Our next contender came out of the tangled streets of Osaka, Japan. Osaka is loud, boisterous, exciting, and over the top. It should be no surprise then that this gaming heavyweight at one time called this city home. As anyone who has played one of their signature games can attest, Konami is not one to shy away from theatrics when getting its story across.
Konami got its start like so many other video game companies– in the arcade. Its first smash hit came in the form of 1981’s Frogger. A game considered a classic by all who have played it, Frogger’s beauty is found in its simplicity.
The object of Frogger is to guide a group of frogs from one side of a busy street to the other. While it sounds relatively easy, the pressure builds as the player proceeds. Dodging trucks and rabid hotrod cruisers becomes increasingly difficult, leaving the player to compulsively drop in quarter after quarter in order to get our amphibian friends to their swampy lodging.
The slew of top-notch arcade games that Konami would develop in the decades to come was absolutely staggering. Any mallrat of the late 80’s and early 90’s can list off a number of Konami games that splintered their piggy bank into a thousand pieces. Just to name a few: Q*Bert, Rush N’ Attack, Gradius, Double Dribble, Jackal, Blades of Steel, Life Force, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sunset Riders, The Simpsons, and Contra.
It would be enough to stop there and give Konami its kudos for helping create the arcade Nirvana that was the late 80’s / early 90’s, but that would be doing them a great disservice. That’s because the developer would go onto create a game that would in many ways breathe a long overdue breath of fresh air into American arcades: DDR (or Dance Dance Revolution).
DDR would re-ignite a long since extinguished spark in the U.S. arcade market and let geeks everywhere rediscover that taste of greatness forged from hours of diligent practice and pockets full of tokens. Watching a 15-year old social recluse shine in front of a crowd of 20 by pounding away on a DDR machine like a coked-up epileptic is something that has long been missing from America’s teenage hierarchy. The outcasts were given a moment to shine, and DDR would be their stage.
Konami continued to create a fan base by taking their already lengthy arcade library and transfer it to cartridges. The Nintendo Entertainment System would offer the biggest diving board into the pool of wealth that consoles provided. By delivering many of their famous arcade outings to the masses in the form of quality ports on the NES, SNES, Amiga, and Genesis, Konami would solidify a fan base that would stick with them through the generations.
They would also create the most memorable cheat code in history through the console port of their arcade hit, Contra. Games like Castlevania and Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear would do exceptionally well on the NES, ushering in characters of unrivaled quality and depth, while leading to two of the most beloved series in video games. The tight gameplay in the Belmonts’ adventures and the over the top cinematic stealth action found in the world of Solid Snake are perfect examples of the mix of arcade style and Hollywood storytelling that make Konami unique.
Konami is now an empire that deals in video game development, movie production, slot machine production and fitness centers. The company may have been relocated to Tokyo, but that Kansai spirit still shines in its no-holds-barred take on the entertainment business. This behemoth will be around for a long time.
So remember that famous Konami logo. Who knows what will be sporting it next?
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS1, XBOX Live)
Metal Gear Solid Series (Multi)
Snatcher (Sega CD)
Castlevania (Nintendo 64)
Top Gun (NES)