Nintendo’s Lost IP, Part 4: When I’m 64, Cubed

Hello true believers! It was quite a week for Nintendo retro game fans, wasn't it? Capcom announced a slew of Mega Man classics headed for 3DS; Nintendo surprised us all with the early re-release of EarthBound on Wii U; the Famicom turned 30 (while I myself turned 33 a day earlier); and SEGA announced its 3D Classics editions of Genesis / Mega Drive games will be making their way West. It was practically Christmas for retro fans like myself!

There was nothing to report on the future of one of my favorite consoles, though. I got a Nintendo 64 for Christmas in 1997 and it got me through my first tumultuous year of college. It’s pretty easy to make friends when you have an N64, four controllers and games like GoldenEye 007 and Mortal Kombat 4. And I probably played through The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask three or four times on long weekends or between classes.

Sadly, during the GameCube era, Nintendo lost me. This was primarily because I was a starving college recent-graduate and I didn't have much disposable income (I even made the regrettable decision to sell my entire NES / SNES / N64 collection and consoles). I had also lost patience with Nintendo when, instead of a proper Mario launch title, we got Luigi’s Mansion; and instead of a “hardcore” Zelda, we got Wind Waker. (I was young and foolish. Forgive me.) So I missed out on a big chunk of gaming history before returning with the Wii.

But what of the other Nintendo franchises that took off during the N64 and GameCube eras? It was a time of major transition and upheaval at NCL, as the venerable company saw its 10-year dominance of the home console industry eclipsed by the PlayStation — made ever more painful by the fact the PSX emerged from a failed collaboration between Sony and Nintendo. But nonetheless, Nintendo took some big risks and made some truly great, innovative games.

Then there were these first-party titles that, for better or worse, never made it past their N64 and GC releases. That’s what I’m writing about here. The good news: there aren't too many IP in these categories, especially compared to Nintendo’s earlier efforts! (You can catch up on my other posts covering Nintendo’s other lost IP from the arcade, NES, Famicom and Super NES / Super Famicom generations at the links in this line.)

On with the show! And please note, while this series is about extinct Nintendo IP, I’m deliberately ignoring games produced by Rare, for obvious reasons.

Mischief Makers
Introduced: 1997, Mischief Makers (Nintendo 64)
Technically, this 2.5-D side-scrolling platformer was not a Nintendo IP, per se; it came from “second-party” developer Treasure, who also produced Wario World and Sin & Punishment. Enix actually handled publishing duties in Japan, while Nintendo distributed the console-exclusive game elsewhere. I've never played it, but it looks very sharp and strikes me as an ideal game for a sequel or reboot, perhaps as a digital-only download on the eShop.

Wave Race
Introduced: 1992, Wave Race (Game Boy)
Latest entry: 2001, Wave Race: Blue Storm (GameCube)
Many fans are probably unaware the very first title in this series was for Game Boy, and that it was created and produced by none other than Shigeru Miyamoto. The better-known second game made waves (har har) on N64 as a solid watercraft racing game that served as a tech demo of sorts, at least when it came to literally making waves using the 64-bit hardware. Yet in spite of strong reviews and decent sales, Blue Storm never saw a Wii sequel. Nintendo seems to have focused 100 percent of its racing efforts on the Mario Kart series.

Eternal Darkness
Introduced: 2002, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (GameCube)
Even if you’ve never played Nintendo’s venture into survival horror, you may have heard about the beleaguered efforts of its developers to resurrect the franchise in the form of a spiritual sequel, Shadow of the Eternals. The problems surrounding the former Silicon Knights dev team are probably one reason Nintendo never chose to return to this haunted title. I’m not a fan of the genre, but it’s hard to argue with the results: Eternal Darkness was one of the highest-rated and most critically-acclaimed titles on GameCube.

Geist
Introduced: 2005, Geist (GameCube)
Here’s another example of Nintendo’s efforts to be taken more seriously by the hardcore gaming community during the sixth console generation. Geist was actually created by n-Space, a second-party developer that sort of filled the role Platinum has now for Wii U. Praised for its innovation and unique gameplay, but crippled by mixed reviews and sluggish controls, Geist was perhaps not quite ready for prime time. Ironically, Nintendo’s second-ever M-rated title did much to advance the perception that Nintendo consoles were not for hardcore gamers.

Odama
Introduced: 2006, Odama (GameCube)
I don’t understand why this title didn't become a best-seller and established franchise. It’s a voice-activated real-time strategy pinball action RPG with a feudal Japan theme! One reviewer called it “the third-best console game that involve[s] rolling a giant ball over people." Hey, you have to give Nintendo and developer Vivarium a lot of credit for trying something new, right?

Next week, I’ll hit the rewind button and have a look at the franchises that started on Game Boy but floundered like so many used-up AA batteries.