RetroVision – Konami’s Code to Cheat Nintendo

If I were to ask you who who published the original Metal Gear game, what would your answer be? Most people would would offer the answer Konami, but in fact they would be wrong… technically. Although published by Konami in Japan and Europe, the real publisher of this classic franchise was Ultra Games (In North America anyway). After being founded in 1988 Ultra Games went on to release a number of other famous video games, including; the TMNT arcade game, Skate or Die, Q*Bert (NES) and Pirates! Many of these games historically have been associated with Konami but why were they published by this almost unknown publisher?


After the great video game crash of ’83 Nintendo were taking no risks. In order to combat the sheer flood of third party titles that were deemed ‘not good enough’ they imposed a limit of licenses a publisher had each calendar year. This meant that third party publishers, such as Konami, could only release 5 games per annum. There were good intentions behind this move as they were introduced to stop publishers releasing games that would damage the integrity of the recovering industry, but in reality the system was too restrictive. Why should a company like Konami, who have the means to release more than 5 quality titles, be punished for the failings of the previous generation?

Metal Gear Box US
Metal Gear Box (NES)

It was decided by the Japanese corporation that steps needed to be taken to ensure they could release more than 5 games each year. With Nintendo remaining firm on their stance Konami did the only thing they thought they could do, set up a new company, it’s name Ultra Games! This notorious, and very effective tactic allowed them to publish a further 5 games each year in North America. This allowed the to localise their vast port of NES games over the Pacific and into the hands of North American gamers. At first Ultra Games dedicated itself to this localising process but later began using spare licences to publish works from other companies to increase their portfolio. In addition to the games mentioned above they also published Operation C (an original Contra game for the Game Boy), Snake’s Revenge (a sequel to the original Metal Gear) and one of the first games I owned for the Game Boy: Motocross Mayhem.

Motocross Mayhem
Motocross Mayhem

Once the Super Nintendo came around Nintendo had relaxed their rules on licences. Due to this change in policy Konami saw no need to maintain the subsidiary that had once been deemed necessary. It was this decision that ended the short but important history of Ultra Games. Most companies that last 4 years will quickly be forgotten but this story of the seemingly unconventional company will remain as a significant tale in the history of modern video games.

NB: There was also a European counterpart known as Palcom Software ltd who served a similar role, although in Europe Konami did have a little more freedom which resulted in less of a legacy. 

Stuart Drake

Not very good at writing about games and even worse at them. Is that going to stop me doing either? Absolutely not! You can follow this Pokémaniac on Twitter and Instagram via @Boogbn

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