At their SEGA FES 2019 event in Japan, SEGA made a variety of announcements of interest to retro enthusiasts. Foremost among them were the first details of the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive Mini console, including its release date, price point, and 10 of the 40 total titles that will be included.
Nintendo Switch™『SEGA AGES』に新たに6タイトル追加します！
— セガ公式アカウント (@SEGA_OFFICIAL) March 30, 2019
But almost lost among the hype for the upcoming plug ‘n play device is the announcement of six newly revealed additions to the SEGA AGES line of classic SEGA titles that have been brought to the Nintendo Switch by M2. These are Wonder Boy in Monster Land, Fantasy Zone, Puzzle & Action: Inchidant-R, Herzog Zwei, G-LOC Air Battle, and Shinobi. While the western release status of each of these is unknown (with some such as Puzzle & Action: Inchidant-R, never released outside of Japan, seeming particularly unlikely), others feel more like they’re all but assured — such as Shinobi.
What’s interesting is that this isn’t the first time the arcade classic has come home to Nintendo hardware, but the third. While the Wii Virtual Console release is largely unremarkable but for a palette-swap of ninjas whose color scheme leaned a little too close to that of a friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, it’s the first release that’s more historically interesting.
You see, the original Nintendo console release of Shinobi came to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) all the way back in 1989 — the very same year the SEGA Genesis went on sale in North America, meaning that a SEGA title (one of several, actually) was being made available on their competitor’s console!
I spoke in brief last week about Tengen, a division of Atari Games who had a much more significant beef with Nintendo of America’s licensing policies than other third parties — or, at the very least, took more significant steps than those who grumbled about it under their breath. After a handful of licensed releases, Tengen went into business for themselves, releasing ports of not only their parent company’s arcade releases, but those of other companies including Namco and, of course, SEGA.
Looking back, it does lead one to wonder if Nintendo of America would have had any qualms with publishing a title from one of their console competitors had Tengen not gone rogue.
In any case, Tengen based their port on the SEGA Master System port which had been released the previous year, making changes such as adding a life bar to the one-hit-death gameplay of the arcade original. They also removed several of the weapons SEGA had included in their home version, and made some other changes as well.
For a more in-depth look at how the three versions compare, check out this episode of Same Name, Different Game from On the Stick:
As for the upcoming Nintendo Switch release, very little is known about it. The version shown on the SEGA AGES website is the arcade version, though one has to wonder if M2 might somehow include content from the Master System version — or just cram in that version as well. Either way, don’t expect to see the Tengen version featured, as it was never released in Japan. That means that not only might M2 (and even those on the SEGA side of the project) not even know it exists, but the rights to that specific version would probably be too much of a hassle to acquire from Warner Bros. Interactive (where they most likely reside now), anyway.
Still, if you get the opportunity, this is but one interesting curio to check out if you’d like to see how SEGA games translated to Nintendo consoles over a decade before SEGA became an official Nintendo third-party, when such things felt all but impossible.