This year is the 30th anniversary of Akira, the 1988 anime classic based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga series. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic “Neo-Tokyo” in 2019 and coincidentally predicts Japan’s hosting the 2020 Olympics. I recently “live-gif’d” a walkthrough of Akira on an NES emulator and got to wondering how many other Akira games were out there.
Akira was one of my favorite films as a teen and I remember hearing rumors of a video game version, but I could never find it. Eventually, I just filed it away as a myth, like the supposed Akira live action film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Not only are these games real though, you can even be able to play them thanks to ROM archivists.
Since playing the NES version, I’ve since learned of at least 4 other ports, so I thought I’d round them up here. I won’t provide any links to the ROMs, but a little Googling should get you to them quickly.
Akira for NES/Famicom (1998 by Taito)
Akira was originally released as a Famicom game that was later translated by a team of volunteers and released on a gaming forum. It’s the only Akira game I’ve played entirely and I really recommend checking out my GIF collection of it’s stylish cut-screens instead of downloading the ROM yourself.
The game sucks. It’s simply awful! It’s not the translator’s fault, it’s just a garbage game. The graphics and music are fantastic, but just getting through the game’s decision trees is such a frustrating experience that I’m glad I never had the chance to buy it as a kid. The only way to enjoy this game is by using a walkthrough. Otherwise, you’ll easily die on levels that require seemingly random orders of selections and actions. For example:
- Look > Gang: Look at various members of your gang. If you take too long, the interrogator will demand you return your attention him. Keep looking at your gang, particularly Kaneda (center) and the two members to the left of him until the interrogator is convinced that you’re not with the Terrorists.
- Peek > List: Try to look at the list, but the interrogator will insist that you stop.
- Peek > List: Do it again anyway, and you’ll discover that it’s a list of suspected Terrorists, including a girl who Kaneda thinks is cute.
- Inquire: Kaneda will ask what the girl’s name is, but the interrogator just tells you to shut up.
- Inquire: Next Kaneda will ask where the girl lives, with the same response.
- Inquire: Kaneda begs for the girl’s phone number, and the interrogator will insist they don’t have it. The lackey will conclude that the gang has no connections to the Terrorists, and you will be told to wait outside of the room.
Akira for Amiga CD32 (1994 by ICE Software)
This British made Akira game is a sidescroller consisting of 2 motorcycle levels and 5 platforming levels. In the motorcycle levels, you basically steer up or down (as Kaneda) collecting power ups while trying to avoid obstacles and police while heading to the military base. Once you reach it, you play as either Kaneda (with a pistol) or Tetsuo (with fireballs?) and try to kill every single person on the level in order to advance. You can tell the game designers sort of watched the movie by the surreal enemies in Tetsuo’s level, including: fire breathing toy cars, deadly bunny rabbits, and fighting teddy bears.
Though many different companies tried making an Akira game, you wouldn’t necessarily know it. With the exception of the Game Boy version (and the pinball version), most of these other games look just like the Amiga CD32 version.
Akira for Game Boy (by THQ?)
This unreleased Game Boy version was recently discovered by Patrick Scott Patterson and demonstrated on his Youtube channel. It has all of the same elements as the Amiga CD32 version, but I think gets away a little more since it has that 8bit Game Boy charm. Otherwise, it looks so similar to ICE Software’s version, that I wonder if they shared the same development team?
THQ was said to be working on Akira ports for Game Boy, SNES, Sega CD, Sega Genesis, Game Gear and others, so I’m assuming this prototype was one of theirs.
Akira for Sega Genesis (unreleased by THQ)
There has never been a good Akira game made, but I think this 16-bit Sega Genesis game could have been decent. At the very least, it could have been the best of the worst. Since it was never released, we’ll never know, but at least we have this showroom floor footage from the 1994 Consumer Electronics Show.
Again, it looks totally not-terrible. Like the Amiga CD32 game, this version starts of with Kaneda on his bike, but from a 3rd person perspective. The kicking and punching other cyclists definitely seems inspired by EA’s Road Rash series. Once we get to the military base, we actually get a DOOM-ish first person mini-game of Tetsuo escaping from his hospital bed. His trembling hand blocking his face as he tries to avoid the nurses. Then we return to a very similar side-scrolling experience where Kaneda jumps around with a gun. Surprisingly, THQ’s version still adds more game styles to their Akira game including a hoverbike level (with some 3D graphics intertwined with pixel art), a 3/4 view street brawl, and a Street Fighter-style final boss battle between Tetsuo and Kaneda.
Even though this was only a working prototype, I’m still shocked out how much nicer the sides-crolling graphics were compared to the Amiga CD32’s final version. Like I said with the Game Boy version, I believe the old school 16-bit graphics really work well with this game.
Akira for SNES (unreleased by THQ)
Though the levels in this version look almost identical to it’s Sega Genesis cousin, it’s said that both games were developed by two different teams. The SNES version had the bike fights, side-scrolling, and 2.5D hover-bike levels, but was also going to include more material unique from the manga (not just the movie version). There are no videos of the SNES version, so all we have are some magazine scans from a 1993 issue of Game Zone.
Akira Psycho Ball for Playstation 2 (2002 by Bandai)
Akira Psycho Ball is a Playstation 2 game that was scheduled to release around the same time as the remastered Bluray edition of Akira. The only thing I dislike more than pinball is pinball inspired video games, but I don’t think anyone was asking for a pinball version of Akira. I’d rather just replay the original Famicom version. At least wasn’t just scenes taken from the original movie with some pinball levels thrown between them.
So why hasn’t anyone ever made a good Akira game?
First off, have you seen Akira? How the fuck would you turn that into a game? These publishers all did a decent job at trying (except for you, Bandai… go back to your room!), but it’s also important to think about the limitations of the gaming systems of the time. As Jim Gregory, one of THQ’s developers on the SNES adaptation, tells it:
“One of the greatest challenges of game design, when it is for a license, is meeting the demands of the licensee. They often do not understand the trade offs that are needed to accommodate the capacity and limitations of the target device, and they expect it to look like an animated feature film. Those days [around 1993 – ed] were very much on the cusp between the old 8-bit systems with limited graphics, and the 16-bit systems with limited graphics. Many of the emerging consoles were ‘walled garden’ development systems and the manufacturers all wanted exclusive titles rather than me-too ones. It was hard or impossible even to get the data to develop on their machines unless they approved you.”