltd.’s Captain Rainbow is the alter ego of unimportant everyman Nick who travels to an island filled with forgotten Nintendo side characters like Birdo and the Devil from Devil World. Featuring a host of obscure Nintendo references, it’s one of the most famous games on this list thanks to the many cameos it contains as Nick travels around the island granting wishes to the bit players he meets. Despite performing poorly in Japan and therefore scuppering any chance of a localisation, it has become something of a cult classic and has plenty to offer gamers who thrive on nods and winks to Nintendo’s past.
Skip seems to specialise in Japan-only titles and is also behind GiFTPiA, a charming little GameCube title which never crossed the Pacific despite being shown off at E3. It’s a small miracle we ever got Chibi-Robo, to be honest.
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse (2008)
Otherwise known as Fatal Frame IV, this Wii exclusive in Tecmo’s survival horror series was originally planned for an overseas release but that never materialised. The Wii U received the internationally released Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, but the fourth main entry remains a Japanese exclusive. If only Nintendo had a really successful console at the moment which acquits itself most ably in the ports department, hmm?
Zangeki no Reginleiv (2010)
Another Nintendo-published Wii title, Zengeki no Reginleiv was developed by Sandlot and is a retelling of the old Norse Ragnarok chestnut. Featuring decent Wii Motionplus integration and co-op gameplay, it apparently provides hack-and-slash action aplenty and while we’re not lacking in that department these days on Switch, it might have been nice to give this a whirl on Wii a decade ago. Plus, it came in a sexy black box, so even if it’s rubbish we still want it.
…oh, and Mother 3 (2006)
But of course. Need we say more?
Apologies to Mahjong fans — we could have filled the article with nothing else. We’ve stuck to Nintendo-related games for systems that were released in the West, so there aren’t any 64DD or Satellaview games above. Got a burning desire to see Trade & Battle: Card Hero get the full Nintendo Treehouse treatment? What else would you like to see get the Nintendo Seal of Approval in the West? Share your hopes and dreams below…