It’s one of the defining works of modern popular culture, and features plenty of stylised, graphic action. So why is it nobody has ever made a good game out of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira?
It’s not for want of trying, that’s for sure.
There have been three (well, maybe five, but we’ll get to that later) games developed based on the property over the years, one in each of the past three decades. All are based on the more abbreviated version of the storyline (as well as the imagery) found in the 1988 anime adaptation of the classic manga series.
The first was released in 1988, alongside the film. Developed by Taito for the Famicom, it’s a literal adaptation of the film, presented in a “choose your own adventure” style that these days we call a “visual novel”, a genre that’s still somewhat popular in Japan.
There’s no real action in the game; you’re simply presented with still images from the film and, as Kaneda, have to choose from a list of options how to progress in each scene, sometimes via conversation, other times via an action. It is, as you can see, boring as hell, losing almost everything that made the film appealing to fans.
It took a while, but eventually in 1994 a second Akira game was released, this time cashing in on the surging popularity of anime in Western markets. Unlike the first, which was developed in Japan and only released in Japan, the 1994 game was put together by British studio ICE, and quickly earned a reputation as one of the worst games available on the Amiga. With punishing design, terrible graphics and monotonous side-scrolling gameplay, it did the source material no justice whatsoever.
Which may explain why the next Akira game wasn’t released until 2002. And why the developers of that game, KAZe (of Zombie Nation fame) decided against making an action title based on the property, and instead took the safer route of putting together an Akira...pinball game. Akira Psycho Ball, released on the PS2, was actually pretty cool, the table’s faithful to the movie’s design and each level even including a digitised clip from the film as an intro.
Aside from the three games that did surface, there were two versions of the game that, while publicly announced, never made it to a retail shelf. One of these was a console game to be released on the SNES, Genesis and Sega CD, while the other was a handheld title destined for the Game Boy and Game Gear. THQ was originally planning to publish both games.
While the handheld title was a simple arcade title split between bike and on-foot sections, the console game was incredibly ambitious, which may explain why it was never actually released. Akira on the Genesis and SNES was like a buffet, each level utilising a different genre to tell a different part of the film’s story. So the player would go from first-person exploration to side-scrolling shooting to isometric adventuring, each stage offering different challenges and a different way to play the game.
It’s certainly a unique approach that some other adaptations of the time tried (albeit to a lesser extent, like Jurassic Park’s blend of first-person shooting and third-person adventure), and one that may have been utilised to get around the fact the comic/film was actually a tricky property to turn into a game, given that it’s split so clearly into fast, action-packed sequences and long, slow periods of exposition.
Only the console game was ever playable (the Genesis version at a couple of trade shows in 1994), and despite both versions having been worked on in the West, playable builds have never been released to the public, even after all these years.
For more information on the unreleased games, you should check out this great Hardcore Gaming piece on them, which includes a ton of scans from the gaming magazines of the time.
(Top image by Tyler Stout | tstout.com)
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