The two things that have kept Konami on the forefront of video game publishers and developers are consistency and longevity. Going all the way back to the heyday of arcades, Konami has time and time again managed to put out fun, engaging games that challenge conventions and set new standards for excellence. There is hardly a video game fan out there who doesn’t have a fond memory of playing through at least one of Konami’s hundreds of games, no matter what generation they started playing games in. Publishers and/or developers of well over 400 titles for 23 consoles since 1978, Konami has without a doubt carved out it’s place in video game history. But what are the best games Konami has ever made?
This list encompasses titles released up-to-and-including the fifth generation, so nothing released since 2000 counts.
#10 – Blades of Steel (NES)
Released December 1987
The definitive Nintendo Entertainment System hockey game, and also one of the earliest. Blades of Steel was a marvel of technology for its time. The game featured “voice” acting (who can forget the tin-soaked “Blades of Steel!” at the title screen?), fighting, penalty shots, shoot outs, 8 selectable teams, and a mini game between periods that allowed you to play a simplified version of Konami’s Gradius. I can recall many feverish battles that took place in the basement as a kid with my brother and I (and a lot of the time our dad) fighting for Blades of Steel bragging rights.
#9 – Contra: Hard Corps (Genesis)
Released September 14th ,1994
Contra made it’s jump to Sega’s 16-bit wonder Genesis with this addition to the Contra run and gun family. While not quite on par with other Genesis gunning classics such as Gunstar Heroes, Contra Hard Corps none the less featured graphics that were truly revolutionary for it’s day, and when I went back to play this title for this article, this 14 year old game still managed to impress me all over again. The game is very boss battle heavy, and has some of the cleverest bosses created for a 2D platformer. Be forewarned, however, as Hard Corps is a stunningly difficult game, and North American game is missing the extra lives input code that is present in the Japanese Mega Drive version of the game.
#8 – Frogger (Arcade)
Frogger was developed by Konami and released worldwide by Sega and Gremlin. The game was a knock off of an early video game created in 1971 by the University of Washington Psychology Department on a IMLAC PDS-1 graphics mini computer that functioned as a part of a study on memory. Frogger was a huge success and the game was ported to nearly every console and computer made in the 80’s, as well as spawning an uncountable number of spin-offs and clones. The games success was due in large part to it’s addictive game play and the high amount of skill required to return all the players frogs to their lily pads. The game is still funneling cash back to Konami even today, as it is available for download on Microsoft’s X box Live Arcade.
#7 – Gradius (NES)
Released January 1986
A classic arcade shooter, but we’re not talking the arcade version here. We are discussing the NES version. Sure the NES version doesn’t look as good, but the game is famous for another reason… but we’ll get to that in a second. Gradius is a horizontal shooter where you man a space craft called the Vic Viper. Typical of most scrolling shooters of its era, you could obtain poser-ups to get new and more destructive weapons. Unlike other shooters, however, you did not collect unique power-ups that had different effects; instead you collect capsules which raise your power-up meter and let you select to which weapons you would like to upgrade. Back to that bit about this port being famous, because the NES version of Gradius was the first video game to utilize the infamous Konami Code, which, when entered, makes this game A LOT easier.
#6 – Castlevania (NES)
Released May 1st, 1987
The game that launched one of Konami’s signature franchises remains to this day a fun and thoroughly enjoyable challenge. Originally released in Japan for the Famicom Disk System as Akumajō Dracula, which translates to Demon Castle Dracula, Castlevania made it’s way from Nintendo’s Disk System first the MXS2 Home Computer, and then was ported to both the Famicom and the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game’s atmosphere and enemies (particularly bosses) will still make your skin crawl to this day. Add to that tight controls and a truly excellent musical score and you have an 8-bit treasure that is worth a play-through every couple of years.
#5 -Metal Gear (MSX2)
Released July 12th, 1987
The definitive version of the first game in the series that would yield Hideo Kojima a bounty of masterpieces. Unlike the NES port that followed, the original MSX2 Home Computer version of Metal Gear kept Kojima’s game and vision intact. The game was followed by a direct sequel not released outside of Japan entitled Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake also for the MSX2, while us North American’s got a non-canonical sequel specially developed for a Western audience called Snake’s Revenge. You can still play Metal Gear the way it was intended, as there is an official translated version of the game available on the 2 disc edition of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, as well as several good fan-translated ROMs on the internet as well.
#4 – Contra (NES)
Released February 2nd, 1988
Contra defines the word ‘classic’ as far as video games go. I don’t think there is one person on this planet who calls themselves a video game fan who has not played the NES port of Contra. Originally released in the arcades, Contra was ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System and is hailed as the definitive action platformer for the console. The gun upgrades, the boss battles, the from-behind base levels, this game absolutely bleeds greatness. Throw on top of that a dash of Konami Code and a hearty helping of two player action, and you have all the makings of a must-play video game.
#3 – Akumajou Densetsu (Famicom)
Released December 22nd, 1989
You may recognize this game as being Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. Like the original Castlevania, this game game is pure platforming, removing the Zelda II-like adventure elements introduced in the second game in the series, Simon’s Quest. The game is a prequel taking place some two centuries before the first Castlevania game and managed to keep the series fresh by successfully introducing several new elements such as alternate routes and playable companions. The Japanese version is on the list rather than the Norther American localization because there were many changes made to the game before we got to play it. Graphical changes such as the removal of all religious symbolism, the censorship of nude statues, and an alternate sprite for the Medusa boss are all present in the North American version. The Famicom cart also included special chips made by Komani which the Nintendo Entertainment System was not able to run. These chips resulted in the Japan version containing a much richer and more intricate musical score as well as superior backgrounds and other graphical effects and upgrades.
#2 – Snatcher (SegaCD)
Released December 15th, 1994
Considered by many to be the best port of Hideo Kojima’s point-and-click cyberpunk epic, Snatcher for the Genesis add-on Sega CD is luckily also the only English version of the game produced. The game was massively popular in Japan seeing ports for the PC-88, MXS2, PC Engine, PlayStation, Mega CD, and Saturn. The success did not spill over to North America, however, and the game was produced in a relatively small quantities, making it one of the most sought after (and expensive) Sega CD games on the market today. The game featured a shockingly violent and adult storyline and surprisingly, very little was cut when it was localized to North America (aside form some underage nudity). If you are a regular reader here, than you have no doubt heard me sing Snatcher’s praises before, so all I can say is go buy a copy on Ebay, download the ROM, learn Japanese and mod your PS One, do whatever you have to do. Just make sure you play this game.
#1 – Metal Gear Solid (Playstation)
Released October 21st, 1998
The Metal Gear series jumped to 3D with a vengeance when Metal Gear Solid was released, Originally planned for the 3DO under the title Metal Gear 3, Hideo Kojima switched development from the failing 3DO to the white-hot PlayStation. A sequel to the MSX2 game Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, Metal Gear Solid is home to not only challenging gameplay, miles of depth, and high replay value, but it also has something that many action / war games lack; an intricate plot and a surprisingly emotional storyline. The game also featured some of the best boss battles in video game history. They are all different and challenging in their own way. Who can forget the second fight with Sniper Wolf or Falcon Gunner? Or Psycho Mantis reading your memory card and making Meryl hold a gun to her head? Or wrapping a battery in your shirt to survive the torture scene? Metal Gear Solid is a rarity among video games: it sits in a place where game play, plot, and character development all meet to strike a perfect balance. It’s a place action games rarely reach.