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History Lesson: Hudson Soft

By Chris Scullion on Sunday 14th Jul 2013 at 11:00 AM UTC

If every morning we were torn from slumber-land by a clanking Hudson locomotive, we wouldn't pay tribute to the sleep-disrupting git by naming our company after it.

But then, neither would we choose a hastily scribbled bee as our logo, so we're clearly not in synch with Yuji and Hiroshi Kudo, train enthusiasts and founders of Hudson Soft.

Chuffing into life in 1973, the original Hudson was a family-run store dealing in telecommunication devices and art photographs. It wasn't until 1975 that the brothers Kudo began tinkering with PC products, leading to games development in 1978.

Early titles included the penguin-mating Binary Land and Hudson's first dabbling with digitised nitroglycerine in 1983's Bomberman.

Noting the Famicom's popularity, Hudson began pleading with Nintendo (who was anti third-party at the time) for a development opportunity. Using electronics manufacturer Sharp as a middleman, it gained an audience with the elusive Nintendo and became the first third-party developer for the system. Not bothered about first impressions, it ported over Milk And Nuts, a fruit themed clone of previous Hudson title, Lode Runner.

The box for the Famicom version of Bomberman. Safe to say the design's changed slightly since then.

Its second offering threw out the fruit theme for a straight Lode Runner port that shifted an impressive 1.2 million copies. It struck similar gold with 1985's port of Bomberman and 1988 party game Momotaro Dentetsu.

The latter, a locomotive-themed board game, saw its 21st iteration released on DS a couple of years ago and is the basis for Mario Party - so now you know which game to go back and assassinate, should you ever find a time machine.

1985 also saw the first Hudson 'caravan' event, a gaming celebration that gathered gamers together for high-score competitions at over 60 Japanese venues. To help judge the contest, special timed runs were built into its games - five minute caravan runs that are still present in the likes of Super Star Soldier and Blazing Lasers. The caravan finally stopped rolling in 1998, though it saw a revival in 2007.

Zoom

While Bomberman and Momotaro Dentetsu are arguably the big hitters, 1986 saw Sega's Wonder Boy licensed to Hudson Soft and reskinned for NES release as the popular Adventure Island. Replacing Sega's Wonder Boy character was Hudson executive Toshiyuki Takahashi, aka Takahashi Meijin aka Famous Takahashi aka 16Shot. This factoid is lost on non-Japanese gamers who came to know the balloon faced hero as Master Higgins.

Takahashi earned his 16Shot nickname for his ability to press a joystick button 16 times in one second. This skill has singled him out as one of the greatest Star Soldier players of all time. Here's a video of him doing it.

Shacking up with NEC in 1987 saw the PC Engine enter into the world. Technically equal to the SNES, despite being three years its senior, it was a Famicom-rivalling success in Japan, but poor marketing held it back in the US (where it was renamed the TurboGrafx-16).

The subsequent TurboGrafx family line would always struggle in the west. The release of the CD-Rom2 (the first console CD add-on) was too pricey, compounded by Hudson's unwillingness to take a price hit in order to shift units. Similarly, a lot of the games utilising the advanced storage capacity were Japanese RPGs, a genre lacking a foothold in the US.

None of this was helped by the bizarre invention of Johnny Turbo, the mascot for the TurboDuo - the combined TG-16 and CD-Rom2 unit. Appearing in a series of comic strips, Turbo was created solely to badmouth the Sega CD - the biggest rival to the Duo. Fighting a shady organisation called FEKA - a thinly veiled amalgamation of 'Sega' and 'fake' - he remains Hudson Soft's most infamous/comical hour.

Its finest hours? Unfortunately, they're probably behind it. In recent times Hudson's been better known for its push into the world of mobile products, including a mobile version of popular hip-hop mag, The Source. It still managed to churn out the occasional gem - Kororinpa is an office favourite - but like the noble steam train that so inspired the Kudos, its days as a force to be reckoned with have been and gone.

By the turn of the millennium Hudson was slowly starting to fall apart. Co-founder Hiroshi Kudo left in 2004 after financial losses, while Shinichi Nakaomoto (the creator of Bomberman) left in 2006. In 2010 many Hudson staff members left to join Nintendo subsidiary ND Cube to work on the likes of Mario Party 9, Wii Party and the upcoming Mario Party 3DS and Wii Party U. And then, in May 2011, 16Shot himself Takahashi Meijin resigned.

A year later, on March 1, 2012, Hudson Soft finally went off the rails and officially ceased to exist as a company when it was bought over and merged with Konami.

Killing me Soft-ly

Hudson Soft delivered its fair share of franchises over the three decades it was active. Bomberman, Adventure Island, Bonk's Adventure and Star Soldier were all massive successes in Japan, even though they didn't all have a similar impact in the west.

In all, Hudson Soft released over 200 games, and as such some of them didn't quite reach the same levels of success despite still being ruddy good. Here are just nine accomplished Hudson Soft games that have become forgotten over the years.

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