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The Must-Play Shigeru Miyamoto Games That Aren’t Mario Or Zelda

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The Must-Play Shigeru Miyamoto Games That Aren’t Mario Or Zelda

Nintendo wouldn’t be Nintendo without Shigeru Miyamoto. The game designer joined the Japanese company in 1977, when it was producing arcade games and very early home consoles based around a single style of play. He’d go on to create series that have become woven into the very fabric of Nintendo, with Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda foremost amongst them. And to look at Metacritic’s ratings for games Miyamoto has been involved in, the top ten is exclusively composed of Mario and Zelda titles. They are big, they are clever, and we love them dearly.

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But the work of Miyamoto at Nintendo doesn’t begin and end with the adventures of Link and the mishaps of the company’s moustachioed mascot. Here are some games that Miyamoto has had a hand in - sometimes on the wheel from start to finish, at others more of a background influence but significant nonetheless - that everyone should find some time to check out, to expand their personal play-along history of one of gaming’s greatest creative forces.

The Nintendo Classic SNES Edition mini-console includes several Miyamoto games, such as F-Zero and Star Fox 2

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Star Fox / Credit: Nintendo
Star Fox / Credit: Nintendo

Star Fox (1993) and Star Fox 2 (2017)

Produced and designed by Miyamoto, Star Fox - released as Starwing in Europe and the UK - was one of the most technically fascinating games on the Super Nintendo, using as it did the Super FX chip to generate previously impossible 3D polygons. For that reason alone it’s absolutely worthy of playing if you’ve never had the chance - and the barrel-rolling sci-fi shooter is easy to find on the Switch Online service’s selection of SNES titles and the Super NES Classic Edition mini-console. The latter hardware release delivered the overdue official debut of Star Fox’s sequel, produced by Miyamoto and originally meant to come out in 1996. Nintendo felt it’d perform poorly in the mid-’90s market, with the 3D-capable PlayStation already selling well, and shelved the game - “The price was high and the timing of the release was awkward,” Miyamoto remembered, years later, “so we decided to cancel it and start from scratch with a new Star Fox game for Nintendo 64.” And while it’s not quite in its predecessor’s league, Star Fox 2 is a fun-enough curio that can also be found on Switch Online.

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Excitebike / Credit: Nintendo
Excitebike / Credit: Nintendo

Excitebike (1984)

Directed, designed and produced by Miyamoto, Excitebike is a tricky side-on motocross game for the Famicom/NES that hasn’t exactly aged well but still represents a laugh for a little while, as you get to grips with its lane-switching play, precision jumps (landing really matters, here) and sticky mud pools. Maintaining careful control of your engine is of vital importance - this isn’t a game where you can just floor it to the finish line, unlike say Mario Kart 8, in which an Excitebike-inspired track appears. Overheat, and you’re going to be limping home last. An arcade version of the game, Vs. Excitebike, was released just after its Japanese console debut, and the 8-bit original is playable today on the NES Classic mini-console and via the Switch Online Service’s selection of NES titles.

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Mole Mania / Credit: Nintendo
Mole Mania / Credit: Nintendo

Mole Mania (1996)

From a pair of pretty famous Miyamoto works, we slip and slide to a couple of rather less-well-known releases. Mole Mania released for the Game Boy in 1996, at a time when Nintendo’s handheld was just starting to benefit from the Pokémon phenomenon, albeit only in Japan. A cute but testing puzzler with Miyamoto producing, Mole Mania has you guiding Muddy through a series of mazes where digging down into the dirt in the right spots is the difference between success and failure. Cabbages, of all things, will sometimes get in your way - disappointingly, you can’t simply eat them to clear them - and the ultimate goal is to rescue Muddy’s family from an antagonist farmer who bears a slight resemblance to a certain plumber. I mean, the guy’s just trying to get paid for his produce - if I had moles tearing up my fields, I’d probably take them out of the picture, too. Mole Mania did get a 3DS Virtual Console release in 2012, but it’s not yet on Switch. Those Game Boy games are coming, surely

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Devil World / Credit: Nintendo, mobygames.com
Devil World / Credit: Nintendo, mobygames.com

Devil World (1984)

So far, we’ve looked at games that have been pretty easily playable outside of Japan, and on more modern hardware (we’ll count the 3DS, cos that little box of magic rules). Devil World, though? Not so much. First released in Japan in 1984, this Miyamoto-designed dots-collecting maze game - more than a little Pac-Man like, with the twist of powering up to breathe fire on enemies - was actually banned in America, and didn’t reach Europe until 1987. The reason it never made it to the States is because of the religious imagery it uses: the player collects Bibles, and gains their fiery power by touching crosses. The main bad guy is also the Devil, so, there’s that too. It’s been fairly well received in retrospective reviews, but with no re-release available for post-NES hardware, it’s tricky to (legally) play Miyamoto’s first-ever home console game in 2021.

F-Zero / Credit: Nintendo
F-Zero / Credit: Nintendo

F-Zero (1990)

This futuristic racer was a launch title for the SNES, and wasted no time in showcasing the new console’s Mode 7 graphics - F-Zero’s gameplay was faster and smoother than most the genre had to offer, at the time. The visual flair was matched by great music, and while it lacked  multiplayer mode, the Miyamoto-produced F-Zero has come to be held up as one of the Super Nintendo’s finest releases. It spawned a handful of follow-ups, but no new F-Zero has been seen since 2004’s F-Zero Climax for the Game Boy Advance. Speaking in 2012, Miyamoto said of the possibility of new titles in the series: “I thought people had grown weary of it. Why F-Zero? What do you want that we haven’t done before?” Nintendo is apparently searching for a “grand new idea” to bring F-Zero back with, but at the time of writing it’s still a franchise that might well be finished with. The original F-Zero is playable right now on Switch Online.

Kung-Fu Master/Spartan X / Credit: Irem, Nintendo, mobygames.com
Kung-Fu Master/Spartan X / Credit: Irem, Nintendo, mobygames.com

Kung-Fu Master (1985)

Miyamoto directed the 1985 NES port of this 1984 arcade classic, originally by Irem. Kung-Fu Master - released as Spartan X in Japan, and dropping its Master for Europe - can’t hide its age in 2021, but it’s an important release for essentially pioneering the side-scrolling beat ‘em up. Its left-to-right action inspired Miyamoto to use the same ‘belt-scrolling’ format for Super Mario Bros., and its bruising gameplay served as a foundation for several successful franchises, including Capcom’s Final Fight and SEGA’s Streets of Rage. Its boss encounters served as references for 1987’s original Street Fighter, the sequel to which revolutionised the one-on-one fighter. Kung-Fu Master was widely ported, landing on the Game Boy as well as Commodore and Atari computers, but isn’t available for modern systems.

Donkey Kong / Credit: Nintendo
Donkey Kong / Credit: Nintendo

Donkey Kong (1981)

Donkey Kong was Miyamoto’s first big hit as a game director. You may already know its story, but to summarise… Nintendo needed a new game to replace copies of Radar Scope in its arcade cabs, and looked to create a game around the Popeye license. When that deal fell through, Miyamoto and co-designer Gunpei Yokoi came up with original characters instead: a large ape in place of Bluto, Pauline in place of Olive Oyl, and a little chap with a skip in his step and a thing for hammers in place of Popeye. At the time of its release, the player-controlled carpenter character wasn’t called Mario - but it is Mario, obviously. Inspirations came from King Kong (d’uh) and Beauty and the Beast, with Miyamoto intent on creating a game that’d be a hit outside of Japan. “It was important to us that we make it to sell in America,” he said in an interview some 35 years later. “Donkey Kong was my departure point for a global outlook. Since then, we have gradually broadened our scope, so now when Mario shows up suddenly in the Olympic Games closing ceremony, people from all over the world recognise him.” So really, this is where it properly starts for Miyamoto as a notable developer, and for Nintendo as a global gaming power - and the NES version of Donkey Kong (which Miyamoto didn’t work on) is playable via the Switch Online Service, and also features on the NES Classic mini-console.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem / Credit: Nintendo
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem / Credit: Nintendo

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (2002)

Okay, so this one’s probably the most tenuous of the lot, but indulge me as I figure the more I write about the games we just can’t play anymore, the more chance there is of them being willed back into existence for modern systems. (Konami, Snatcher, please, c’mon.) Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is a terrific psychological horror game that released for the GameCube in 2002, developed by the now-defunct Silicon Knights with production contributions from Nintendo and Miyamoto himself. Its makers wanted to “mess with players’ heads” in a way that the more action-orientated likes of Resident Evil didn’t, and it represented the first-ever Nintendo-published title to be given an M rating. It’s one that, if you have the means to play it today, you should - but those means remain GameCube exclusive, as it’s never been ported or reissued in any way. But there’s some hope. In 2020, Nintendo renewed the Eternal Darkness trademark, sparking rumours of a Switch release. They’d previously done the same in 2017, with no action taken regarding a new release - but keep those fingers crossed, as this is one of those cult classics that really shouldn’t be lost to time. Like Snatcher, then.

This piece is part of a series profiling influential game creators, true masters of style, and their key works. Read previous entries: Fumito Ueda (Shadow of the Colossus), Amy Hennig (Uncharted), Hideki Kamiya (Devil May Cry), Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid), Roberta Williams (King’s Quest), Paul Cuisset (Flashback), John Romero (DOOM).

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Featured Image Credit: Nintendo, Government of Japan/Creative Commons

Topics: Nintendo, Retro Gaming, Philips

Mike Diver
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