Nintendo turned a lot of heads last week when it announced a plug-and-play console styled after the classic NES and loaded with 30 of that system's greatest games. Fascinatingly, history didn't take long to repeat itself.
Back in the day, the success of the NES begat a cottage industry of independent publishers who worked outside the rules Nintendo laid down for licensors, eschewing that coveted "Seal of Quality" in favor of publishing whatever they wanted. Generally, those games didn't turn out very well (to say the least), and Nintendo did its best to prevent retailers from carrying unlicensed games like Operation: Secret Storm, Tagin' Dragon, and Tengen's defiant conversions of Atari, Namco, and SEGA arcade games.
At one point, though, a publisher by the name of Color Dreams wised up and had a literal come-to-Jesus moment: The company changed its name to Wisdom Tree and began publishing Christian-themed games. Infamously, they began by retooling a smutty action game from their Color Dreams years called Menace Beach (wherein you attempted to rescue a captive girl who became progressively more naked in the cutscenes following each level) into the innocuous Sunday Funday (which saw players taking on the exact same challenges as in Menace Beach, this time in an effort to get to Sunday morning bible school). Mostly, though, Wisdom Tree produced original Bible-themed games of middling quality — none great, but few outright terrible, either. Bible Adventures was a mildly amusing Super Mario Bros. 2 clone, and Spiritual Warfare a perfectly tolerable Zelda knockoff.
Over the years, NES fans have mostly come to know Wisdom Tree as the butt of Internet jokes and "Wow! Wacky!" write-ups, but the company has enjoyed the last laugh. Nintendo didn't dare go after a publisher that wrapped itself in the flag of Christianity during an era in which many Americans viewed Japanese corporations with suspicion. Unlike other unlicensed NES game makers, Wisdom Tree survived the 8-bit era and went on to port its NES games to SEGA Genesis and PC. Their creations continued to appear in Christian bookstores for years, unfazed by a torrent of snarky articles by dozens of Seanbaby-wannabes; the 2013 reprint of their infamous Wolfenstein 3D conversion Super Noah's Ark 3D may be the last Super NES game you can actually buy new at American retailers. And now, Wisdom Tree is making a comeback in the form of The Arkade: Their very own plug-and-play console, named punnily for Super Noah's Ark 3D, and whose funding campaign recently kicked off on Kickstarter.
It turns out to be a surprisingly modest campaign. Wisdom Tree wants a mere $16,500 in order to produce a run of 500 units, which contains the entirety of the Wisdom Tree unlicensed NES library. At seven games in total, it's considerably less impressive than the 30 titles of Nintendo's own Classic Mini: NES, but somehow that just seems appropriate. However, the campaign covers quite a number of other items as well: There's an actual physical NES cartridge containing all seven games, a Genesis cart containing the company's four 16-bit conversions, a new run of Super Noah's Ark 3D for Super NES, and Steam and PC retail versions of the games in collector's packaging. At the pie-in-the-sky end of the campaign, there's even the prospect of a Super Noah's Ark animated feature.
Ridiculous? Perhaps, but unlike many other gaming-related Kickstarters, this one seems likely to come to fruition if it achieves funding. Wisdom Tree has been around for decades, and for the most part their objectives seem totally reasonable. Plus, prospective supporters know precisely what they're getting, here: This is not some mad plan to create incredible new software but simply to kick off a new format for their existing products. Truth be told, I'm already on board for this campaign: I'd like to have Wisdom Tree's library in my NES collection strictly for the novelty factor, and a single $40 multicart works out to be a much better deal than buying them individually (especially since a few of these games sell for nearly that much on their own).
Personally, I'd love to see this herald the beginning of an entire wave of sketchy NES software rereleases. Maybe get those infamous Panesian adult games out in a multicart, or shovel all of Tengen's Atari arcade conversions onto a plug-and-play device. The possibilities are endless, really!