Following the initial batch of announced members of the Nintendo Ultra 64 Dream Team, Nintendo would add to their ranks by continuing to sign other talent. One such later addition was that of Ocean Software, often referred to as simply “Ocean” for short.
Founded in 1983 under the name of Spectrum Software, the Manchester-based company developed software for the ZX81, VIC 20, and as you might have guessed, the ZX Spectrum. That last one may have been a sticking point for the company, as it was not long before they changed their name to Ocean Software. Through the hiring of external teams and acquisitions, they provided many ports of arcade titles such as those by Konami for the computer-based gaming platforms. As time went on, they expanded their reach to other platforms, such as the Commodore 64 and MSX, eventually reaching home consoles such as the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988 and expanding onward with that company’s newer hardware, then branching out to further platforms as the 16-bit console wars heated up.
While a publisher of its own original titles and ports from other companies, Ocean is perhaps best remembered for its licensed tie-ins. We’ve explored some of these previously in “Great Games That Will (Probably) Never Be Released Again” with their contributions to the Jurassic Park franchise, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg: RoboCop, Batman, The Addams Family, Rambo, Transformers, and WWF were just some of the licenses they released games for.
When it came time to live up to the “Dream Team” moniker with releases for the Nintendo 64, however, the company’s output did not live up to what it had produced in previous years. Only five titles were brought to the Nintendo 64 by Ocean, who only served as the publisher in North America, and only for those specific versions: Wetrix, MRC: Multi-Racing Championship, GT 64: Championship Edition, Fighters Destiny, and their only licensed title during this period, Mission: Impossible. One other title, Vampire Circus — only announced for the Nintendo 64 (and therefore being the only title that seems qualified to meet the “Dream Team” requirement) — would wind up being cancelled.
The reason for this sudden drop-off is simple: Like others on this list, Ocean Software would be acquired by Infogrames in 1996, and would be used as a publishing label until 1998, when it was renamed Infogrames United Kingdom Limited. As noted previously, that company would then go on to currently be known as Atari, SA.
As uneventful as Ocean Software’s run in the industry may seem at a brief glance, there’s really quite a bit more that goes beyond the scope of this article for those who are interested. For further reading, Fusion Retro Books has published a book titled The History of Ocean Software, which features memoirs from those who worked there (though it’s sold out as of this writing — pity, as I’d love to read it), while Vice took a look a few years ago at the quality of their licensed titles.
Or, if reading isn’t your thing (in which case, I have no idea how you got to this point), Kim Justice has a nice video documentary here titled “The Story of Ocean Software: ‘The Biggest Games Company in the World'”, so named for a quote from one-time company leader Gary Bracey, which also gives a rather thorough look at the history of Ocean: