As you will notice in the next weeks and months, 2019 will be a year dense of importants anniversaries: in fact througout the summer and autumn we will celebrate the 25 years of Cave, 35 years of Gremlin Interactive, Accolade and Psygnosis, 40 years of Capcom, Activision, SSI and Infocom, 45 years of Irem and Jaleco and 130 (yes, that much!) of Nintendo. A lot of stuff to talk about.
But today all eyes are on Konami, founded today, March 21st, 1969, 50 years ago. Not many companies can claim half century of history, and in fact today only Nintendo, Bandai, Taito, Sega and Tecmo can top this record, so Konami has the right to stay in the olympus of software houses.
However they began its life in the hardware, as a jubox rentail and repair company. The name Konami is a portmanteau of the names Kagemasa Kozuki, Yoshinobu Nakama, and Tatsuo Miyasako.
Since the market was moving from jukebox to coi-op machines, the chairman of Konami, Kagemasa Kozuki trasnformed his business and in 1978 Konami released its first coin-op machine. The same year they realized other three games among which Space King, a Space Invaders clone.
In 1979 the company started to export its hardware in the US and after a few years of mediocre games, 1981 saw the rise of the company in the arcade market. That year Konami developed Frogger, Scramble and Super Cobra and, giving the incredible success, they established an american subsidiary and started to penetrate also the home entertaining market, just before the crash killed it. Of course the first games were for the flagship af all consoles, the Atari 2600 for which they ported their arcade hit Frogger and other four mediocre games.
But their most fruitful collaborations were with Nintendo and with MSX computer companies. Their debut in the MSX world was in 1986 with Akumajō Dracula, called Vampire Killer in Europe, essentially Castlevania, followed by other great games such as Metal Gear (1987), Contra (1989) and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (1990).
Nintendo was surely the company that helped Konami to become one of the most important developers of the 80s and nonetheless the quality of Konami games helped Nintendo to impose itself in the market. After Track and Field in 1985, in 1986 have been released for NES iconic games such as The Goonies, Gradius and Castlevania. These last two will become huge franchises and they’re still alive now in the third millennium with a cult following.
The strong bond between Konami and NES proceeded throughout all the 80s and early 90s till the discontinuation of the console and produced other iconic games such as Contra, Castlevania II and Skate or Die (1988), Defender of the Crown (1989), Super C and Castlevania III (1990), Tiny Toons Adventures and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project (1991) and Batman Returns (1992).
But the company didn’t forget its “japanese” roots and continued also to create titles for MSX and MSX2 computer, still in fashion in Japan: Gradius and Q*Bert in 1986, Salamander in 1987 and Parodius in 1988.
As for most of the companies born in those years, the arcade market remained one of the core businesses even in an era when arcade games were not popular anymore…
In the 90s after the discontinuation of the NES, the collaboration with Nintendo continued with their new 16-bit console, the loved SNES for which Konami released Gradius III and Super Castlevania IV in 1991 (this one the best Castlevania title until Symphony of the Night), Axelay in 1992, Batman Returns and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters in 1993, the first International Superstars Soccer (a.k.a. ISS, that became ISS Pro and PES) in 1994 and Castlevania: Dracula X in 1995.
Konami stayed loyal to Nintendo even with the N64, the first big insuccess in the home console market for the Big N and for its successor, the even more unsuccessful GameCube with forgettable games like Castlevania 64 (1998), Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness (1999) and Teenage Mutante Ninja Turtles (GC, 2003).
When the strict policy Nintendo imposed to the third parties developing games for their systems started to loosen, Konami re-gained its independence and cooperated with the eternal rival of Nintendo, Sega, developing for their consoles beginning with the 16-bit Mega Drive, the first big competitor for Nintendo that, at least in Europe, gave them a run for their money. For Sega they developed the sought after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist (1992) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (1993) and the only Sega-based Castelvania title, Bloodlines (1994).
With Sega, Konami had also the first experience with CD-based console: for their Mega-CD they released between 1993 and 1994 three games, Lethal Enforcers, Lethal Enforcers II: Gun Fighters and Snatcher. The CD was the future and after a brief collaboration with 3DO for which they released Policenauts (1995), Konami turn its eyes to the new rulers: Sony, that with their PlayStation would change the home entertainment forever. Despite keeping in touch with Sega and developing games first for the ill-fated Saturn and then for the even more unlucky Dreamcast (for both of the consoles they developed games for the japanese market or mediocre titles like Nightmare Creatures II in 2000), the most fruitful collaboration Konami had between the late 90s and the end of the 10s has been with Sony consoles.
The original PS1 was home of more polished version of old Konami games, such as Parodius and Policenauts (1996) and then to new chapters of long-running franchises that found in the Sony console its better titles: apart from the already cited Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997) another big hit was Metal Gear Solid (1998).
Of course Konami not only pushed on their old IPs but created even something new: the first Suikoden came out in 1996 and Vandal Hearts in 1997, until 1999 when they pulled a rabbit out of the hat with Silent Hill a game that refreshed and reinvented the survival horror genre.
When PS2 replaced the PS1 Konami kept developing for Sony giving birth to a lot of games for their historical franchises: Silent Hill 2 (2001), Silent Hill 3 (2003) and Silent Hill 4: The Room (2004), Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001), Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance (2003), Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004) and Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence (2005), Castlevania Lament of Innocence (2003) and Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (2005). They also kept releasing successful party games, nothing more thatn cash machines with no artistic value like the Dance Revolution series (more than 20 titles between PS1 and PS2). When Sony switched to PS3, Konami almost released only PES games and minor other sport games, along with some remastered versions of their flaghips Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill.
Aside from the games released for Sony, Konami continued to develop games for the arcades; of course no more historically relevant titles but games they ported on the consoles, like the already cited Dance Dance games.
The major boost of Konami activities in the last years has been the absorption of Hudson in 2012 (it was already their subsidiary from 2001) that reinforced their already huge walls of frachises with the addition of series like Adventure Island, Bonk, Bloody Roar, Bomberman, Far East of Eden and Star Soldier.
Although in the last years Konami is not the same company it was only 10-15 years ago, its legacy still lives today and we can still admire with heart-shaped their immense wall of great titles. Whoever is reading this blog has surely played at least one among Silent Hill, PES, Metal Gear or Castlevania, so I can’t go wrong when I say there’s a bit of Konami in all of us!