Konami is certainly one of the heaviest hitters out there when it comes to game developers. They have many AAA franchises and are the sort of company that makes games that people line up outside the store at midnight for. There is a lot of talent coursing through Konami, not only in its franchises, but also with the creative minds themselves that work there. That’s why the news of Hideo Kojima (the entirety of Metal Gear Solid, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and the upcoming-now-canceled Silent Hills)—essentially Konami’s Don Draper—leaving the company puts an uncertain future ahead for the normally steadfast juggernaut.
A departure like Kojima’s is a drastic change for the company, but it’s hardly crippling. They will be more than able to soldier on (like an aged Solid Snake). That being said, it was not long after this shake-up that Konami then announced that they’d now be focusing their efforts on the handheld markets. Granted, there’s a lot of good that Konami could do for handhelds, but it still paints an interesting picture of what Konami’s future may soon look like. Thus, now feels like a particularly appropriate time to look back on Konami’s ten greatest triumphs, remembering how important Konami has been to gaming.
10. Frogger (1981, Arcade)
Everyone’s heard of Frogger – don’t even pretend you haven’t – and that alone speaks to the power of this weird title released back in the early ‘80s. The game has had such staying power that it’s seen over a dozen sequels and even more ports onto countless platforms. Everyone wants to get in on the Frogger game. I mean, you don’t see George Costanza going crazy over Pac-Man.
Frogger’s simplicity might have you question its inclusion on this list. You basically move your frog from the bottom of the screen to the top while avoiding traffic and, later, aquatic animals. In spite of this, it was one of the more challenging arcade games of its time, and its lasting power and difficulty have clearly resonated through generations. While Konami has released a lot of games that technically might be better than Frogger, this list is taking into account the effect that these games had at the time of their release, and in this case, Frogger fever was unavoidable. It even had a children’s cartoon in the ‘80s. I don’t seem to remember Silent Hill ever getting a Saturday morning kids’ show.
9. BeatMania (1997, Arcade)
BeatMania is another title where the significance and impact is slightly more important than the sum of its parts. Make no mistake, BeatMania is still a great game in its own right, but it might not be as critically lauded as say, Metal Gear Solid 2, for instance. BeatMania, while not the first rhythm game, is the first real commercial success in the genre and the title that legitimized the niche. That’s pretty significant. The game, unsurprisingly, sees you taking command of a DJ and trying to sync up your actions with the beat of the music. While being an early attempt at this sort of thing, BeatMania still offered up fairly complex controls and even a turntable accessory which added even more to the experience.
In spite of being a deep title right from the start, the BeatMania series has only grown, spawning releases across multiple platforms and still being an arcade mainstay in Japan. Even more impressively, Konami cut their teeth with BeatMania and mastered the ebbs and flows of the rhythm genre before ultimately funneling all of that into Dance Dance Revolution, a rhythm franchise that truly knocked down walls (with in-time kicking) and launched not only this genre—but video games in general–into the mainstream.
8. Rocket Knight Adventures (1993, Genesis)
The early ‘90s were perhaps the highpoint for sidescrolling platformers, with it nearly feeling like every other game for the Genesis or SNES fit into the genre. With industry behemoths like Sonic and Mario making gaming difficult for all the other hapless platformers out there, companies like Konami were pushed to create new classic heroes and series. Rocket Knight Adventures is very much the product of that movement and in spite of the game not finding the mass appeal that the rest of the titles on this list have seen, that shouldn’t reduce the expertise that’s been applied to this game.
In spite of Rocket Knight relatively remaining in the shadows of gaming, it’s a triumph across the board, whether it be the very catchy soundtrack, gorgeous level design, a deeper story than most titles saw, and ambitious platformer design. Rocket Knight Adventures is one of the few games from this time period that actually feels as fast as Sonic the Hedgehog, which is a true testament to what’s going on here. This game is a perfect example of a title that takes refined platforming staples while trying to reinvent the genre simultaneously with new ideas. Rocket Knight Adventures doesn’t exactly achieve that, but it’s an endlessly fun game and plays like a shot of adrenaline.
7. Contra (1987, Arcade)
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Even if you’ve never played Contra, it’s likely that you’re familiar with the infamous “Konami Code” that stemmed from it. The code has become a cross-title Easter egg for the developer, almost to the point where you always want to be entering the sequence on a new Konami venture because who knows what it might uncover (the same can be said for websites, which is even more incredible). The wide-reaching span of the Konami Code equally speaks towards the reverence that Contra has in the video game community, with the series almost being the most emblematic of the company.
That code up there rewards you with so many extra lives for the very same reason that Contra is still remembered: it’s damn hard. You hear a lot about the casualization of gaming nowadays and how many titles have lost their edge, with Contra often being the main example cited for what difficult gaming used to be like. This difficulty also led to Contra really being the first title to popularize multiplayer cooperative play (because the onslaught was massacring gamers), a function that is now a staple for this sort of game. Contra has gone on to spawn nearly as many sequels as it has bullets raining down on its players—all of them taking to heart what made the original so fundamental—but really, the first game got it all right from the start.
6. Suikoden II (1998, PlayStation 2)
Many of the games that have been singled out here practically function like gaming equivalents of Adderall. Konami perfected these concentrated bursts of gaming in the form of action, platforming, and beat ‘em up titles, but that didn’t mean that they also weren’t capable of nailing more glacial, meandering experiences like in a JRPG.
Suikoden II is a dazzling, meticulous, thoughtful gaming experience like no other. Most famously, the game introduced more innovative RPG concepts like a huge cast of playable characters as well as a very, very cumbersome, complicated story behind it all. Working through this title for the first time is one of my most cherished memories in gaming, and it’s a moment I’ve longed to have repeated, but it seems less and less likely. That’s why it’s perhaps just as devastating that in spite of the universal critical praise that was dumped onto Suikoden II, the game failed to connect to audiences and undersold. It couldn’t have helped that it was released in close proximity to Final Fantasy VII, which embraced a different methodology to RPGs, and clearly one that more people responded to. Konami slowly was able to add more life and titles to this series, but Suikoden II was the first glimpse of what they were capable of and the introduction of many of their concepts.
5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (1991, Arcade)
In the same way the ‘90s were a veritable breeding ground for platformers, so too was the case for beat ‘em ups. The genre was becoming a quick favorite throughout arcades, but with classic titles like Streets of Rage only just having been released, there wasn’t a clear leader to push the genre forward towards further legitimacy. Turtles in Time took great strides towards getting the beat ‘em up genre there, largely aided by the fact that the Ninja Turtles were kind of like amphibian Jesus at the time. This game didn’t coast off of reputation alone, though. In fact, there are many Ninja Turtles games, with a solid run of them all being beat ‘em ups, but it’s Turtles in Time that is viewed as the synthesis of all their previous efforts and the peak of the series.
Whether you’re a fan of the Ninja Turtles or not, this game is pretty flawless (even now it’s retained this sterling reputation) between the fun score, bright colors, and an inspired mash-up of platforming and beat ‘em up sensibilities. And of course the ability to have four people getting in on the chaos at once. The result is an innovative title that respected the history of beat ‘em up games while simultaneously pushing them forward.
4. Mystical Ninja: Starring Goemon (1998, Nintendo 64)
Even though the Ganbare Goemon franchise is a robust, storied one throughout Japan, Goemon—or the “Mystical Ninja” as he’s sometimes referred to Stateside—has had a difficult time finding legitimacy with a Western audience. While the bulk of the Goemon titles have failed to localize, Konami took a swing and a risk with Nintendo 64’s Goemon outings. The result is a unique title that really feels unlike anything else released on the N64. Mystical Ninja: Starring Goemon plays like Super Mario 64 in all of the best ways (with carefully integrated RPG elements), while still retaining the twisted, skewed Japanese sense of humor and story that is the backbone of these titles.
All of this amounts to something that isn’t perfect, but it still feels like such a different, delirious gaming experience. The game has beyond amazing platforming mechanics, bosses, characters (you alternate between a cast of four, as well as your giant mecha, Impact, in some delightful battle sequences), and music (seriously, consume this game’s soundtrack immediately and never look back), but you’ll find yourself fixating on the more off-kilter aspects being thrown at you, like the fact that the game has a laugh track or just how far the pervy Japanese sense of humor is allowed to be taken.
3. Metal Gear Solid (1999, PlayStation)
We all knew this would be on here somewhere, so let’s just get into it. While Metal Gear Solid’s inclusion might feel tired, it’s also extremely justified. It’d be like harping on The Great Gatsby or Citizen Kane when it comes to literature or film; that’s how influential and polished this game is. Hideo Kojima’s classic game that would launch a record-breaking franchise made a name for itself by innovating the shooter genre in a number of ways. For one, the concept of a “stealth” video game was unheard of at the time, and added a whole new dimension to shooters. Truly, it’s crazy to look back at how much Metal Gear Solid’s camera mechanics did for games of this ilk, even if we take such things for granted now.
Another aspect of gaming that we’ve definitely learned to casually dismiss is a complex story. It might feel redundant to mention that a good story is paramount to any video game that is released now, but at the time, the idea of a shooter having an intricate plot to it was unheard of. This game basically got 3D shooters to be taken seriously by providing a glimpse of what they can be capable of. Highlighting these issues alone is still ignoring a lot of what made this title so important to video games.
2. Silent Hill 2 (2001, PlayStation 2)
Resident Evil or Silent Hill? Resident Evil or Silent Hill?
Perhaps this is a debate that you’ve found yourself having before (“But what about Fatal Fram—“ “Shut up!”). We’re a species that always looks for the best of something, so in franchises that are designed to frighten you, figuring out what the scariest series is has considerable weight to it. Resident Evil slowly became the public favorite, receiving a litany of sequels, spin-offs, and ancillary products, but Resident Evil’s oversaturation has almost worked in Silent Hill’s favor. The series has done well by only focusing on a handful of games that haven’t seen the franchise straying from its original survival-horror roots (which has become an increasing concern for Resident Evil). The results have seen Konami’s Silent Hill games focusing more on atmosphere and minimalism horror. It’s Silent Hill 2 that really pulls this together the best though, turning out a thoroughly satisfying and disturbing game.
Many people might hold Resident Evil’s first sequel as the crown jewel in macabre gaming, but there’s so much that Silent Hill 2 does better than its zombie-obsessed cousin. It doesn’t even feel like a video game, but rather a piece of interactive, horror inspired art. Graphics, audio, gameplay, and even the game’s psychology work together all for the express purpose of scaring you. There’s also a stunning degree of player freedom incorporated subtly into the title, with the decisions you make or don’t make drastically affecting the ending you’ll ultimately receive. This is the sort of convention that is seen as commonplace now, but at the time in a game like this, it was colossal.
1. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997, PlayStation, Sega Saturn)
I firmly believe that they’ll never stop making Castlevania games. They will be the cockroaches of video gaming, long past the point where humanity has been wiped out, somehow the generational battle between creatures of the night and those that hunt them will continue to be produced. Too many Castlevania games have been made for nearly every system that’s been out there, with each passing game refining the labyrinthine action platforming that the series has become famous for.
While going through countless stages and evolutions (before settling on the structure that the series currently employs), across the board, there’s seems to be a general consensus that the PlayStation offering, Symphony of the Night, is the Head Vampire of the franchise, and we’ve strived to achieve that benchmark ever since. The way it pulled off such a feat is by not trying to expand, but by refining the basics you’re already using. Symphony of the Night strayed from a 3D heavy setup (a problem that would later cripple Castlevania 64) and instead embraced its classical 2D roots, instead funneling its energy into level design and cribbing elements from RPGs. All of these were moves that seemed questionable at the time—and might have even held the title back—but have since been viewed as “the right” way to do Castlevania.
Honorable Mentions Because They’ve Just Made Too Many Great Games:
Dance Dance Revolution (Arcade), The Simpsons Arcade Game (Arcade), Policenauts (Sega Saturn), Elebits (Wii), and Konami Krazy Racers (GameBoy Advance).
With the last selection appearing here not because it’s a great game, but largely because it’s high time that Konami gets into the franchise-mashing sensibilities that Super Smash Bros. and Sega All-Stars have. Isn’t it time we got a Konami Vs. Capcom already?
Konami’s legacy will never be forgotten. Even if they completely fumble these upcoming years, they’ll still have done more than their fair share of good for gaming. It will be interesting to see how these changes will pay off for Konami (personally, trying to jump into the console game wouldn’t have been a bad idea at one point…), but companies across the board are making curious decisions. Capcom has just announced that their focus is going to be on remastered re-releases of old games—another decision that doesn’t seem like the best application of their talents—so who knows at this point. As long as we’re getting more classics, I’ll be happy.
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