The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was home to some of the greatest video games ever made. Secret of Mana, Mario Kart, Street Fighter II – the list of bona fide classics goes on and on. But at some point, it stops.
Yes, you may be shocked to discover that not everything released on the system ranked alongside those universally revered favorites. As one of the best-selling consoles in history, with a lifespan of 13 years (Nintendo only stopped producing the machines in September 2003) there were a few, let’s say, “interesting oddities” among the 1,500-strong back catalog.
So for a few moments, let’s perhaps remove the rose-tinted spectacles of nostalgia and instead don the blast shield of grim truth – because here are eight of the console’s strangest North American releases, and some of them aren’t pretty.
Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball (Hudson Soft, 1991)
For a while in the Nineties video game publishers came to an important decision about sports simulations: They just weren’t violent enough. Hence titles like Mutant League Football and Shaq-Fu that attempted to combine sporting action with weapons and/or kicking people in the face. Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball was an ill-advised venture into this sub-genre which imagined a distopian future where Detroit Pistons bad boy Laimbeer ran his own ultraviolent basketball league complete with armor-clad players, mines and spinning blades. It was like NBA Jam meets Super Bomberman, which obviously sounds amazing – but sadly the controls, visuals and audio were more apocalyptic than the setting.
Boogerman: A Pick and Flick Adventure (Interplay, 1995)
Developed by Interplay, the creators of Earthworm Jim, this gross-out comedy platformer revolved around eccentric millionaire Snotty Ragsdale and his superhero alter ego, the eponymous Boogerman. Players had to fight their way through 20 bodily-function-obsessed levels, flicking boogers at enemies, while also utilizing fart and burp attacks – so it was effectively like being trapped in the brain of a 12-year-old boy for several hours. In fall 2013, the creators attempted to crowd-fund an HD remake of the game on Kickstarter, but sadly the project failed – the booger had dried.
Uniracers (DMA/Nintendo, 1994)
Imagine an early cross between Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and the Trials series, but based around curiously sentient unicycles. That would be crazy, right? It would also be 1994 release Uniracers from Scottish studio DMA Design, the studio later responsible for Grand Theft Auto. Players had to navigate a series of challenging tracks, performing various customizable tricks to gain speed. Filled with DMA’s trademark design polish and humor, the game was a cult success, but its legacy was tragically cut short when Pixar successfully sued the studio for using a unicycle character that too closely resembled the vehicle in its short film, Red’s Dream. With one lawsuit, the animator effectively killed the stunt unicycle embodiment genre before it had even taken off. A cruel blow.
Mohawk and Headphone Jack (Solid Software/THQ, 1996)
Clearly frustrated that Sega was dominating the “wacky pop music buddy adventure” genre with its much-loved Toejam and Earl series, Nintendo struck back via this bizarre scrolling platformer. Notable for its nausea-inducing omnidirectional scrolling and blatantly naked lead character, Mohawk and Headphone Jack required you to navigate a series of spinning levels collecting as many CDs as you could before you vomited all over the console and your own hands. Amazingly, this wasn’t the start of a beautiful friendship.
Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon (Raya Systems, 1994)
Just one of several “educational” health games produced by Raya Systems, Rex Ronan features a pioneering surgeon who shrinks himself to microscopic size in order to cruise around the body of lifelong smoker, Jake Westboro, blasting away the tar and other tobacco-related gunk from his poisoned innards. Yes, it’s a scrolling platformer about the dangers of smoking, and it is bad enough to make you never want to look at another cigarette again. Job done then, we guess?
Jim Power: The Lost Dimension 3D (Loriciels, 1993)
Developed by ambitious French studio Loriciels (where Out of This World designer Eric Chahi got his start), this multistage sci-fi adventure utilized the Super Nintendo’s famed Mode 7 graphics technology to produce a series of incredibly complex parallax scrolling effects. The aim was to bring 3D depth to the environments, an effect augmented with the inclusion of stereoscopic Nuoptix 3D glasses. Unfortunately, the result was astonishingly potent motion sickness, making the game – already a notoriously tough challenge – almost unplayable for many.
Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit! (Absolute Entertainment, 1994)
The history of video games is littered with desperate and bizarre movie and television tie-ins, but this is one of the most egregious crimes ever committed against the concept of cross-promotion. Home Improvement was an amiable sitcom about fatherhood and male identity set in 1990s Detroit. Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit! was a scrolling platformer about shooting dinosaurs with a nail gun, set in a vast TV studio recreation of a jungle. Do you see the difference? Incredibly, the game’s lead designer was Activison legend David Crane whose classic life sim Little Computer People would surely have made a MUCH more sensible and relevant blueprint for a Home Improvement game. Oops.
Super 3D Noah’s Ark (Wisdom Tree, 1994)
When Christian game creator Wisdom Tree wanted to make a first-person action adventure set aboard Noah’s ark, they took divine inspiration from the most obvious place: Wolfenstein 3D – the most graphical bloody and controversial game of the era. Acquiring Id Software’s engine and totally re-skinning the game, the Texan studio produced an incredible Biblical blaster in which Noah had to traverse his giant craft shooting enemies… no wait, throwing food at animals. Recently, Wisdom Tree successfully kickstarted a plug-and-play device featuring all the team’s greatest 8-bit titles (Including the likes of Sunday Funday and Bible Buffet, thank the Lord). Its name? The Arkade. God bless them.
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