In my last episode of Retronauts Micro, I looked briefly into the history and circumstances of Konami's Ultra Games label. This time, I visit Ultra's mirror universe counterpart: Tengen, the short-lived NES publishing arm of Atari Games.
Both Ultra and Tengen existed entirely as ways to circumvent the third-party policies Nintendo of America adopted during the NES era. But where Konami was content to simply build a shell corporation and extend its publishing capabilities under the auspices of a "separate" publisher, Tengen took a sneakier approach. This arguably ended up hurting Atari in the long run, but for a brief while the Tengen brand represented a sort of rebel alliance against an indomitable empire: A band of rivals who joined together to take on the common enemy that Nintendo represented. The empire won in this particular instance, but you have to admire the derring-do of Atari and its united affiliates under the Tengen name.
Some of the highest-profile arcade games of the '80s ended up making it on to NES as unauthorized releases thanks to the friction between Nintendo and the Tengen group. And by high-profile I mean Pac-Man. And Tetris. That's about as big as it gets! So settle in and listen to this week's show before E3 hits and you stop caring about game history for a week.
Jeremy looks back at the dark counterpart to Konami spinoff Ultra Games: Atari spinoff Tengen, who didn't so much bend the rules of NES publishing as shatter them into a million tiny pieces.
Music in this episode: I've packed this brief episode with tunes from the NES version of Gauntlet and the arcade version of Rolling Thunder. It's good! Also, be sure to check out episode 91 of the original run of Retronauts, which offers a much deeper (and more informed) view of the Tengen experience!
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