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A Reminder (or is it a Memorial?) of Gaming's Original Hardcore Developer

Legendary studio Treasure has been eerily silent for the past few years. Even if they're gone, though, they shouldn't be forgotten.

Column by Jeremy Parish, .

Born as a collaboration between talented Konami designers and programmers who longed for more creative freedom, Japan's Treasure team was, in a very real sense, one of Japan's pioneering indie developers.

The Japanese industry had solidified during the latter half of the '80s, shifting from two guys making little PCs games to corporations publishing millions of units for Nintendo's systems. Studios like Chun Soft, which began on the back of a successful magazine write-in game design competition, could never have come into being and found success in the early '90s. Games had grown too large, too expensive, too resource-intensive. (The more things change, eh?)

But Treasure went the other direction, striking out on their own to make their own games... for the most part. They worked with huge partners like Sega and Enix, and about half of their output involved licensed properties. But they always worked on their own terms, to their own satisfaction. There's a sense of integrity to Treasure's work you don't often see in games of that era, and it earned them diehard fans.

I'm writing of Treasure in the past sense because, while the company still exists, its output has slowed to a trickle over the past decade. Hopefully that's simply a case of them seeking new inspiration and taking on new directions. Maybe if enough people listen to this episode, they'll be summoned back into action...

In any case, enjoy this brief — this is a Retronauts Micro episode, after all — trip down memory lane, and cross your fingers for the future.

Download Links

Libsyn (1:38:02 | MP3 Download | SoundCloud

Episode Description

Jeremy takes a look at one of gaming’s great studios, whose work seems to have been largely forgotten in this day and age. Will Treasure rise again, or will their two-decade collection of brilliance stand as their legacy?

The tunes for this episode were culled from Treasure's grand reunion project with Konami, the publisher who gave the team its start: Gradius V for PlayStation 2. If you missed out on it, track it down. Gradius V was a perfect compromise between Treasure's relentless drive for new and complex ideas, and Konami's relentless drive to make money by selling accessible and polished software. Somewhere in the middle was a brilliant shooter full of fresh ideas for an aging series, polished to a mirror sheen. It's a must-play... along with the other games listed below:

Recommended Treasure Games

  • Gunstar Heroes: Treasure built their reputation on this one, and rightly so. No one knew the Genesis could do this. M2 is currently working on a remake of this for Sega's 3DS 3D Classics series, so absolutely grab it when it arrives.
  • Guardian Heroes: This one was Treasure working in the vein of Capcom's Dungeons & Dragons brawlers... except that, not having to worry about arcade constraints, they could afford to go all in on depth and mechanics. Available on XBLA for Xbox 360.
  • Radiant Silvergun: This shoot-em-up became legend for its inaccessibility — released on Saturn too late to get a U.S. release, it was a coveted import for years. It's on XBLA now, though, so you can enjoy its inventive mechanics and insane visuals.
  • Ikaruga: A semi-sequel to Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga revolved around a color-changing mechanic that pops up in a lot of Treasure games. It, too, can be had on XBLA.
  • Mischief Makers: A true rarity — a 2D platformer on Nintendo 64. Well, really it falls somewhere between a platformer and a brawler. You'll get tired of protagonist Marina shouting "Shake shake!" as she manhandles bad guys, but the game's amusing enough that you won't mind.
  • Astro Boy: Omega Factor: A fantastic shooter/platformer in its own right, this loving tribute to classic manga creator Osamu Tezuka only gets better the more deeply versed you become in his works. It's the ultimate act of fanservice.

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