1993 was a standout year for the Sega Genesis console. A new generation of graphically impressive titles were being released that really pushed the system in ways first generation software did not. It didn’t hurt that many of the most impressive looking titles were excellent too. Titles among this wave include Rocket Knight Adventures, Aladdin, Battle Mania: Daiginjou, Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master, and Gunstar Heroes. Released in late 1993, Gunstar Heroes is the first title developed by Treasure, which formed the previous year. Not only was it a technical marvel, Gunstar stands as a classic of the run and gun genre, of the 16-bit era and is easily one of the greatest games ever made. It created high expectations for Treasure’s subsequent work, and in the 25 years since, Treasure has rarely disappointed.
Treasure would develop five more titles exclusively for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. Three were released in America in cartridge form, while a forth, Alien Soldier, would be released exclusively as a download in the region via the Sega Channel service. Sega Channel was an online game service released later in the system’s life cycle and was a little too far ahead of its time. While Treasure’s entire output on Sega Genesis is worth playing and owning, the newer titles would not rise to the same heights as Gunstar Heroes.
Treasure would release its second bonafide classic on Sega’s Saturn console and ST-V arcade hardware (ST-V was nearly identical to Sega Saturn’s chipset) during the 32-bit/64-bit era. By the time Radiant Silvergun was released in 1998 Treasure would have developed or released games for all three competing platforms: Sony PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn. This signaled a change from the previous generation when Treasure exclusively developed for Sega Genesis. Sony was the clear global leader at this point in the hardware cycle and Nintendo was in a solid second place position in the market. It made sense to go multi-platform. Upon release, Radiant Silvergun seemed to breathe new life into the somewhat tired shoot ’em up (shmup) genre, and perhaps more importantly, it made a statement. Treasure was for real, and its brilliance became apparent and unarguable. Radiant Silvergun makes great use of Saturn’s 2D and 3D capabilities and would only be available to Japanese audiences until 2011 when a graphically enhanced digital version was released on Xbox 360. It also happens to be the last title Treasure would develop for a Sega system in that era. And what an era it was. Besides Silhouette Mirage, first developed in Japan for Saturn and then ported to PlayStation (a controversial US port was published by Working Designs), all systems received original Treasure games, which is unthinkable today.
Treasure’s final uncontested masterpiece was released a generation later on Sega’s final system, Dreamcast, as well as Dreamcast-based arcade hardware, Naomi. Ikaruga, released in 2001 in arcades, another vertically scrolling shmup, is seen as a spiritual sequel to Radiant Silvergun by some. It received high praise upon release but was only available in Japan after the Dreamcast had been pronounced dead (2002). Luckily, Treasure has ported the seminal shoot ’em up to newer systems from GameCube all the way to Switch and PlayStation 4. It is an enduring classic that still looks great today, and it’s wonderful that newer audiences are recognizing and embracing electronic perfection.
Treasure’s post-Ikaruga work has largely been excellent too, but perhaps falling a hair shy of the brilliance of its three most important works. While GameCube and PlayStation 2 owners would be able to enjoy Ikaruga, Wario World, and Gradius V, Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance received some of Treasure’s best titles of the period including Gunstar Super Heroes (a sequel or re-imagining of the first game depending upon who you talk to), Astro Boy: Omega Factor, and Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting! The Gunstar sequel would be released in late 2005 and would mark the final title for Nintendo’s excellent 2D-focused handheld. Treasure would support Nintendo’s next handheld, DS, along with its home console, Wii, with excellent games and end its run of greatness with 2011’s Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury for Xbox 360.
Since then, Treasure has developed two games for Capcom based on Japanese IP Gaist Crusher, appearing on Nintendo 3DS in Japan. It has also spent time releasing digital versions of some of its most iconic games, with Ikaruga seeming to get the most attention. It’s incredibly sad that such an amazing and capable developer has seemingly stalled. There have been many developers who have been directly influenced by Treasure who are making games today, yet the maestros are on the sidelines. Sadly, it’s understandable, in part. While Treasure’s body of work is highly influential and critically acclaimed, the sales typically haven’t matched the hype. While gamers are very vocal in their demands for innovation and great games, not enough have put their money where their collective mouth is.
It’s quite possible we’ll never see an original Treasure game released again. That would be tragic, but it’s par for the course for an industry that seems to grow more and more creatively bankrupt as time goes on. Regardless, Treasure’s body of work is largely brilliant and stands the test of time. Even in a rare misfire like the “controversial” Stretch Panic for PlayStation 2 (Thanks, GameGO!), you can see that they were going for something beyond the norm to deliver something special for fans. It’s evident in the games it has made that Treasure has never been satisfied with the status quo. All gamers and all developers are better for it, whether they know it or not. Perhaps the ultimate compliment I can give is that Treasure made every console it developed serious games for worth owning. How many developers can be rightly placed alongside Treasure in such rarefied air?
Here’s to another 25 years of excellence. Here’s to another 25 years of Treasure videogames.
Copyright © 2018 Rob Far/Faraldi. All rights reserved.