The more research I've done, the more surprised I am by how many characters, worlds, story-lines and settings have been essentially abandoned by Nintendo. Shigeru Miyamoto has said Nintendo generally comes up with a game-play design first, then chooses a suitable IP / franchise later; so if they ever need an old idea to present in a new way, they have a lot of options!
Introduced: 1985, Wrecking Crew (Famicom / NES)
Latest entry: 1998, Wrecking Crew ‘98 (Super Famicom)
This old-school literal blockbuster recently got the Wii U Virtual Console treatment, so a whole new generation of players is discovering the finer points of building demolition. I guess you could say this is technically a Mario game since it stars the Bros., but no game like it has been produced since, save the Japan-only Super Famicom sequel Wrecking Crew ‘98, which apparently included a cinematic story mode along with improved visuals and much faster action. I think this franchise deserves a second chance!
Introduced: 1985, Mach Rider (Famicom / NES)
Here’s a fun bit of trivia: this racer / shooter-on-wheels actually has its origins in a plastic toy released by Nintendo in 1972. Other than that, this is a pretty average motorcycle racing game which had a lot of limited potential, later realized in the superb RoadBlasters and, to a lesser degree, Road Rash. I imagine most Nintendo fans would much rather have a new F-Zero.
Introduced: 1986, Urban Champion (Famicom / NES)
Latest entry: 2011, 3D Classics: Urban Champion (3DS)
It is debatable whether this is a truly dead franchise; decide for yourself whether the 3DS remake of Urban Champion counts as a new entry in the series. I only own the 3DS version because I got it for free through Club Nintendo. Otherwise, I can think of no reason to recommend or resurrect Nintendo’s first attempt at the fighting genre. Will Sakurai bring back the unnamed character with two moves — a light punch and a heavy punch — in 2014?
Introduced: 1986, Gumshoe (NES)
Never released in Japan, this Light Gun shooter mixes the target practice stylings of Wild Gunman / Hogan’s Alley with side-scrolling / platforming. Think of it as a very early escort mission, sort of Time Crisis meets The Last of Us. Ha! Just kidding.
Nazo no Murasame Jo
Introduced: 1986, Nazo no Murasame Jo (Famicom Disk System)
Translated as “The Mysterious Murasame Castle”, this game was the inspiration for the “Takamaru’s Ninja Castle” game in the Wii U pack-in title Nintendo Land. In that sense, the franchise is not truly dead, but it would be nice to see what Nintendo could do today with its very own Zelda-meets-ninjas franchise.
Famicom Tantei Club
Introduced: 1988, Famicom Tantei Club: Kieta Koukeisha (Famicom Disk System)
Latest entry: 1998, Famicom Tantei Club Part II: Ushiro ni Tatsu Shojo (Super Famicom)
If you asked me to guess how a text-based mystery / detective puzzle game would sell today, I would say “not very well”. (Check out this crazy TV ad for the first game!) But Professor Layton and Ace Attorney fall on the fringes of this sort of genre, I guess? At any rate, these oddball “Nintendo Detective Club” video novellas never made their way outside of Japan. Besides the perceived lack of cross-cultural appeal, I imagine text-heavy games of this sort would be arduous to translate and localize.
Introduced: 1989, Mother (Famicom)
Latest entry: 2006, Mother 3 (Game Boy Advance)
Entire volumes have been written on this series and the puzzling lack of interest on Nintendo’s part to bring its entirety outside of Japan. I've never played the middle game, known as EarthBound in America, though I plan on it when the Wii U Virtual Console version releases later this year. Perhaps then I will join the frothing-mouthed masses in demanding all three games get a Western release and sequel.
Introduced: 1990, StarTropics (NES)
Latest Entry: 1994, Zoda’s Revenge: StarTropics II (NES)
On the opposite end of the Nintendo RPG scale is this series, which was only given a Western release and never available in Japan. The first game was ambitious and unique with its requirement of using a piece of paper included with the Game Pak that needed to be “translated” in order to get past a certain portion of the main story. Nintendo came up with a clever work-around for this in the Wii Virtual Console release, though I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t played.
Introduced: 1991, Time Twist: Rekishi no Katasumi de... (Famicom Disk System)
There was apparently a market as late as the 1990s for text-based adventures on home consoles. Still, there might be some potential to be mined here for a future franchise...?
Joy Mech Fight
Introduced: 1993, Joy Mech Fight (Famicom)
Another “lost” Nintendo fighting game, largely unknown because of its release limited to Japan. The visuals are something of an eight-bit Ballz 3D or ersatz Vectorman, and actually pretty good for the era and technology. I could see one of these guys becoming playable in SSB, as the character Sukapon was a sticker in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
Next week, we go 16-bit with a look at Nintendo’s forgotten “Super” franchises!