Konami Industry Co., Ltd, was founded in 1969 by Kagemasa Kōzuki in Toyonaka, Japan. Initially, the company was a jukebox rental and repair business, but with electronic entertainment on the rise, the company began manufacturing amusement machines for arcades in 1973. Konami’s first coin-operated video arcade game was released for the Japanese market in 1977. The following year four new coin-op titles were developed, all released by Leijac Corporation, Inc.
In 1979 Konami would expand and start exporting its products to the US market and in the early ’80s, had great success with coin-op titles such as Frogger and Super Cobra. Most of Konami’s products were licensed to other companies like Stern Electronics and Gremlin Industries, for US release.
In 1982 Konami Industry Co., Ltd, established Konami, Inc. for publishing to the US market. With the newly established subsidiary, Konami began expanding into the home consumer market, initially releasing titles for the Atari 2600 and later the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985. Many of Konami’s now-famous titles were released in this period, with titles such as Metal Gear, Castlevania, and Gradius. Konami’s venture into the NES market came with great success and a tremendous increase in revenue.
While Konami had released titles for different personal computers in the latter part of the ’80s, in 1990 it would start publishing its titles for the platforms in the big box sized format – If the UK had U.S. Gold publishing US titles to the UK and European markets, the US had, in the early ’90s, Konami, publishing primarily UK titles to the US home market.
The UK invasion
A majority of the Konami published titles (Big Boxes) from 1990-93 for the US market were UK developed titles. With companies like The Bitmap Brothers, Mirrorsoft, Gremlin and Revolution Software getting a chance to see if their successful European games would make it in the US.
In 1990 Konami published the impeccable Speedball 2 – Brutal Deluxe from UK developer, The Bitmap Brothers. Speedball 2 was the successor to the original Speedball, released in the UK/EU in 1988 by Image Works and by Spotlight Software/Cinemaware in the US in 1989.
Speedball 2, in many ways, plays like many of the popular soccer/football titles from the era, with action gameplay, training, leagues, and championships – If you blend Ice hockey and handball with extreme violence, put it all in a futuristic metal box, you’ll get Speedball – don’t be afraid of red cards, just beat your opponents to a pulp.
Speedball was highly regarded and received critical acclaim for years to come – It’s considered to be The Bitmap Brothers best game.
Two other games by The Bitmap Brothers were released in the US by Konami, Gods and Magic Pockets, both in 1992.
Gods, a stunningly beautiful, side-scrolling action platform game. I originally played it on a friend’s Amiga and loved it, it was very challenging but the amount of hidden bonuses, rooms and power-ups made the gameplay very exciting – I still play it today with my kids on our RetroPie in our living room.
Magic Pockets another platform game this time with charmingly, cute and beautiful graphics, inspired by the more “mellow” and non-violent games like Super Mario Bros., Rainbow Islands, and Flood. Originally published in 1991 by Renegade Software in Europe.
A sealed Bitmap Brothers US MS-DOS line up, from left to right:
Speedball 2 – Brutal Deluxe released in 1990 – Magic Pockets and Gods both released in 1992
Konami would also publish an array of Image Works titles such as Predator 2, Riders of Rohan, Under a Killing Cloud and the two Back to the Future games. Image Works was Mirrorsoft’s publishing label in Europe, it also published titles for a few other UK developers.
The two Image Works Back to the Future titles published by Konami in 1990 and 1991.
Both games consisted of a series of action mini-games, based on scenes from the movies. Unfortunately, both of these were exceptionally bad, and only got mediocre reviews at best – I’ve played both of them as a young teen and still have a sour taste in my mouth
Another title released from UK developers was, Lure of the Temptress from Revolution Software, a great adventure game that used “intelligent” non-playable characters which rendered the game quite dynamic, with people walking around doing their own things – Revolution called it Virtual Theatre.
Lure of the Temptress received great reviews and became quite popular in Europe.
Gremlin Graphics Software Ltd. was another British developer and publisher, which had a few of its titles released by Konami in the US. None of them became hugely popular, but some did get great reviews.
Utopia – The Creation of a Nation was a Sim City inspired futuristic space simulation, it was released in the US by Konami in 1991, it was also released for the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST.
In 1997, Gremlin acquired DMA Design, creators of the original Grand Theft Auto and Lemmings. In 1999, Gremlins were bought by Infogrames.
Gremlin titles, developed in the UK and released in the US by Konami
Plan 9 From Outer Space was a point’n’click adventure game developed by Gremlin Ireland. It was inspired by the 1959 Z-movie (worse than a B-movie) of the same name. The movie stayed in obscurity and out of the mainstream until 1980, when it was dubbed the worst movie ever made. It has been retrospectively described as “The epitome of so-bad-it’s-good cinema” and has since gained a cult following.
The game was just as bad as the movie – intentionally or not, the game pretty much only received bad and mediocre reviews when released in 1991.
The Konami published US version on the left and the original Plan 9 From Outer Space, released in the UK on the right, this version came with a VHS tape which included the full movie (double up on mediocrity).
From Canada with love
Konami would also be publishing a few North American developed titles, more precise from Canadian Distinctive Software, probably best known for Stunt and its Test Drive series of Games.
Three titles developed by Distinctive Software and published by Konami in 1991.
Top Gun – Danger Zone inspired by the 1986 hit movie Top Gun.
Mission: Impossible a strategic adventure with some unique gameplay features.
Bill Elliot’s Nascar Challenge one of the first Nascar racing simulators for the personal computer.
None of these titles lived up to what Distinctive had done earlier. All three games were only received with mediocre reviews
Another Distinctive Software title was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Manhattan Missions, inspired by the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles books published by Mirage in 1984 – The opening story is loosely based on the story from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1.
Distinctive Software also did The Simpsons – Bart’s House of Weirdness, an action game released only for MS-DOS in 1992. It’s based on the Simpsons cartoon franchise and features many aspects from the series. You control Bart as he escapes from his house after being grounded by his parents. On his adventures throughout the town, Bart fends off enemies and animals with various types of weapons. The game was praised for its great graphics but left something to be desired, gameplay-wise.
Distinctive Software was acquired in 1991 by Electronic Arts and became EA Canada.
In 1993 Konami Inc. would stop publishing titles for the personal computer and focus only on consoles and handheld. 8 years would go by before Konami, now renamed to Konami of America, in 2001 would create a brand new windows version of their highly successful 1981 coin-op title, Frogger. The same year Konami would publish Silent Hill 2 for Microsoft Windows.
Below my mostly sealed Konami big box collection