The game that never was: Akira

Grigadiers! So following on from Lartens majestic one anime article thus fulfilling the promise that Grig Orig was going to become an ocean deep resource of news and info, I take up the challenge and focus my attentions on things of an Akira-shaped variety!

Akira Kan Bike

But this is no breaking bombshell on the nonexistent likes of Akira 2, no sir! This is a nugget from the gaming mines of yesteryear that is close to becoming long forgotten in time, save for my hazy recollection, and what turns out to be the memories of a couple of other gaming veterans. Sort of like a videogame version of Jack from Titanic.

The SNES videogame adaption of Akira immediately grabbed me upon perusing news articles about it, and I recal screenshots of a side-on view of Kaneda aloft his cool red bike in one of the magazines of the early to mid nineties – from my research, the closest fit to my memories are screens from an Amiga adaptation, so my memory obviously isn’t that good. Coz that wasn’t anything like the SNES version. And now I’m confused. That teaches me for being a Grig head and getting rid of about 95% of my retro magazines so I can no longer check. D’oh!

Akira AmigaThis is sort of what I remember. I never really had much wrangling with the world of Amiga, but perhaps an example screenshot was used in the news article I read? Who knows.

Whatever, what I recall as a SNES game, turns out on further inspection, to have been a game THQ worked on after acquiring the Akira licence that was planned for SNES, Megadrive, Gameboy, Game Gear, and what would have been excitingly, Mega CD, what with its FMV capabilities.

Akira, just to give it a brief introduction to any passing Greaders not of the era, was an epically vast Manga that was then adapted into a movie. Concentrating on a gang of Japanese biker dudes who get entangled with Government experiments giving kids all kind of weird city-levelling destructive powers, ’tis only just slightly less eventful than the kinda buh The Grig gets into on his average Sunday afternoon drive when taking the Grig-bike for a spin. At least if the reports on Crime Watch are to be believed. But I digress.

Upon a brief foray into the foggy gaming recollection I had via the power of a Griggle search, I found that there were few that had gone before me on this one. Seemingly this game was not on the radar of many, and others memories and interest in what happened to this game was not to be overly forthcoming. But the more I dug, the more started coming to light from a few similarly curious fellows who had dug deep into the mystery of Akira. And although there is still very little in the way of a wealth of solid content to go on, it all made for very intriguing reading. And I love me a good gaming mystery!

Very few Akira screenshots exist, and no ROM’s, unfinished or otherwise, have ever made their way to the net in any capacity, and code/asset archivers from the now defunct THQ don’t even know what happened to the content that was created. All that these employees have been able to confirm, was that they didn’t have the game. All leaves for not much material for an article. Luckily this is Grig Orig where we won’t be deterred by nonsense like lack of source material, so let’s have a look at what we do know/have of the various versions of Akira!

SNES/Super Famicom

The SNES version of this game, which to my original memory was the only adaptation I knew of, was planned to be a beast of a game that sounded very ambitious and awesome.

Akira boxIt had a box! Surely it must’ve been close to retail! Or… some fan just stuck this together in about thirty seconds in photoshop. Does kinda have a felt tip pen type texture on the black parts of the box. Hmm.

The game was an action platformer at heart, with some Mode-7 powered biker gang driving sections throwing in some added flavour to proceedings. With some unique hardware-pushing tricks, the game allegedly featured huge play areas as the games creators looked to push the envelope on the current expectations of the day for the 16-bit machines. All sounds so promising!

SNES Plat

Is this the SNES versions platforming section? Could be!

There were even FPS screenshots as you controlled Tetsuo exploring a government lab, hand held aloft poised ready to zap anyone who crosses his path, but it later transpired this shot was from the Megadrive version which was sometimes mistakenly shown labelled as SNES. Oh. It’s assumed the THQ PR departments released promo material without being specific on format leading to confusion. But we’ll get to that part in the Megadrive section later.

SNES FPS

SNES huh? Why you lying son of a Grig…

Rumoured to have been finished and even had review copies sent out to journalists, the dream of the game being alive and well was shot down when it was confirmed that although several sections had indeed been completed, it certainly hadn’t been distributed for review or even put on a physical medium of any sort. Quite what the location of the code is now remains a mystery. Eerie. If you get scared about games that is.

SNES Bike

Bike section ahoy! Cited as being most likely from the SNES version. Oh the uncertainty!

Megadrive/Genesis

The Megadrive version is probably the most known iteration of Akira, what with it actually being shown at the pre-E3 CES shows back in the day, allowing actual gamers in attendance the chance to play it. Unlike the SNES version, the game was a multi-genre retelling of the movie and a very different game to it’s Nintendo stablemate.

Megadrive green craft

Likely a level from the Megadrive, flying the green hover… thingy. This was a great part of the comic!

The premise for the Megadrive version went thus: each stage was set to feature a new gameplay element in its recital of the movie. From traditional platforming sections, to Hang On-esque (or I would image, Road Rash, what with battling the Clowns) Motorbike sections, scrolling beat ’em up (sorta reminiscent looking of Last Battle/Fist of the North Star on Megadrive) and isometric shooting parts, it all sounds like it was going to be a hotpot of gaming rompery of the highest calibre!

Megadrive Iso

Can’t really make this one out. Is it Tetsuo on the bridge he destroys? Hmm… Looks nice though.

Of the mix of styles, one of the standout elements was their crack at a first person viewpoint where you take control of Tetsuo as he meanders around the Government labs post-experiments. With his powers in place, he emits a phsychic pulse from his raised hand, sending any would be assailants well and truly packing (excuse my language).

Tetsuo FPS

That pic again. Lie omitted. This was allegedly only in the Megadrive game. Looks ok. Bet it doesn’t in motion though.

Quite how it ran I guess we’ll never know, although Corporation had a decent go at this gameplay style, but as one of the people who played it at CES said, ‘this stage was about as impressive looking as a FPS could look on the Genesis.’ I guess you’ll just have to make of that what you will.

Mega CD

Not much is known of the Mega CD version, other than a few screenshots that were released sporting the format in the caption description. Were they just going to port the Megadrive version and fill the rest of the disc space with FMV from the movie, as tended to be the way of things with other games back then? Who knows. Although I’ve seen people describe the screenshots as being ‘doubtful’, there is a bit of a Batman Returns driving section-feel about one of them which gives some credibility, if only in my mind at least, that there is some possibility of authenticity.

Mega CD Bike

I’m definitely getting dat Bat feelin’. This could’ve been fun! Sigh…

Akira CD

Platforming fun for all the family. Printed in a magazine declaring it to be from the Mega CD version, though others dispute this.

Gameboy

The Gameboy version is basically unknown, and certain articles I read wondered if there was a possibly that the work done for Akira was reskinned and converted into another game that perhaps did make it to market. This is based off of an admission that the Gameboy version itself was originally another game before it had the Akira licence slapped on it and was adapted accordingly. Alas, since nobody has ever seen or heard anything of the game, if the game was then further altered and released as something else, quite what it could be is yet to be unearthed.

Game Gear

Can ya guess? Yep. Not much is known about this version of Akira. However, unlike it’s Nintendo portable friend, there is a screenshot of it, confirmed as genuine by one of the dev’s too! Thus, from a gameplay perspective, we can at least know that there were some action platformer related shenanigans in the pipeline.

Akira GG

Confirmed: Game Gear version! Finally some gaming-imodium to solidify a shot as correct!

Apparently, these parts were to be broken up with sections featuring Tetsuo riding his bike from a 3rd person perspective. Coulda been good!

However, perhaps even more intriguingly than the game itself, a bizarre fate seems to have consumed Heir Gears iteration of Akira, as it has been described by the developer as being ‘destroyed’. They must’ve really not thought too much of the fruit of their grafting! Apparently, the lead programmer upped sticks around 30% of the way through the project… and then that was it. Nobody else picked it up. Sounds kinda weird since I assume there was more than just one guy making it, but hey ho! So say the developers, so who are we to dispute?

So there ya go. Akira, the game that doesn’t exist. Almost makes it even more desirable, huh? But while these games never made it out of their developmental shackles, there were two that flew the coup, albeit from other developers at other points in time. Let’s go!

Amiga/CD32

Brit-based developer ICE (interestingly the same company who were due to handle the Gameboy version… unless it’s a coincidence and it was the other software developer called ICE from back then) had a killer licence on their hands when they got their mitts on Akira, but somehow managed to churn out what’s regarded as one of the worst games on the format. Quite what happened to this I don’t know, but judging from videos, it does indeed look complete toilet. Taking the dramatic, speedy and exciting motorbike element from the movie and turning it into some mundane, plodding gaming catastrophe is not what I’d have had in mind as a youngster. Apparently you had to collect every can of fuel on your way to avoid your bike clapping out before the end of the level, which sounds buh, and throw explosives at road blocks, which almost sounds good… until you have to slow to a snails pace to do it.

CD32 Akira

Akira on CD32. Looks like buh. And if you get real close to the screen and inhale, it actually smells like buh. Strange.

The rest is your standard action platformer type affair, alternating between a couple of the main characters. More interestingly, these sections were so riddled with design flaws that some levels were actually impossible to finish due to platforms being placed outside of your characters jump range. Sounds like a corker! Still probably better than most EA games mind.

NES

Only released in Japan, the 1988 Taito developed NES game was an interactive visual novel kinda game. Featuring Snatcher-style interactions such as look, talk, and so on, it’s hard to tell how far your actions or what you say can deviate from the path of the established story, but it at least seems a fine amount of effort has gone in to the artwork. Seems to have a fan translation from YouTube videos that I’ve seen, and could be worth checking out for budding Akira enthusiasts.

Akira NES

Kaneda rattling the bars of the Grig Orig basement demanding to be let out less than two minutes after he went in to have words with The Grig about sorting out his behaviour. We tried to warn him.

Bonus game: PS2

Now this could have really been something, and probably would have had me soiling my under crackers at the thought… until it turned out to be an Akira Pinball game. I don’t even need to go into this one, the crushing misuse of the licence means it wouldn’t matter a jot if its the greatest pinball game of all time. It’s an Akira pinball game, and it shouldn’t be, therefore it’s crap.

AkiraPS2

Akira… pinball. Great. How about Half-Life 3 Pinball. Or Shenmue 3… PINBALL! Of all the uses of the licence! Grig!

Well, that’s your lot. If you are at all interested in this topic, I would recommend reading this article by a chap who has dug deep over years of research on this one, even to the point of tracking down members of the original development teams, and he has a ton of great info on these games. It makes for a far more interesting article than my dribble here, not that that’s saying much, so I’d go and check it out. Dude deserves some credit! It’s a fascinating insight into what happened with these games, and the processes that lead to their creation and ultimate demise.

Salute to my Grigs, and I’m out!

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